Byron Bay || Local Outreach

Several weeks into lectures, Evangelism week was upon us and I sat in my chair trembling at the thought of evangelizing because it’s never been a strong point for me. But Allen, the lecturer got up and began by saying, “I want to take the pressure off of you.” And I breathed a sigh of relief. The following week, our whole school packed up for  our first week of outreach in the coastal town of Byron Bay!

It was a good taste of what outreach will look like for my team, since we’ll be  staying in Australia. But instead of five people traveling and sleeping on church floors, this time there were 50 of us! 

God gave me the word, ‘bold’ for this week. Boldness isn’t something that comes naturally for me and so I knew that it would be a week of tapping into God’s strength. And it was!  

On the first day when I had a little free time, I went exploring and found little shops within walking distance of where we were staying, full of light and aesthetically pleasing displays and felt so deeply inspired by the creativity in these spaces and the people that filled them.

As I walked back to the church where we were staying, I glanced down at a newspaper that lay on the ground and the headlines read, “Growing bolder” in bold letters across the front page. Such a confirmation of what God had already spoken to me earlier in the week!

The reason that we were in Byron Bay over the week of “Schoolies” which is the Aussie version of Spring Break. YWAM works with an organization called “RedFrogs” that provides support to the teenagers graduating from high school. They come to Byron Bay (and other coastal towns as well) to celebrate their accomplishments and we were there to show them the love of Jesus in a practical way.

During that week, I learned first hand that evangelism is in essence seeing the needs around me and serving. It is being the hands and the feet of Jesus. It can mean holding back someone’s hair while they’re too drunk to do so themselves. Or simply giving them a drink of water. Ultimately, evangelism is pointing them to a better way but first, it means meeting people in their place of need with a bit of kindness and genuine love and drawing them into truth.

I’m learning that evangelism is more a lifestyle; it is simply telling God that we’re available to do His work as we go about the mundane tasks in our day to day life. It isn’t so much filling a certain quota or flaunting about all the people we’ve converted.

(The Hub where the RedFrogs and YWAM were based out of.)

Evangelism is about this lifelong relationship with Jesus that just keeps getting better and allowing His joy to spill out to those around us. Evangelism is learning to understand people and in order to do that, you have “to stand under people.”

As dusk fell on our first day in Byron, a few of us sat outside of the Hub and played instruments and sang. Two people walked by, one with a double bass and the other having one guitar in one hand and another strapped to his back. We invited them to come over and play with us and spent the next hour or so swapping songs and talking to them.

One of their friends came and joined us. He sat down next to me and introduced himself, “I’m Gossie.” We got to talking about traveling. “I like adventure, so I’m a sky-dive assistant.” He went on to talk of all the places he’s been and how he almost died in Bolivia because he had appendicitis and was far away from a hospital. He survived, obviously, but had his appendix removed and lost a lot of blood. “I thought it was the end. I said my prayers and my only regret was that I hadn’t told my family goodbye.”

I had to leave before our conversation was over but I felt at peace because I knew that my interaction with Gossie wasn’t wasted.

The nights where our outreach team wasn’t on shift, we would walk around the park (where the hub was set up) and we’d talk to the high school kids. It was probably mostly due to how intoxicated the kids were, but they were so open and receptive to God. I had one conversation with a girl who told me that she was skeptical about prayer. She went on to tell me about how every one of her family members had failed at this test that was important for them to pass in order to be accepted into University (or ‘Uni’ as they call it here). At the end of our conversation, I said to her, “Look, I know you’re skeptical about prayer but how would you feel about me praying that you would pass that test?” Her eyes got moist with tears and she said, “Please do.”

I met Mattice, pictured above, in downtown Byron Bay and me and my friend paused to listen to him play his music and then we struck up a conversation. I asked him what brings him most joy in his life and he said,”Music and surfing but also traveling.”

On Wednesday evening,  YWAM Brisbane joined YWAM Townsville and YWAM Byron Bay along with the RedFrogs volunteers for an open worship night before we hit the streets.

We had a time to pray over each other and the guy who sat next to me turned to me and said, “I don’t know how you feel about spiders, but I got this picture of you being a spider making a web. I see that you are filled with so much creativity and you’re making this intricate web and you can’t necessarily see the beauty because you’re too close up but people are going to be caught up in the beauty of the gospel and be drawn to God because of what they see in you. You know how spider webs look in the early morning when the light is shining through the dew and everything is sparkling? That’s what people will see when they look at you; a beautiful masterpiece.” I was stunned.

