Ruurt van Berkum about life in Lesvos
“Geia Sou (hi you)! First of all greetings from Lesvos. I am Ruurt, a 37th year old part-time theology student. Together with my wife and 2 kids we have been at and around the refugee camp here on the island since the end of January, where I am doing an internship at the Eurorelief foundation.”
Interview with Ruurt
Desire to go abroad
“Last year around this time I was busy thinking about where I wanted to do an internship. I had already worked for a number of years as a youth worker in a church and I also wanted to broaden myself in missionary work. I think that the internship is a good setting to discover the breadth of your field of work. At the same time, my wife and I noticed the desire to go abroad (again). Six years ago, during the peak of the migrant crisis, we already had a desire to work here with refugees, and now we could finally fulfill the desire that God had already placed on our hearts.
But the decision to go to Lesvos did not come by itself. We first wrote to all kinds of organizations, most of which kept their doors closed. Who is looking for a 37 year old theology student? In the end, the Eurorelief foundation came my way. Not with a focus on refugees, but on the volunteers who work in the camp every day. A position whose title is ‘Member Care Employee’. Taking care of the volunteers and guiding them in the experiences they gain in the camp. That can be quite hard work. Many refugees are traumatized by the experiences in their home country, during their journey to safety or the hopelessness of the camp. To support volunteers, we pick them up from the airport, provide pre-training, a listening ear during their stay and provide a debrief before they go home to start their own processing processes.
The organization isn’t a Christian organization but an organization of Christian people and that is why we start each day in the camp with worship, prayer and meditation. We also have a meeting with all our volunteers one day a week where we eat together, worship and have a substantive program. As an intern I can deal with all these activities and everything else that comes with it. The work is really fun to do and through this experience I also discover more what kind of theological work suits me. Work where you can literally give hands and feet to God’s kingdom in a way that is varied, practical, deepening and connecting.
I find the work so diverse and fun that it is difficult for me to highlight one specific aspect or to describe one day of it. I enjoy putting together a few pallet benches as much as I enjoy the conversations with volunteers where we also look back on what they learned about God and themselves during their stay here on the island. I enjoy the weekly team meetings where we eat together and connect with each other and God. I enjoy the beach where my wife and children are waiting for me after a day of work and of course all the beautiful places that we can discover here on the island. Usually I work in our community center where I can look across the water to the camp.
Besides enjoying myself, I am of course also here to learn. Of course I am developing my competencies and increasing my skills as a theologian, but most of what I learn here is about myself. I am discovering what kind of theologian I want to be and what is important to my family. These are learning processes that could also have taken place in the Netherlands, but I still think it has added value to do it abroad. It gives you the chance to discover yourself apart from your culture and your own environment. You meet people you will not meet at home and it gives you insights that you could not have gained at home. My advice; just do it! Do not make it bigger or think in all impossibilities. There is good guidance from school. That was clear to me from the moment I started my orientation. My teachers and the wonderful people at the International Office are very helpful and especially look for opportunities. There is often more possible than you might think!”
Picture: Ruurt van Berkum