The Truth About It All

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Glacier lake, Broken Top Mt. Oregon

Months have passed since I’ve returned home. Time has not dulled my memories, nor has it silenced the cry of my heart. Even so, I can’t seem to find the words to describe my time in Turkey. The truest words I’ve found are these: I felt like I breathed for the first time. The following pages are a glimpse into the revelations that have flooded my heart. From the touch of a distant human, to the muddled waters of my messy, beautiful, soul, these truths echo over and over and are shaking down into my bones. I was made for this. I was made for God.

Kneeling in the dirt, eyes to eyes with a refugee; I saw more than just a needy person, I saw beauty, destiny, injustice. Her eyes looked further, and revealed destiny hidden in my own heart. This was truly an ‘I was made for this’ moment. Since I was a small child, my heart felt tethered to those who suffered at the hand of the injustices of war. There’s no way I could have known then how my life would be changed by several encounters along my way. From the aftermath of Katrina, to the mountains of Mexico, to the slums in L.A., to the refugee crisis in Syria, my heart was captured and I became inseparably bound to hope and a love for the impossible, the unthinkable-goodness I found amidst tragedy. It was unreasonable really, the way I felt in the camps, in the dirt, in the suffering. It should have been hard, it should have been painful. But it was breathing.

Two months before I found myself in Turkey, I had a similar moment. Somewhere in the mountains in Mexico I was face down on a dirty bathroom floor crying like a baby. Through a series of unexpected events I saw a miracle that changed my life. I saw a blind women open her eyes, and see. See. She was blind and now she sees. No doctor did this; rather a miracle birthed in faith changed her life forever. Ive never seen anything more beautiful. There is no mistaking what I saw in her eyes; it was Jesus. It could have only been Jesus. Sobbing on the bathroom floor I threw my heart at God. I had to see who He really was. I had to see what this really meant. I knew from church that He said if His disciples would pray for the blind that they would see… but now I knew He really meant it. So I asked Him to show me what He’s like, and what He wanted with my life. It’s taken time to get my answer, and I still only have a fraction. But I’ll never quit asking, never quit looking for Him in the blind, in the suffering, in the refugees. I was made for this.

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Not blind anymore!!!

Within days of my return it seemed the privileged world I was born to began to rise and swirl around me; anchoring me in the shallow waters I know I was born to escape. It’s amazing how perspective has the power to steer our lives, to shape our mind’s eye. Privilege and possessions paint powerful illusions of identity and purpose, defining us  with shallow truths and endearing lies. How can our social status have such defining power? How can our heritage, our parents, our bank statements, our needs, and our vocations truly be the authors that dictate our purpose, limiting the extent of our reach? We say that we were made for love, for adventure, or maybe for power. Inspired, we look forward for the path that climbs to our new future, but the rush quickly fades and the only thing left of our dream is the walls keeping us from it. Walls that limit our love and that keep out the love-bearers. Walls that smother our power and strand us from the miracle-maker. Walls are the greatest illusion. Woven by destiny’s thief in cruelty and guile, her web of lies captures and tangles the innocent. Disguised as wisdom and full of empty promises, victim after victim are trapped in her threads. Fear blinds our eyes and robs our hearts as we glimpse but never walk the path laid out before us.

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The way to camp

It’s time to unravel the lies. It’s time to be a people who see destiny, not walls. We were never made for brick walls! In fact, the only brick wall in your life is you. Don’t be deceived by who you think you should be, what you think you deserve, or by who other’s say you are. It is time to silence the web-weaver and rather hear the voice of the one who made you. Yes, I mean God. In fact, I mean Jesus. He is the only God who calls by name, who details destinies in mother’s wombs. He is the only God who creates in His likeness. He is the only God who cries out I’m your Father, who longs for you to be His own. He is the only God who says He will not keep Himself from you. He calls Himself the lover of your soul. What other God describes Himself as a bridegroom, as a lover? He clothes Himself in righteousness, and justice. The type of justice that restores to you everything that was ever stolen from you. The kind of justice that restores innocence like it was never stolen, and rightness like there was never evil.

The suffering of war and poverty need that kind of justice. Your destiny is interwoven with that kind of justice.