Later that evening, I met Bintou. She’s originally from Nigeria but migrated to Australia 17 years and has raised all three of her children here. I asked her if she had any life advice for me and she said, “Don’t be afraid to love. And dance like there’s no tomorrow.”

One night, I was standing in the hub talking to several kids and one guy struck up a conversation with me. I didn’t even have to bring up God, because he did! “I just don’t see how God could be good because He let my uncle be killed.” I listened and then had the opportunity to share a little bit of my own story about losing my dad and brother and struggling for years to understand God’s goodness but then finally realizing that for me, God was the only way to find healing from the trauma of losing loved ones. He listened attentively and then asked me to pray for him. The whole time that we were talking, his friends were boisterously chatting, “C’mon mate! Let’s go get a drink!” But as soon as I started praying, they quieted down and after I had finished praying they said, “Can you pray for us too?”

As the week drew to a close, my outreach team and I went up to the lighthouse. This is the Eastern-most point of Australia and even though I’d been along the beach all week, I was stunned with the breathtaking view as we arrived at the top. Ocean spread out on 3/4 of the horizon.

My outreach leaders, Bekah and Beth. 

Byron Bay has a deeply spiritual atmosphere. It is a place where many people come to seek God or to “find themselves.” We spent time taking in the incredible scene of ocean crashing in over the rocks below us and then retrieved guitar and box drum from the car and spent time in worship up there and then spent time praying and processing through what all had happened during the week.

There was something so incredible about ending the week on that note, taking in beauty and listening to God out on the rocks as the waves crashed in below. It gave us strength to finish our last night of ministry well. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this! I’d love to hear back from you, so if you have questions about what I’m doing here, drop them in the comments or email me at


Thirty Minutes to Decide || YWAM Brisbane

The first few weeks of lecture here on my DTS, we studied the Character and Nature of God, The Holy Spirit, Intercession, Relationships and Hearing God’s voice. It was all culminated when we were brought together to pray about what outreach location to choose! 

Even before I came to Australia, I knew the location God wanted me to go to. But I tried to reason it away because first of all, I didn’t know if they had outreach teams going there and secondly, I had ideas of my own about other places that I would have liked to go to instead. 

It was a Thursday night when our school leader got up and gave a slide presentation of all seven of the outreach locations. We were given a blank piece of paper and thirty minutes to ask God where He wanted us to go. Thirty minutes! Have you ever prayed for thirty minutes before making a decision about where you’ll be spending two months? It was a thrilling experience for me. 

The first country to pop up on the screen was the country God had laid on my heart since before coming here. I didn’t hear an audible voice but I felt a burning sensation in the pit of my stomach. And before you think that I made my decision based on what I felt in that moment, it was actually a step of obedience for me because God had been preparing my heart to go to this country for several months now. I didn’t have peace until I wrote it down. 

Throughout the rest of the slide presentation, I waited to see if any of the other countries would have the same affect on me but none did.  I laid on the floor with the blank sheet of paper in front of me as the clock ticked away. “Alright, God.” I said. “I am going to write that country down. I’ll even put it at the top of my list!” 

The locations were: Australia, Detroit, Northern Europe, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan and China.

We could pick two locations, so I scribbled the name of the country I knew God had laid on my heart at the top of my paper, wrote another country name underneath and then walked up front and dropped my paper in the basket. The mood on base that night was so amped up and after we had all submitted our locations, we walked to Macca’s (McDonald’s) and celebrated with ice cream and frozen coke.

For two days, we didn’t know which of the two locations that we would be going to. We tried so hard not to leak information to each other about which locations we had selected but it was so hard!  

