Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Casablanca

I have an old faded photograph of my mother at twenty-something standing among the ruins of the Greek Acropolis with her little seventies bob and a white polo shirt. Something about this photo has captivated me since I was a little girl when my mom told me stories of Athens. It’s always been that far away dream of my mine, that place I must visit one day.

Then suddenly and quite unexpectedly, as often happens with God, that one day became yesterday. And I found myself sitting atop the ruins of the Acropolis just like my mother.

Although the Acropolis is right in the very middle of the busy metropolitan city of Athens, somehow there is a quiet peace and stillness up there that is simply magnificent. Sitting up there seemingly atop the world, the only noise that of piano sonatas wafting up from somewhere down below, I couldn’t stop thinking about that faded photograph and about dreams and marveling at how God awakens dreams inside our hearts. As I gazed down at the city at my feet, I thought back on how I had spent the previous days among the refugees, and wondered if Athens wasn’t part of some new dream maybe that God has for me someday, somehow.

You see, Athens is something of a modern-day Casablanca. With a population of 4 million, it is home to over 300,000 immigrants and refugees - that’s 10% of the population. Everyone seems to be waiting to go somewhere, biding their time and hoping for that day to come when they’ll get out of here, make it somewhere better. The majority of them are Afghanis, a different kind of casualty of the war there - many who worked in the police or served alongside the US military now fleeing in fear of what will happen as the US pulls out. Others are Pakistanis and Syrians, victims of the latest violence there, or Iranians and Turks in search of a better life.

Most are only halves of families. Parents or children, sometimes as young as six, have already been sent ahead one way or another to Germany or Sweden or Switzerland, hoping that the laws of the land will work in their favor to reunite the family in a better place. The stories you hear of being smuggled across borders of saving money to buy fake passports of long journeys on speedboats and life rafts are like something out of the movies.

Without visas or papers, these are citizens of nowhere. Children who were clearly top of their class at elite schools in their own country are relegated to wandering from aid organization or aid organization in search of some solace, some temporary escape from the boredom and the instability in which they’ve suddenly been thrown. Without any understanding of English or Greek, many can’t even write their names or read the signs around town. When they tell you goodbye at the end of an English class or after a meal, neither of you are sure if they will be back tomorrow, if tonight they might be granted a fake passport or may get word from family in another country and leave to join them. You never know if goodbye is for a day or a for a lifetime, and neither of you is quite sure which is better.

There is a free meal to be had almost every day of the week between the different soup kitchens. But they are hungry for more than that. They are hungry for security, for stability, for hope, for some promise of the dream that drove them to flee everything they knew for a better life. And there, stuck in between the Muslim world that they left and the Western world which they have not yet reached, they have a rare momentary opportunity to meet their Savior.

This is the hope that excites my soul. It reawakens something God spoke to me long ago teaching in an overcrowded refugee school in Cairo. This is my Casablanca, the kind of passion that makes you want to throw everything aside to pursue it.

And there atop the Acropolis I thought about this hope, about these dreams God sews in our hearts. You can’t explain how it got there or where it came from. You just have this sense that, like that old faded photograph of my mother’s, one day, somehow it will be. So as the refugees, I say goodbye to Athens and goodbye to the dream, not sure if it is for a day or for a lifetime, but sure of this one thing that He who started a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion“ (Philippians 1:6) … one day.

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