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Abandoned house made into a home again by several refugee families

 

You all know, that I do not limit my love or my work to Christians. Neither are all the incredible volunteers I work alongside Christians. I always hear people say that there are many good and beautiful people who don’t believe in God. Even more, we’ve all heard about how Christians don’t really look like love; how they don’t look like Jesus. Sadly it is often true. Christians bear the name of Christ, but their ‘love’ is not changed; it is not empowered, it is trapped behind brick walls. If God is real, how can this be? Truth has yet to overcome in our lives. You see, truth is what empowers a Jesus-follower to actually look like Jesus, to actually know and live inside His ridiculous love. We must have a revelation of the truth of God’s character, of our value. This love, this revelation, is given freely and only freely given; by God to man. It is given to those who ache for God like the desert aches for water. Without the love of God flowing over, in and through us, we have nothing. Nothing. You can heal someone’s disease with medicine, or even a miracle, but if you don’t heal their broken heart, if you don’t bring justice for the wrongs done, what good is it to them in the depth of their heart or in the scheme of eternity? God’s love is not a feeling or a sense of security, it is a way of being, it is what we were made for. It lacks nothing, it fulfills everything. Without it we may call to Jesus, pledge our lives, give to the poor, comfort the dying, and heal the sick, and still feel nothing; still feel lost. When we pray to God and don’t see what results we think we should, when we don’t feel good enough for God to answer, we become anchored by web between wall and brick wall.

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Somewhere in Central Mexico

To those who know Jesus: There is a reality check coming, church: Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.’ God never made you to compromise. He made you to be His righteousness. Righteousness means acceptable, approvable, pure, the justice that gives you what is due. Church, see now, you are meant to be God’s justice, restoring what is lost. Jesus is due is reward, and He demands justice for all those whose hearts are lost. You have been given His acceptance, so that you can invite others into His true acceptance. You have been approved, so that you can love being you and do something about what burns in your heart. The time of compromise is coming to an end. The world is crying out from it’s bones ‘SHOW ME YOUR GOD, SHOW ME YOUR JESUS!’ Our world needs truth more than ever before, and you have it. You can’t earn it! You already have it. Don’t live your life spinning around in that web of privilege and reputation; disillusioned by offense and blinded by your need to be accepted. You already are accepted. Your reputation has been traded for God’s. Don’t see you that people blame or bless God for your actions? You represent His reputation now, not your own. Look at the world. It’s edges are seeping with poverty, brokenness, loneliness, and hopelessness. It desperately  needs what you carry. The world cannot afford to live another day without your heavenly influence. Whatever goodness you’ve received from God, you were made to bring that to the world; now. Here’s another truth, you have no excuse not to. If you follow Jesus, you are a pre-approved justice-bringing, darkness-quenching, death-defeating, truth-bearing, lover. Jesus sent you to bring all good things from God’s kingdom to the world, and nothing should stop you. In fact, He said ‘upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it!” So if you consider yourself a Christian and you’re still seeing brick walls in your way, it’s time to let God’s definition of you unravel that web of lies.

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Left to Right: Kelsey (Me) and Liz, a nurse from France. We’re enjoying a routine clinic day in a camp

To those who’ve never met Jesus: God’s not waiting for you to earn His approval. God’s not hoping that you’ll make yourself acceptable. He’s telling you that He wants you exactly who you are as you are in this moment. If you’ve believed anyone or anything saying that ‘He doesn’t want you until’ or ‘He doesn’t want you because,’ you were tricked. You’re beautiful to Him. His heart burns for you and He enjoys your talents, your kindness. He loves you so ridiculously not because of what you do or how well you do it but because He made you for Himself.  He buried destiny in your hearts and set your life into motion. Some of you have heard this destiny and have a sense of what you were made for, don’t ignore that! Your heart was made to burn like it does. But it doesn’t end there… Your heart belongs to more than ‘what you were made for,’ your heart was made to belong to ‘who you were made for.’ Don’t be deceived, God made you to be like Him, and He freely gives you all you need to be with Him. You are His masterpiece and He delights in who you are. He longs to be the lover of your soul, but He’s waiting to be invited. Imagine the depth of knowing the one who made you, of enjoying your beautiful life through His eyes. I’ve never known another feeling like this. I’ve never seen a life truly, deeply healed by anything besides this. Imagine if everything that was ever stolen from you by evil or circumstance was restored. Imagine if every innocence you once had was legally yours again. You were made to live in innocence; you are meant to receive justice! There is more in His heart for you than you’ve ever known. I’m sorry if a Christian has mistreated you or misrepresented what Jesus stands for. You’re entitled to justice for that. Unforgiveness will never bring you justice, it will only deepen the injustice. If you haven’t found a Christian who has really been changed by Jesus, keep looking; and you will. I promise you this: any answer you seek is found in Jesus; and any answer from any other source will eventually leave your heart disappointed. If you don’t believe in Jesus, if you’ve never really met Him, I pray that you can feel His heart pounding in your chest like I do right now. I pray that you will be captured into a ‘this is what you were made for’ moment. Don’t just take my word for it; hear Him for yourself. He made you to hear Him.