Fast forward two days and we were called back into the community room and given blindfolds and led out onto the lawn. We were instructed to put on the blindfold and wait until our outreach leaders would come and get us! I felt like a kid, standing in the middle of the lawn, unable to see anything but with a silly grin on my face. Suddenly, I felt my arms being grabbed by two staff members as they led me over to a spot close to the patio area. We stood there in silence for what felt like ten minutes, waiting for everyone to get into groups. “Take your blindfolds off!” I ripped mine off and we peeled into laughter. “Wait, where are we going?” One of our outreach leaders handed us a puzzle and we knelt down on the ground, piecing it together until we figured out where we were going. AUSTRALIA! Our team is the second to smallest; there are only five of us. We’ll be traveling around Queensland and dipping down into a few country towns in New South Wales as well, supporting churches and ministering in schools. I’m really excited about the way that God led me so clearly to stay here in Australia. He’s already given me such a heart for this country and its beautiful people with awesome accents. 

**Photo Credits to my beautiful Danish friend, Sophie.

At the beginning of this year, God gave me the scripture in Isaiah 61:1-4 and more specifically, gave me the word, “favor.” I’ve felt God’s favor and love this year like never before and I am thrilled to get to share it with other people.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives; the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort those who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

Thank you for your interest in my life and what God is doing. Next, I’ll be sharing pictures and stories from our week of outreach in Byron Bay.


I woke up in Australia

The sun rises over Brisbane City’s horizon. 721A0614
I feel God stirring deep inside and doing a new thing in me.
As I sit on the cold bench in the graveyard, I think about all that God did to bring me to this place and how all of my plans for this fall and winter dissolved and the door to come to Australia swung open.


This past June I was listening to a podcast one day during work and the speaker said, “If you died today, what would you regret not accomplishing? And what are you going to do to change that?” In that moment, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and sign up for a DTS with YWAM. One of my friends had attended a DTS a few years ago and had come back transformed. I wanted the joy and the boldness that I saw in her.


Earlier this year, I came home after working in a refugee camp in Greece. While I was there, I saw the depravity of the world in a very raw way.
Having witnessed so much darkness, I realized that my faith was weak and I needed to get a solid foundation in my faith. I needed discipleship.


Of all the YWAM schools around the world that offered a photography track, I couldn’t get the one in Brisbane out of my head. I signed up in August. A few weeks later, when I got the confirmation that I had been accepted, it was crunch time to get work squared away before I needed to leave in early October. My visa came in just the nick of time and I bought my ticket and started packing excitedly.


I’m in week six of my DTS (Discipleship Training School) and learning so much and laughing so often. God hand picked a really amazing group of people to be my “YWAM fam” and we have so much fun together.

The ball of fire in the sky continues to climb, bathing the world in brand new light. It’s a circle of light. Circles depict eternity to me and the deep commitment that comes with pursuing God. Circles tell my story so well. God keeps bringing me back around to places of need, and asking if I’m willing to let Him peel back another layer.


The layers feel like security blankets but what they’re really doing is blocking me from experiencing true life. They are blurring my vision from seeing life clearly; from God’s perspective. I work through one layer, only to discover that there are more layers that need to be peeled back. Coming back around to the same spot in a circle I ask the question, ‘Why am I still struggling through this?’ The undoing that God wanted to do frustrated the daylights out of me. But now I am beginning to see that it is part of the restorative process that is happening in me.
He brings me back to these places because He cares about me.
The very same thing that used to frustrate me, now comforts me.
The difference is this; now in my place of need, I am met by love.
Instead of frustration and defeat, I am met by God’s mercy and grace.
Peeling back the layers doesn’t feel good but it is ultimately for my good.
As the flaky, dead layers of doubt are removed, it reveals the brand new textures and colors of faith that He has placed inside of me.


He is making me new.

It’s been six weeks since I woke up in Australia with the strange sound of magpies singing loudly outside of my window. I walked in on Spring here in Aussie land. Normally, I’d be experiencing Winter this time of year. It feels significant the way that God has literally turned my Winter into Spring.

Stay tuned for an update on where I’ll be going during my outreach phase!

I’m hoping to use my blog as a journal of sorts over the next six months as I learn and grow and meet so many people and spread the love of Jesus.

Quarry Park || Winston Salem, N.C.

Winston Salem’s hidden gem is no longer hidden!

Earlier this year, I discovered the plans for Quarry Park in a news article. The opening date kept being pushed off and so I had to sit on my excitement until mid August when they officially opened it to the public.



Quarry park is in the heart of a 200-acre plot of woodland surrounding the former Vulcan Material quarry. It is a seven minute drive from downtown Winston Salem (hopefully less, once the construction of the Reynolds Park Road bridge is complete) and is adjacent to Reynolds Park. In fact, the park is so new that if you try to direct yourself there using a GPS, it will take you to the neighborhood on the other side of the park and instruct you to simply: “Park and prepare to walk to your destination.”

