Her name is Ramah. She stands on the edge of our circle too shy to join in, clutching her younger brother’s hand. When I look over, her dark eyes meet mine, and when I smile, she smiles back. I tell her my name and hold out a hand, and she grips my fingers tightly and tells me her name and her brother’s, and then giggles when I try to pronounce them.
In her perhaps seven years of life, she has already seen more suffering than I can imagine.
She lives in a tiny, shoulder-high enclosure, one of many, a crude blanket fort inside a concrete building like an abandoned parking garage. She plays on dirt and cement behind a chain-link fence guarded by Greek police, and if I am cold in a coat, she must be freezing in her thin shirt.
Earlier in the morning, I stood in the ruins of Philippi, and it did not feel real.
I touched the stones where Paul walked, saw the city square where he was beaten, sang in the theatre where Christians were martyred. I wondered, as I ran my fingers along the doorframe of an ancient temple to Caesar, why I was taught to be willing to die like an ancient Christian martyr but not to live like one—why my upbringing included dedication to defending my faith, but not unrelenting dedication to loving the needy.
And now in the evening, I stand in the refugee camp, and it feels too real.
I touch the dirt where they walk, see the shelters where they sleep, sing in the building where they live. I wonder, as I hold Ramah’s tiny fingers in my hand, why my country sends money to insurgent groups, but not to these desperate ones—why we fill other countries with our military, but don’t fill our own country with refugees.
We sang, and they cheered, and even as I laughed with the little girl who threw her ball higher and higher until I couldn’t catch it anymore, and even as I admired the little boys’ soccer skills, and even as I held a mother’s hand and repeated her name—I felt tears behind my eyes.
A man told us, “It’s good you came here. The children needed—” and here he pressed his hands to his heart and then raised them heavenward.
And I felt all the guilt of knowing I can walk in and out of their prison on holiday. I felt the shame of lifting their spirits only to leave without providing any material help. Hope is a powerful thing, but songs are not enough. Laughter will not keep out the darkness.
The children chased our bus out, waving and calling thank you’s, and we left behind people with no certain future. What I saw for ten or twenty minutes, they will see for ten or twenty months, years even.
We argue about economies, politics, immigration laws, while hundreds of thousands of people crowd into already struggling countries. We talk about statistics. We argue about “political issues” as if they were a hot potato in a game we hoped to win, but I have looked into their eyes, held their hands, and learned their names.
They are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. They are sons and daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers.
And one of them is a little girl named Ramah.