The suffering are all around you. They are far and they are near. Some, like refugees are easy to spot while other’s remain hidden and just as alone. Justice is coming for the innocent, and I hope you have the privilege of bringing it. If you look into the eyes of Jesus, what do you see? Once you’ve really seen Him,  you will have a ‘how could I not’ burn into your heart. I challenge you to find it, and to bring unreasonable love to the world through it. Throw down those brick walls and go be like Jesus in the way only you can be. Don’t waste your life by trying too hard not to waste it. Love is the only thing that will win. Many have told me that I’m crazy, or that I’m wasting my talents and my life on an issue that I’m too small to solve. But I saw the heart of Jesus fill the emptiness in the blind woman’s eyes, and now I know. How could I not give my life to the ones my heart burns for. How could I not trust the only God who gives sight to the blind. I don’t know how my life will look, or how I’ll make an impact big enough to matter; but I throw my heart on the floor of heaven every day with a resounding “YES, GOD!”

Show me a world-changer whose life made sense.  I’ll show you ‘a reason why’ that defies all reason, restores all innocence, and satisfies all hopelessness with new life.

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Children playing peek-a-boo with me during clinic at a camp in Turkey

 

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Camp By The Sea

Young syrian girl collecting water near a camp

As my time here comes to it’s end, I find myself unable to find the right words. Lost expressions sink like heavy sediment, settling down to the bottom of my heart. Images of beautiful faces fill my mind and I’m sad to feel them turn to memories. I’ve only just begun to see and I’m certain I know less than I knew before. The time to close the door has come much to soon. It’s strange to leave these people who have reached into my heart and made me feel home. My heart is full of fire, and a new song urges me to dance.

I came to the Middle East to help refugees. They taught me about life, brought me home, and infused me with hope. I fell in love with the people in a way I’ve never known; they have given me a surge of life and now keep a piece of my heart. I wish I could infuse you with the riches I gained spending days and nights in tarp tents, but you must find them yourself. You will find it when you sit with the poor in Spirit, when you live with the suffering instead of feeling sorry for them from a distance.

A grandmother and her granddaughter
Stories of war, suffering, life, and hope wander into the back of my mind. The reality of their tales leaves a contradiction my heart can percieve but never comprehend. I long for you, that my telling if their stories would fill your heart with passion and life. I want you to feel the hope pulsing in their veins and taste the tears that stain their cheeks. Do you realize how precious life is? Can you see how sacred are the secrets of our hearts? Please, if tou read the tales I tell in the next few months, put aside judgement and misunderstaning. Look beyond poverty, race, religion, unknowns, and silent hate and you will see mothers, children, grandfathers, lovers; these beautiful sons and daughters of God.

Sweet, curious girl who loved to follow me
For now, I will leave you with the hard and happy story of a precious boy; a 3 month old baby who was born at 31 weeks. For the sake of the story, and to protect his real name, we will call him Hani, which means happy. I will tell of the month I spent with him and his mother.

The first day I met Hani was the third day I arrived in Izmir. When I first heard there was a premature baby living in a refugee camp very far from the city, I was shocked. I worried what condition I would find him in and doubted if I was even able to provide the care he needed. When I tucked my head under the blue, tarp roof, I searched for a tiny, unfortunate baby. His mother began to unwrap the bundle in her arms; blanket after blanket after blanket. His little toes began to squirm in protest and his big brown eyes met mine with a smile. He was perfect. I examined him well; listening to his heart and lungs, checking his reflexes and charting his weight gain. The little guy was such a champ and he had gained over a kilo since last month. At three months old, he weighed in at 3 kilos; a whopping 6 lbs. 6 oz. Let me tell you, he is such a stunner. Feeling very good about his present condition, I counseled the mother to breastfeed more and avoid using formula whenever possible. They don’t have access to clean water and formula feeding presents it’s own set of obvious and not so obvious risks to babies. This topic is best reserved for it’s own story. 

Hani’s friend playing ‘Doctura’, Our wonderful interpreter laughing in the background
Anyway, I’m sitting on the floor feeling very happy for this baby when I decided to ask about his birth. Oh boy, did I open I can of worms. Three months earlier, and 31 weeks pregnant the mother was out in the field working when she started having contractions. She was in labor much too early and went immediately to the hospital. She delivered her tiny baby there without too much trouble, and sweet Hani was taken to another room. The next day the mother was recovering well and she prepared to head home. What happened next is unthinkable. Her baby was gone! He was nowhere in the hospital. After much investigation, someone told her that her baby had been moved to another hospital for special care. But no one could tell her which hospital the baby had been moved to. Yes, they lost the baby. I repeat, Hani was lost! It took 21 days, several translators, and a few miracles to find this baby. As a refugee, birthing in Tureky is truly an ordeal  to endure. These women have so much courage to start their families in a country that is not their home in a language they cannot understand. Resolving to let it go and just be thankful that he is home now, I checked on the other babies and tended to the rest of the sick and injured. I left tiny Hani happy and healthy, snuggled up in too many cute onesies and blankets.