Good luck with that.

Instead, drive to Reynolds Park and you’ll find signs leading you to Quarry Park. Following signs, you’ll drive through the open gate of the chain link fence and wind your way through the woods covered in kudzu vines. This will eventually land you in the parking lot at Quarry Park.




I was curious about the history of Quarry Park and so I did a little bit of research and found out that it was formerly known as the Piedmont Quarry. It was opened in the 1920’s and used to produce crushed stone into the 1970’s, when they closed the quarry due to flooding. They still sold stockpiles of material until 1982.


Both times that I was there, I met people who were born and raised in Winston Salem and they gave interesting tidbits about the history of the quarry. “When it flooded back in 1970, it was less expensive to replace the submerged equipment than it was to retrieve and repair the waterlogged vehicles, so the equipment is still down there.” The pit is also host to a variety of freshwater sea life.


The prominent feature that you’ll notice as you park your car, is the observation pier. It is situated symmetrically to give a beautiful view of the Winston Salem skyline. Off in the distance, you can also spot Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock.



There is a steep rock face framing the quarry on both sides, but in addition to the rough rock edge to the left of the quarry, there are tall trees standing on the embankment leading down to the water’s edge and also in the water. Some of the trees have fallen, creating deep shadows in the water.

“My friends and I would sneak down there to swim.” another Winston Salem resident told me, pointing towards the fallen trees. There is no public access point to the water and no plans of that happening in the future, though it would be an ideal place to kayak.


The park is connected to the Greenway at various points, so come prepared with comfortable walking shoes. Or if you prefer, bring a friend and a picnic and eat it out on the pier and then watch the sky steal the show as the sun slips behind the skyline.


When I first discovered Quarry Park, I was instantly transported back to my childhood where I was often engrossed in Billy and Blaze books. As I stood on the pier, I felt like Billy going on adventures with his trusty horse, Blaze. One of my favorite books in the series was when Blaze took Billy to an abandoned quarry. I’m sharing the link with you guys, so that whether or not you grew up reading Billy and Blaze books, you could have the opportunity to read it now and experience the same wonder I did when I visited for the first time.

Happy Labor Day weekend! -Gretta

*I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and other affiliated sites. 

Travel || 22 hours in Greenville, SC

I shot a wedding this past weekend close to Greenville. We spent the next day exploring this beautiful, southern city. I had been here before and in true nostalgic fashion, I was happy to just revisit my favorite haunts. We were both craving some quiet space away from the busy schedule back home and Greenville provided us with the perfect retreat.


After a relaxed morning, we walked a few blocks from our hotel to Methodical Coffee where we read and wrote for several hours as we watched people stroll by. We each ordered a simple latte and we shared their ham, bacon and brie croissant; which was divine.


My brother in law, Merle gave me a copy of the Good Newspaper which was dreamed up and printed by entrepreneur, Branden Harvey. I’ve loved listening to Sounds Good which is Branden’s podcast channel. “Every single week we have conversations with people who are rejecting cynicism, doing the impossible and fighting to make the world a better place.”


We sat in silence; lost in our thoughts and letting the empty pages of our journals slowly fill up, but we also talked about the problems in the world and how we can help to solve them. I think this quote sums it up beautifully:

“The solution to feeling overwhelmed by the negative news and the difficult things happening in the world, isn’t to ignore it or even to put a positive spin on it, but to be part of the solution.” -B.H.



Methodical has a high ceiling with seating in the balcony, overlooking the barista bar. If you hit them in a slow spell, you might be able to find a spot to settle down in the balcony with a cuppa joe. When we got there, every seat in the balcony was taken and so we settled by the window, with an open view of all the people passing by.



They have done an artful job of making the dirty dish counter and the waste bin area seem attractive enough for pictures of Amy throwing our trash away before we walked out the door. Haha.


As we left, they handed us a voucher for a free pour over coffee. I was thrilled at the prospect of having coffee to go along with our drive home. But Amy had other thoughts. “How about we give it away to someone?” I swallowed my selfishness and we spent the next 20 minutes walking around downtown looking for someone who looked like they needed coffee.


We found her by the water fountain, holding the hands of her two energetic children. We walked up to her, “I have an odd question for you, do you like coffee?” Amy asked. “That’s not an odd question and yes!” The lady responded. “Then this is for you. It’s a voucher for a free pour over from Methodical.” We walked away grinning. It’s fun to brighten someone else’s day.


We were hungry but wanted to still be able to relax by the waterfall in Falls Park. So I grabbed the turkish towel that my mom gave me and stopped by Southern Pressed Juicery and picked out their Avo Basil Wrap (a combination of thinly sliced carrots, avocado and purple cabbage wrapped in rice paper and dipped in a basil, mint, lime sauce). We spread our picnic on the rocks next to the falls and ate as we journaled and took in the scenery.



The water tumbled down the rock face next to us, drowning out the noise of all the other people who had come that day.



“God has built creativity into creation as a gift.”


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We brought our time in Greenville to a conclusion by dancing in the shadows of the vacant Larkins on the River building.


And that, my friends, is how you could spend 22 hours in Greenville.

Do you love Greenville? Do you know of any favorite spots in Greenville that can’t be missed? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Happy Wednesday! -Gretta

Olive Harvest


It was a sunny afternoon in December when I drove up the winding gravel road; the light filtering through the silvery olive leaves. I was on a search to find an olive grove being harvested.


Pausing at the first grove, two men harvesting shook their heads. “No, no photos.” I wished them well on their harvest and drove on. A bit further up the mountain I came across another grove being harvested, but three men sat underneath a tree, enjoying their lunch break. A fourth man sat in the pickup truck, listening to his loud Greek music.


I drove past but when I couldn’t find any more groves being harvested, I pulled a three point turn and drove back down the mountain. By this time, the three men who had been on break, were hard at work again.


Traveling to the island of Lesvos, Greece during the winter months had me excited to experience the ancient tradition of harvesting olives. On Lesvos alone, there are an estimated 11,000,000 olive trees. It was a common sight to see groves spread with mesh and the Greeks hard at work.



I parked my white Nissan Micra alongside the road and got out, clutching my Canon 1D Markiii in my hand. I approached the open window on the driver side of the truck, “May I take some photos of the men harvesting?,” I asked. The man sitting inside looked up at me with delighted curiosity. “I’m fascinated by the olive harvest I see happening all over this island,” I told him, “and so I’m looking for a grove owner who wouldn’t mind my taking some photos.” With a jolly laugh he climbed out of his truck and shouted a few Greek words to his employees. He was clearly excited at the prospect.



“I own seventeen groves and they are all organic.” He led me through the open gate and into the grove, telling me about his olive groves. “We take special care in the way that we harvest, not to injure the olives in the process. We harvest them off of the trees, rather than letting them fall to the ground and begin to rot.”


“Kalimera” I called as we approached the workers. I motioned to my camera and asked, “May I take photos?” The three men stared back at me curiously. Their faces were lined with hard work, dirt and sweat. When the grove owner told them I wanted to take pictures of them working, they burst out laughing.


They continued to beat the olive branches with wooden poles to coax the olives to fall from the trees. When each laden tree had delivered its fruit, the mesh was then pulled away from the tree. The olives were then carefully combed through and unnecessary branches were hauled away. Then they would move on to the next tree. “How long does one tree take to harvest?” I asked. “Oh, it depends; one, sometimes two or three hours.”


When all the branches had been removed from the mesh and only olives remained, they grabbed the olives by handfuls and filled sacks with them until they bulged in wonderful abundance. “I inherited this olive grove from my father,” the grove owner explained to me. “He is gone now, but my father inherited it from his father and he inherited it from his father and it is with great pride that I tend it now.”



“Most of the trees in this olive grove are 200-300 years old. Except those over there,” he pointed to a section of the grove where a handful of young olive trees stood. “The young trees are only seven years old and haven’t begun to produce yet.” The grove owner insisted that I hand the camera to him and let him take pictures of me helping with the harvest. The three workers had been amused by my taking pictures of them working. Now that I was helping them, they whooped and hollered. I raised the pole high in the air and whacked the tree branches just like I had seen them doing. “Bravo, bravo!” they encouraged.


“Tomorrow, come back and we will employ you!” the owner said with a grin as I thanked him and left.