About one week later we got a phone call from his mother. Hani had fallen extremely ill, and was vomiting, feverish, and his diapers were full of blood. The parents, doing what good parents do, had taken their baby  immediately to the hospital. To our horror, they told us that the hospital didn’t take his temperature or examine the baby, but rather had hurriedly sent the young family away. Suspecting that the boy may have dysentery, we immediately began to search for a pharmacy who would sell us the medicines he needed. Thank God for small miracles; the first pharmacy we visited was willing to sell us the proper antibiotics without a prescription.

Lunch break behind a camp by the sea
We  began the journey to the camp by the sea. Boasting stunning beaches and beautiful gardens, this place is a summer-time hotspot for Europeans on holiday. Winter’s cold had begun to settled in and the tourists had all returned home. Refugees replaced the bustling crowds and the lonely dance floor was left abandoned. The beautiful agean sea and rocky beaches shimmered behind the blue tarp tents that now hosted several families. An unfinished concrete structure provided a little more shelter for the families with the youngest children.  The boy’s friends and family came out to meet us with with warm smiles and hugs. Much like the first time I met him, I ducked my head through the doorway concerned with what I would see. There he was all bundled up in usual fashion, soundly sleeping. As I unwrapped the third layer of blankets he began to stir. His big, brown eyes met mine once again, and my heart melted. It was unmistakable that he was very ill. How could anyone turn this precious baby away? His tiny heart pounded at over 210 beats per minute and his skin was clammy to the touch. His condition left me breathless and frustrated. Ignoring my own heart’s pounding, I took a moment to cuddle him and asked God to help us.

Kelsey giving hydrating salts to Hani
Planning to insert an IV, we found it impossible with his dehydrated, invisible veins. This baby needed fluids fast. We mixed up a strong batch of hydrating salts and began to give Hani sip by sip with a needle-less syringe. After several minutes he began slurping up the salty water, trying to nurse the syringe. Miraculously, he drank a bottle of rehydrating salt water. Good baby! Then he drank another. Then he breastfeed. With this infusion of sugar and salt, his body began to relax, his heart slowed to a normal pace, and he snuggled up in my arms for a nap. Be still my beating heart!

We stayed there for the rest of the day, tending to him while we treated the rest of the sick. Solemn yet hopeful, we drove away to get some rest before returning in the morning. The families gathered outside our car, insisting we stay the night. Unfortunately we had urgent blood work to return to the city. Each day we returned to the camp by he sea to steal a cuddle and give him his antibiotic shots. Our sleep came easier and worry started to fade from his mother’s face as he began to recover.

Hani and his happy mother
Yesterday was the last day I saw Hani and his family. His treatment finished, and he was back to his normal self. Where did this helpless baby find the strength to survive a sickness such as this? This was a miracle day. This was a celebration day. We sat in the small room with the women and children, laughing, hugging, and taking funny photographs. Even the men came in to join the fun; slipping into whatever space was left. This went on until the hour grew late. When the time came to say goodbye, Hani’s mother showed me pictures of him grinning from one tiny ear to another. She told me ‘Now every morning when he wakes up, he smiles at me.’ Her smile was even bigger than his. These moments are pure joy. I love this camp. I love these people. If I came all the way to Turkey and did nothing else; if it was just for Hani, it was worth it. Thank you to everyone who supported me in this work, from home and from aboroad, the friends I made, the volunteers, the translators, and the beautiful Syrian people. Your generosity, time, kindness, and work makes a difference for many beautiful people. For Hani, it saved his precious life.

Volunteers Georg, Liz, and Andrea in Swamp camp

    The Children of War

    It is appropriate to dedicate a post to the children of war; the youngest of refugees who live in tarp tents. Children like these live all over the world, unaware of life elsewhere in the world or how it should be for all children. 

    As we pull up to the camps in our small car, we are quickly surrounded by the most beautiful children with smiling faces. They excitedly shout “a’bla, a’ bla”, “big sister, big sister.” Stepping out of the car the young children surround us, grabbing our hands and leading us into their tents. They fight over who will carry our boxes for us. The flies are thick in the air and cover the faces of the youngest children who do not bother to swat them away. Heaps of trash bags full of diapers and rotting waste sit at the entrance of the ‘camp’. Human waste  is carelessly tossed anywhere and the air boasts of its presence. Irrigation water spurts out of pipes, leaks springing up along its length. Pools of mud and waste threaten to flood the camp.

    Despite these atrocious conditions, the children run and play, and many of them seem healthy ‘enough.’ If they are not sick or injured we teach them how to drink only filtered and boiled water, wash their hands, brush their teath, avoid burns from unprotected fire pits, and encourage them to wear shoes and eat clean food. They do not go to school but like to learn new games and practice English with us. They only know 1 or 2 English words and of course they find it quite funny when we speak in Arabic. 