A Greek man that worked in the refugee camp explained to me one day over lunch that, “Greece is unique from other European countries in that it is ties Europe, Asia, Africa and even parts of the Middle East together.”

It was incredible for me to see the way that the Greek people have taken up the tab for the refugee crisis. A team of Greeks come daily into camp Moria to pick up trash, catering companies have served food tirelessly over the last two years as the crisis has continued on. The police and military force have helped to keep things as peaceful as possible. Fishermen out at sea are suddenly searching for more than a good catch of fish; they’ve assisted in numerous refugee dinghy boat landings as well.


As any world crisis does, it takes its toll on the people who are assisting. The Greek economy has suffered further and the crime rate has increased. I do not want to paint a perfect picture of a very messy situation. Certainly not everyone has responded well. But after living in Greece for five months, I can say that the Greek people have done their best to assist in a crisis that is bigger and far more complicated than any news article leads you to believe.

In spite of their own limitations and frustrations regarding the crisis, the Greeks have reached out their hands to the hungry and given shelter to displaced people from many different countries from around the world.


Hope in the dark.

The room is dark.

The windows are blocked off by thick fleece blankets in hopes of providing makeshift privacy. “Salaam alaikum” I call, pausing at the door of room 9. When I hear no reply, I ascend the metal steps that lead into a dully lit entry way. I call again, this time tugging on the fleece blanket that serves as a door to the bunk room where my friend lives. “Salaam?” I stand there, staring into space.

This small, dark space houses at least twenty people. Thin blankets separate families who fled their own homes for peace and safety, only to be stuck within the confines of a camp. They wait, day after day for interviews.

Tomorrow.” The officials promise, “Tomorrow we will interview you. Tomorrow you will get your papers. Tomorrow you can leave this place.” But they’ve been saying that for months. There simply aren’t enough interviewers to keep up with the constant flow of refugees arriving on the island. The patience of those who’ve been waiting here for months is running thin. They’re stuck in the spinning cycle of a massive refugee crisis. Spinning into perfect motionlessness, or so it seems.

A blur of movement in my peripheral brings me back from my reverie. I glance up to see a small yellow bird flitting and fluttering inside a cage. The bird looks at me and then tucks its head underneath its wing. But it’s too late, the picture is stuck in my head.

The bird is yellow. The color of hope.


I take another look at the bird in its cage, still hiding. Then I take a deeper look at my surroundings. For a moment, I put myself into my friends shoes and realize with sudden clarity why she identifies with this bird.

She feels confined. Caged in a life that she never thought she would have to live.

She once had a happy life in a beautiful city, surrounded by friends and family.
She went to school and held a good job. Her future looked bright and promising.
Until war came and tore from her all that she knew and loved. She fled for her life, hoping to rebuild the happy life she once knew.

“I am tired,” she sighs when I ask her how she is today.
Tired. It describes so well how we feel when life knocks us flat. It’s a severe tiredness that even sleep can’t cure. It’s a tiredness of the soul.

I walk away.
I am able to walk away.

It is harder than I expected; to be the free one while seeing so many bound.

I have a happy life; similar to the life she once had. But I have the ability to walk right back into my life. She doesn’t. It feels unfair.

The room is bright.

A few of us have gathered at a house not far from camp to say goodbye to one of our other friends who is leaving the next day. I find my spot on the rug and listen attentively as another one of our friends unzips his back back and pulls out a hand-drawn map. He unpacks his story. “This is how the attack happened.” He points to his hometown first, then runs his finger over the surface of this wrinkled paper and starts in one corner of the map, pointing out the first city that was overtaken by terrorism and finishing when he comes full circle. “They attacked all of the cities in my region.” He and his wife fled to Mount Sinjar and made the dangerous journey from there through Turkish mountains and across the sea to come to the island of Lesvos.

His way of processing the trauma of war is to draw a map of exactly how the attacks happened and to carry it with him wherever he goes.

His wife sits next to him, silent. She hasn’t been able to talk for days. His hand rests on her knee as he continues unfolding the details of their story. We listen and then are taken aback as his wife slumps over, collapsing by his side. Another panic attack. He is so accustomed to dealing with the attacks by now that he simply pauses his story, props up her head and starts massaging her feet, hoping to bring circulation back to her traumatized body. A kind, motherly sort jumps up to get a cold washcloth to bathe the woman’s face. Someone else brings pillows to prop up her feet and head. And the story continues. Her panic attack lasts twenty minutes but it feels like an eternity. The room is silent except for his riveting words. We take in the scene sobered by his story, by the reality of the trauma that it has imposed on both of them. We all breathe a sigh of relief when her muscles relax and she is able to sit up again.