    Not all of the children are so fortunate to be in decent health. Many have moderate to severe illnesses, parasites, and infections. In two days and two camps alone, we have provided care for a young girl with a bladder and kidney infection, another for h. Pylori, a boy of 4 years with impetigo,  a baby  boy with a congenital heart defect and chronic respiratory infections, several newborns, several children with blisters and rashes from viral/bacterial infection, and many injuries and burns. They burn plastic in the camps and smoldering pieces drift up in the smoke only to land on their bare feet and skin. 

    And then there are the babies. Cutest. Babies. Ever. 


    This week we met many beautiful babies of Syria. We encourage the mothers to breastfeed as much as possible, help them with their needs, answer their questions, and of course, steal a cuddle with the babies.  We provide the best care for the newborns that we can; checking in frequently with their weight gain, temperatures, vital signs, and developmental milestones. Those who are breastfed are usually fairly healthy, but the women always worry that they cannot breastfeed enough. This is a hard time for new mothers and their children.  Babies are often born premature here (I will blog on this issue later.. first I must calm down by thinking on how cute they are), and they do not received ANY follow up care with the hospital after birth. The women who are lucky to get to a hospital while in labor are usually sent home the same day they deliver; whether naturally or by cesarean. Yes, I said if they have a cesarean section, they may  go home to their dirty tents THE SAME DAY. Premature babies do not get special care unless it is considered an immediate life-threatening emergency. Below is a photograph of a premature baby and her mother. I found the cute little guy to be doing quite well, and in a delightful mood. The babies who are not critical receive no medical care except what we provide. There are a few babies in our care who need specialist in-hospital care. We are advocating for them the best we can but these things take time and special favors and are quite complicated. Unfortunately, unless we can prove to a sympathetic Turkish Doctor that child will likely die without specific treatment, it is impossible for them to be seen without large amounts of money up front. Perhaps it goes without saying, but the refugees do not have funds for this.  For those of you who donate to specific volunteers or MedVint, money may sometimes go to getting patients into treatment for critical cases such as this. Though care is astronomically expensive for thee people, it is very inexpensive for most westerners. We took a 1 year old girl to the emergency room this week and her car cost less than $34 U.S.  dollars.

    They are hidden away in the farmlands, tucked behind gutters and sopping lean-to shelters. The war they did not choose has taken away their right to live freely. Instead of learning math, literature, and science, they learn of fire, disease, loss, and prejudice. The world has failed them, abandoned them to poverty and difficulty; but they do not even know it.  They will never know their home country as it was before war. Instead of sitting in school, they are playing with burning plastic and reeking rubbish, hoping maybe today they will see their ‘doctor’ friends. The people of the world are done a great injustice in that they cannot see these shining lights.  They are the highlight of our work, and bring hope to the Syrian people that maybe they will live like humans once again.  How this is possible, I cannot see but only hope and pray for the people. Until then, the need for this work will continue and evermore volunteers, medicine, funding, and support will be needed to meet even the most basic of the people’s needs. 

    Human

    Abandoned house hosting many refugee families

    Last night I stood waiting by an old man sitting on a folded towel beside the street. He held out his hand toward passerbys trying to sell packages of Kleenex and instant coffee. I stood near him for a long while, waiting and watching. Pedestrians turned their faces, twisting their bodies to avoid brushing against his hand. One after another, they kick the dust toward him as if he were a stray dog. It’s easy here to grow tired beggars because they are many, but it’s impossible not to notice them. If you ignore them, they are not deferred. Rather, they wait by your side until you give them an answer; will you help them or not. At least this way you have to acknowledge they exist. 

    When my car arrived I rushed to quickly grab some money to give him. I stooped down in front of him so I could see into his eyes, grabbed his hands for a moment and looked straight into his face. I offered a prayer of blessing and healing and told him that he’s valuable to me. He did not understand my words, and the money will make little difference. But at least someone touched him, at least someone looked in his face with kindness. The shock on his face left me to wonder how many times in a day, in a month, in a year someone treats him with kindness. The poverty is horrible, but the cruelty is a greater pain. 

    City in Syria

    The situation in Syria is without words, certainly beyond horrible. Families are trapped between the regime and ISIS, with nowhere to run from Russia’s devastating barrel bombs. The world is waging it’s wars at the cost of the Syrian people. The people did not choose this life, and this is no longer their war, it belongs to the power players of the world. They have no home to return to. To be honest, the rest of the world cannot comprehend it. I cannot understand it. What we call unthinkable and horrible evils are everyday life for many people left inside Syria. I will never repeat many of the stories I have heard, the words are too bitter. I will not attempt to understand life inside Syria’s crumbling borders, I realize it is not possible. Unthinkable images and stories that once left me without words have strangely begun to feel familiar and common.

    What continues to surprise me is how the Syrian people are not treated like people at all. What wrong have the civilians done to be kicked to the curb like this? I have never seen such prejudice and inconsiderate disregard for human life.