I look at her, my heart heavy with compassion that I can’t effectively communicate. We speak the language of silence as we look at each other. Words don’t do justice to the injustice that she has faced. Her face tells a story so much deeper than words. I’ve been so focused on listening to the words of his story and the unfolding drama of her panic attack that I had completely overlooked the words written in tiny print on her T-shirt. I had not noticed what it said until now.

“Free as a bird.”


So many broken stories are told to me with only tiny threads of hope woven through them. I have to search hard for those threads, among the torn fabric of their stories.
I scroll through news articles and see black and white pictures from history telling the same story of thousands of refugees in the past. These stories are coming to life.
They’re in full color, right before my eyes.

I cannot singlehandedly end the crisis. But I can offer aid to them in their time here in camp. I can extend myself to them as a friend.
My job isn’t to interview them and give them the stamp of approval to move beyond camp and resettle them into countries where they can rebuild their life.

But I can listen. I can retell their story, to the best of my ability. I can see it in the eyes of those brave enough to tell their story; each time that they tell their story, it unlocks the pain.

They heal.

I came here hoping to extend hope these people. But I held my guard up high, not wanting to tell my own story of brokenness. It felt insignificant in comparison to the trauma that these people have experienced. I wasn’t brave at first. I kept my story inside, under the pretense that I needed to listen their stories.
But one day, as I drank tea with one of my friends, she asked. And my story with its complexity came tumbling out. She seemed surprised.

C.S. Lewis says, “Friendship is born the moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

When we choose to be vulnerable, our innermost isolation gets sliced away. We’re left exposed, but oddly comforted. Because we are no longer alone in the fight. We are seen. Known.

It’s a powerful moment.

There’s a certain strength that comes of admitting how weak we are.

During my summer in the refugee camp, I realized that though our struggles and losses vary in size and shape; they are still struggles and losses. No loss or struggle is insignificant. As humans, we tend to respond to hurt similarly, no matter how slight or severe.

We cower.
We run.
We hide.
We retaliate.

I have believed in the power of story telling for a long time now. I’ve known that telling our own story brings freedom. But I’ve whispered it through bars. I talked of freedom while being held in a cage of fear. I hid my face, hoping that no one would ask the story behind my badly injured wing.

I wanted to be able to fly, to soar in the heights. But instead I was stuck, hobbling along the floor of my cage. Unable to speak. Unable to stretch out my wings and fly.

Fear is still a battle for me. But it’s a battle that I don’t fight alone. Every time I tell my story, I become a little stronger. The fear diminishes. And I stand a little taller, a little stronger.

I heal.

It’s clear to me now that it’s not just my friend who identifies with the caged bird; I do too.

This is the story of humanity.
Once broken and bound.
But given the wonderful opportunity to be liberated by the transforming power of the gospel.

In spite of the weight of hearing so many difficult stories, I have hope. This hope is an enduring thread that’s being woven into the story of my life. Hope mends my brokenness. Hope is what I have to offer to those whose stories I have the privilege to hear.

My face doesn’t have to be hidden anymore. My wounds are healing and turning to scars that tell stories of the faithfulness of my God.


This is freedom.

Zaina, No Zaina

I first noticed you when you were standing on the edge of the crowd of children clamouring around me. I wanted to scoop up each one of you but my arms were full and my skirt was being tugged in all directions. I spun around and laughed to see smiles break loose on the little faces peering up at me. My heart was overflowing. But I kept noticing you, standing on the fringes of the crowd.

By yourself. Quiet. Observing.

You just stood there, with your deep eyes looking inquisitively into mine. Darling curls framed your face and your eyebrows were knit, questioning me.

Your face told a story.

In spite of you reserve towards me as a newcomer, you were expressive, letting your eyes tell what was going on deep inside. You were quiet in the midst of chaos. You were taking everything in, your eyes wide to the world around you. You stood with your shoes on the wrong feet on this dirty concrete floor; the only place that’s been left uncrowded in camp for you to run and play. As I kept looking at you, I couldn’t help but wonder how it will affect you, growing up and realizing the irony of your childhood play happening within the confines of makeshift safety. Clanging gates and barbed wire fences frame your little world.