    Refugee camp

    You should also know that not all the local residents are cruel to them. Some show concern for the refugees and try to help. Unfortunately, those sympathetic to the Syrians face persecution from other locals. Even so, we have met doctors and volunteers with hearts so full of generosity that they don’t even blink at the criticism or consequences; they continue to offer their support. Some have even offered for us volunteers to stay in their own homes, and wish to help with anything we need while we are here working. 
    The refugees left their home to flee an irreconcilable war, many losing family, houses, everything. They hope for a chance at a better life, or at least to save their own life. They gave up everything they’ve known because they would not support any of the evils they were trapped between. Their choice was to partner with horror, decide which horror is less than the other, become a murderer for another mans agenda, or to leave.  They arrive here with promises of shelter, food, and medical care, but they are treated like cattle. “Coward!” They hear on the street or in the hospital, “go back to Syria and fight. Or else you deserve to die.” Refusing to join Isis or Al Assad, denying to take the life of another, they come here. 

     Herded into long lines behind police tape, refugees try again and again and again to get ID, registration for hospital, and permission to live here, but few of them ever see success.  So they have started their new lives in the best way they can, one day at a time, refusing to give up hope. Some people sell things on the streets, others beg, others find illegal work. The persistent hope of the people is both inspiring and heartbreaking. 

    Brother and sister

    Somehow, hope is louder than their complaints. They wait for resettlement programs, making plans for their marriages, children, and futures. Some of them cling to the hope of returning to Syria, though its become obvious there is no home to return to. 
    I feel I’ve had many sad stories to share on this blog, but I need to express how beautiful the people are, how human they are.  They’ve been abandoned by the world, but they still have room in their hearts to hold love and acceptance for many. The still have room in their hearts to give to me. 

    Meal prepared for us by refugee family in a camp

    In the evening the men sit around and smoke, discussing things normal men do. The women tend to the children and prepare food on makeshift stoves made of iron and rock atop burning plastic and rubbage. The children love to print their hair and nails with henna, and they play wherever they can. The older children tend to their siblings and help protect them from danger. After we have seen all the sick, they invite us to dance and lay out food on a blanket. We tease the children, tell jokes with the adults, practice new words on Arabic and English, and exchange photos and Facebook. Most of them are not depressed, they are not wallowing in self pity or feeling helpless. They are eager to work and move on, but the opportunity is denied to them. 

    Girl pretending to be doctor with my stethoscope

    I hope and pray that the future holds a different life for these beautiful people. I know that all the volunteers hope their kindness makes a difference, even if just for one.

    Third World Girl: How To Nurture A Nation

    For those who wonder how women’s health care makes a difference in crisis. 

    What makes a woman? What should women do? What shouldn’t  women do? What can’t women do? 

    Undoubtedly, these questions leave deep imprints on the cultures of our world. From America to Sudan to Japan and Iraq, definitions of ‘womanhood’ leave their mark; and sometimes take their toll on society. In the life of a third world girl, marriage and motherhood define you from a young age. Similarly, becoming pregnant and delivering your baby is a life event second to none for most women worldwide. Motherhood shapes a woman, carving memories into the core of her being. Women hold secret wisdom and cultural beliefs that define the lives of girls who pass beyond puberty. These practices are diverse, beautiful, surprising, enduring, and sometimes haunting. They change from one generation to another, morphing with the promise of health and convenience with new technology, medicines, and fancy hospital machines. In the midst of such great diversity, one thing is constant; the experiences of motherhood reach deep into the secrets of a woman heart, and they do not leave her. This is what I love about midwifery. This is what breaks my heart for the girls of the world. 


    Women face a new variety of challenges when living in the refugee camps. Conditions make hygienic care difficult if not impossible. Many women face chronic dehydration, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and suffer from sexually transmitted diseases. As all women do, these mothers suffer from miscarriages, stillbirths, infertility, and terrible accidents. The difference for refugees is they don’t just feel alone; they often are alone. Treatment for women’s health  issues is difficult to come by and they may go years without care from a midwife or doctor. They may go to the hospital if they are about to deliver a baby, but they will be sent back to their tent the same day, with no follow up care or explanation in their own language. If they have extra money they can go and pay a private doctor who cannot speak their language  and attempt to get care… Let me tell you how many times in the last two weeks I’ve seen a desperate woman who paid to see a doctor who huriedly ‘googled’ their symptoms and sent them home with a bogus prescription or an antibacterial cream that will do little to nothing for the issue they present with. Not to beat a dead horse, but these are refugees fleeing war, they are living illegaly in tarp tents with their families for a chance to make $6 a day. Let’s be honest, they don’t have extra money.  I’ve met women with yeast infections lasting almost a decade, yes, I said a decade; women expecting their 12th or 13th child, women with STI’s they can’t understand because they’ve never been with anyone besides their husband, pregnant women working in dangerous factories like slaves, women who have befriended their husbands other wives, women elated with a positive pregnancy test or a growing baby, girls of 13 and 15 who are married and pregnant, and women torn apart because they cannot conceive. Before war,  they could easily get quality medical care for these issues. Now, as refugees, it is near to impossible. In the midst of the world’s problems these are small issues, but they have a lasting impact on the women, and consequently, the family. 


    For a third world girl, women’s health is intertwined with social issues, politics, war, religion, and law. Early and arranged marriages, young motherhood, social expectations, poverty, and illness dictate their role in society and map the course of their lives from a young age. The role of women  in society cannot be replaced by man or child. For society to be healthy, the women must be healthy. When freedom and health are lost to women, the entire community suffers for it. This is very clear among the refugees. Among the Syrians where the women are damaged from war, illness, and mistreatment, young girls bear the burden to fill women’s role in society. 


    Despite living conditions we can’t even imagine, they find joy in their pregnancies. Older siblings like the girl pictured above tend to the babies; proud of their mothering skills. Girls of 15 try to hide their fear as they speak shyly but proudly of their pregnancies. This life they did not choose  has taught them of war and poverty and the world of hatred, evil, and small acts of kindness.What has prepared them for motherhood? What makes this acceptable? In 15 years these girls have survived terrors that can’t be depicted in even the most violent films. It is true their childhood is stolen, and perhaps they are done a great injustice to be treated as women.  But for them, motherhood is an inescapable reality; sometimes bringing hope for a ‘normal’ life and a purpose they can fulfill. Circumstances scream that they should not have children, but their hearts long to be mothers. The pursuit of love and motherhood is a universal language and the most normal part of life in the camps. You should see how their face radiate when a positive pregnancy test is announced. It is as if for a moment the war is forgotten, and life is whole again. Yet, somewhere behind their eyes you see their worry for the life their baby will have.

    The pain of a mother  who watches her children suffer injustice is without comparison.

    Likewise, the joy of a mother for the life of her children can hardly be expressed. There is no delight like a child’s laughter and no honor like their trusting embrace. 



    Many people ask me, “how can they have children? How can they put a young child through that kind of life? If they can’t take care of themselves, how should they take care of a baby?’ Again, I confess that I do not have the answer. But I can say this: for many of them motherhood is the most normal thing that has ever happened to them. Whether by arranged marriage or choice, their children are the best part of their lives. How can the world expect them to put away their family when this is the only remedy they have for their suffering? Some may think these wome are selfish, but I think they are giving the world a gift; they are giving their people a gift. They are choosing to continue as women, as mothers, and their life-language gives hope.  

    To all the doctors, midwives, nurses, translators, and volunteers who work to treat refugees with human kindness and understanding, who honor womanhood and protect motherhood, thank you for investing in families. Do not underestimate the value of your work. What is society without families?  

    If you wish to nurture a nation, nurture it’s mothers. 


    P.S. I love you mom!

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    This post is for those  want to see refugees through a lens untainted by media, propaganda, or statistics.


    We’ve heard rumors of ‘human rights abuse’ in Turkey, Idomeni, and throughout the Eastern world. The extreme numbers and statistics surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis leave us feeling overwhelmed and disconnected. We have not seen their faces, heard their stories, or met their children. We do not know them at all. If we are really honest, how can we in the West truly see them as they are. The media describes them in numbers and problems; the world’s unsolvable crisis.  in our minds, they aren’t always really human to us. As time passes they become like numbers and a sad story.  Some of us have realized that we will have to answer to our children about this crisis, but what is there to do? After all, this is war. Human rights abuse is a concern we tuck away in our minds. It’s just too ugly a truth. 


    When we arrive at a camp, the children surround us and run to greet us. The women clear out a tent and make sure there are pillows or rugs for us to sit on while we share freshly brewed tea that was made just for us. Everyone gathers around and stories of family, danger, life, birth,  death, and suffering fill the tarp walls. We laugh and we cry, and we tease and tickle the children. Suddenly these people are no longer my imagination, no longer a stastistic, they are my friends. How could they have ever been just another sad number? So rich with life, so burdened with suffering, these people open up their homes to us, bringing us food and treats, treating us like family. I know few people as hospitable as the Syrian refugees I have met. It feels so strange to think the wold has closed it’s doors to them. 


    Where can they go? If they stay in Syria they face the Russian barrel bombs from the sky and ISIS on the ground. If they make the treacherous journey to Turkey they risk being shot on sight or killed in the mountains. Out of a group of 100 trying to cross the border, 20 made it out of Syria alive. But what else can they do? They just move on and try to keep on living. Yesterday, sitting in a camp in the country, we heard a big commotion outside. A woman burst into the tent and began handing out candy and excitedly announcing that many people just arrived to camp from Syria. Many of the newcomers the are sick and we tended to their needs as quickly as possible.  We give deworming medicine to all and instructions on how to boil water and protect themselves from parasites and bacteria found in waste and food. Many of these people had been camped out a month at the border; hoping for a chance that a smuggler would successfully sneak them out of their deteriorating nation and into Turkey. They spent most of their money to pay the smugglers and are now malnourished and exhausted; several are pregnant. Many of them have misunderstood what the conditions are in Turkey. Nevertheless, they sing and dance, celebrating the safe arrival of their brothers and sisters.