I couldn’t leave you there on the fringes of the crowd. So I went over to you, bent down on your level and looked you in the eye before scooping you up and putting you on my back. You nearly fell asleep that afternoon, as I walked around carrying you. But just before your eyelids closed completely, you jerked awake and quietly started scratching my back. Humming to yourself, humming to me as you ran your fingers over my back. Your mom stood by and smiled shyly and invited me to sit with her. She served me tea and fruit and welcomed me into your room with the warmth of friendship.

You were fully awake now and sitting in my lap playing. You said something in Arabic to your mom as we sat there together and she handed her phone to you. You smiled brightly as you pointed to pictures of your life before the war.

My heart broke for you, for your mom and dad and for all you’ve lost.

Home. It is just an illusion of the past now.

But Zaina girl, as I sat there with you and your parents, I was happy to realize that even in the middle of this overcrowded camp, you are loved. I see it in the way your parents delight in you. They gave up all they knew to give you peace. Ran from war so that you would be safe. They struggle to know how they ended up here for so many months in an over-crowded transit camp. This place that’s so full that you could slip out of sight among the crowd and disappear in a moment.

A few nights later I saw desperation, as your dad came running up the hill looking for you. “Zaina? Zaina?” He didn’t know the words in English to express how he felt at not knowing where you were. But his panting breath told me that he was frantic to find you. “No Zaina,” I told him, regretfully.

Later I saw him with you, dancing and laughing under a street light.
I was relieved to know that you were safe.

I know that leaving your homeland turned your whole world upside down. Your parents watched as brutal war crumbled all they knew and loved. Except for you, Zaina. They rescued you from that awful hell.

Zaina girl, I wonder if you know that because of your laughter, your parents laugh.
Because of your smile, they smile. Because of you, they have hope for the future.
But they see the questions in your young eyes. And I can see the bigger questions in their eyes. They want to answer those questions for you but the truth is, they have questions too. Questions that they don’t know how to find the answers for.

I walked into camp one day last week just like I had so many days previous, but what I hadn’t counted on is that you would be gone.

No Zaina.

I wanted to be able to tell you goodbye. To hug you one last time. I still remember how last time I saw you, you came running down the hill to meet me just like you always did and then you motioned for me to sit by the gate next to you. You smiled up at me and then opened up your hand to reveal little treasures hidden inside your clenched fist. A whole handful of thin plastic hair bands. You grabbed my hand and slid them onto my fingers and insisted that I keep them on. And then grinned up at me with your infectious smile.

My heart sank when I heard the reason why your family left so unexpectedly; that your mother is ill. How could one more thing go wrong in your life, Zaina? I grapple with the questions your little heart must be asking. I know how it is to grapple with loss. At your age, my world fell apart too.

But Zaina, I’ve had to realize that the weight of your pain is not mine to bear alone.
I’ve had to let God carry it for me.

I think that’s one thing I learned through loving you, Zaina. That letting go is part of the process of loving people here on earth and loving them well. We must open our hearts to love. But we must be willing to let go. It’s difficult, I know.

I think the reason we fight against it so hard is that we weren’t created for this. We weren’t meant for loss, for separation, for war and death.

God created our beautiful world and called it good. Peace reigned on earth.

But then sin entered the world and ruined everything. The fighting and killing started way back then and it’s continued on into today. You know that far too well, Zaina.

You long for peace, for the life you used to know. You want safety, security. You miss home.

Zaina girl, I wish that I could protect you from all the pain of this broken world. I want to shield you from realities of war and hatred attached to the headlines in the news. I want you to be able to grow up in a world of peace. I want you to know a happy childhood.

But more than that, I want you to come to know the peace that passes all understanding. A peace deeper than any peace that this warring and angry world can offer. A peace that can live in our hearts even in the middle of war.

Zaina, His presence will go with you. He will give you peace.

That’s the reason I feel peace in letting you go, because I know that God is going with you. He’s holding you through all the changes and uncertainty.

Keep your eyes open, Zaina; wide open to all that is around you. And you will see, woven into the threads of your story, His love for you.