     I examined this baby (above) right after she arrived from Syria and her father met her for the first time, can you imagine the scene?  


    This man (pictured above) has the delight of staying back at the tent village to look after the children while the others work in the brick factory. The people work their bodies hard until 6 or 7 in the evening, breathing in toxic chemicals and dust in the extreme heat of the brick furnaces. The children are preferred  by the commissioner for this work because they are cheaper. Conditions are hazardous and the work is extremely difficult (not to mention illegal). Many children get injured while working, and of course, no one assumes the responsibility, and their broken bones are left unset and untreated. Others do not work in factories, but work in the fields picking and peeling fruits and vegetables (also illegal, and also pregnant women and children). If they have a good landlord, they will be permitted to live on the farm (in exchange for rent money of course) and work all day for $10-$12 U.S. dollars. If you are Syrian, you are paid less than the other workers. You may or may not ever collect your wages. It is illegal for you to live in the tarp tent you pay rent for and you may be thrown out by police. If you are Syrian you have no legal push, no power and you cannot get an ID without extreme measures from people who have pull in Turkey. You have little hope of accesible healthcare, and sympathetic doctors are few. The handful of doctors eager to help the refugees can neither justify nor manage the workload to see all of the Syrian people.

    How can this can’t be true…Turkey promised that the people would have houses, food, free healthcare, and income, we saw it on the news, we read it in the paper. Things are not always as they seem, and reality is not as it has been protrayed to us. This much is abundantly clear. So…

    If you are asking if there is really human rights abuse in Tureky, my answer is clear. I have not even written of the worst I have heard or seen in one week. The camps stink of war, human waste, and harsh chemicals. The children are adorable and naughty; clueless of the life they could live. Some of them seem quite afraid and unsettled.  For the women, he desire to have children wages war with the reality of their situation; the reality their children will likely face forever.   They will never have citizenship, politically speaking; they will never belong. I am not a politician and I do not have the answers for the problems of the Middle East or the Syrian war and refugee crisis. But I can tell you that these are a gentle, hospitable, funny, honest, and lively people.  In midst of terrible circumstances they show courage, persistanceance,  and kindness. Not all of the people are hostile to refugees, but some of them are. I have met several doctors who have been more than willing to help the people with chronic and severe illnesse; for this I am extremely grateful. 

    Before I came to Turkey, I knew that showing love, acceptance, and kindness was the most important part of my work. Now, I am beginning to understand. You cannot advocate for human rights until you can really see the humanity in a people group. I am here to provide medical relief, not to get involved with politics. When I snapped the photo of the Turkish flag behind the camp, I could not help but to write on the discrepancy between media and reality, expectations and hope deferred, talk and action. To understand the work that Midwife Pilgrim and MedVint are doing, you must understand this dynamic. 

    Stay tuned for more updates on the medical projects we are implementing for the Syrian refugees of Western Turkey. 

    A Beginning 

    As I sit and wait for my plane to board I see the sun creep up over the horizon. Silhouetting the familiar desert mountains, the brilliant, bright strokes paint a sunrise worth remembering. These are my mountains, and I know them well. Yet, somehow this silent moment in a sleeply little airport safely near home reminds me that the ‘far’ corners of our world are closer than we think. 

    The rest of the world is closer than we think. 

    When I see this map I can almost feel the pains of our world as the Middle East tears and divides, as Africa cries out, as others turn their faces and many go unheard and unseen. I wonder how our earth will survive these birth pains. Greater than the questions of how, or why, hope fills my soul. Although, I don’t know the answers for every world issue my generation faces, I’m certain that I  know the one who does. 

    He knows every voice that cries out from the moment of conception to the moment life ends. In joy, in chaos, in birth, and in death, God knows the hearts that burn within us. He burns to fill our hearts with purpose birthed in His perfect love. 

    My heart burns for the nations, the forgotten, the unseen, unreached, untouched because His does. My hands are dedicated to this work, filled with goodness to freely give. I love the moment when a newborn first cries out. And that moment when you see love in a strangers face, when Jesus walks into the room. The moments when I give myself away to touch another human with goodness greater than myself, these are the moments that I’m truly living.

    Being a midwife is the most humbling honor. Being one who can reach out and love freely– this is greater.

    Whatever the next month holds, I’m ready to embrace it! 

    Thank you to everyone who has supported me with prayers, hugs, encouraging words, and finances. I hope you enjoy the stories you read here– and find inspiration for your own adventure.
    Much love and always,

    Kelsey.