Thad Daniels of Expedition squad was awakened to the plight of refugees when he met them firsthand and learned what many of them are fleeing.


I smile and take the registration card from the woman standing in front of me. She holds a sleeping baby and her other little boy is looking up at me from behind her leg, clinging to her skirt. I type in her four-digit registration code, and she has to pull her face covering down so that I can positively identify her with the picture that comes up on the registration screen.

With a “Tesekkürler,” I hand her card back and grab a box of staple foods for her to take home. It may be some time before she gets another. Nearly six thousand refugees are registered with the Center here.

My Turkish has limitations. I can say hello, thank you, and chicken.

So she speaks to me a little as I carry her bag to the room designated “clinic” and all I can do is smile.

This process goes on for the next few hours. 

Merhaba. -click click click click- Tesekkürler.

Merhaba. click click click click– Tesekkürler.

Merhaba. -click click click click- Tesekkürler.

After a while, one of the volunteers I’m working with tells me that most of the refugees that we’re working with today are from Syria.

“Oh cool.”

Salam. -click click click click- Shukraan.

Salam. –click click click click- Shukraan.


My eyebrows raise and my jaw drops.

For the last few days, I’ve known that we would be serving Syrian and Iraqi refugees at the Center. I’ve known what was going on in the world. I’ve known that these people were here. I’ve known that this was the purpose of the Center. 

Sometimes things like “you’ll be interacting with the same refugees that you’ve seen all over the news” don’t quite click immediately. Sometimes it takes something specific for your mind to register the gravity of the situation you’ve found yourself in.

For me, it took two hours of typing in registration codes before it hit me. When it did happen, I looked at Drew, eyebrows high and mouth agape, and said something along the lines of


That day, I looked into the eyes of nearly 500 Syrian refugees.

One woman shared this story: “My city. Assad. Boom.”

I was able to go with a few of my teammates and my new best friend Ali* to visit a family two hours outside of our current city. A father, mother, and three young girls welcomed us into their home with cakes and Coke and tea and water and smiles and hugs. Ali translated as Mustafa* shared his stories. 

As we sat down, my teammates and I only knew that this was a Christian family who had come to Turkey from Iraq.

Mustafa spoke in Arabic for a while, and Ali asked him to stop so that he could translate.

“When ISIS come to his house–“


“Yes. When ISIS come to his house, they take all of his money. He had millions of dinar. One million dinar is like 800 USD. He had many millions. They take all of it.”

Mustafa asked if he could keep one million of the dinar that they took so that he could feed his children, and the leaders of ISIS basically said, “Yeah. You give us your wife and you’ll get your million.”

ISIS gives Christians three options:
1. Renounce Christianity and become a Muslim.
2. Regularly pay enormous fines.
3. Be publicly beheaded.

That night, Mustafa took nothing but his wife and daughters and fled to Turkey.

This is real.

That was my only thought during the rest of the visit.

When they fed us cakes. “This is real.”

When we prayed together. “This is real.”

When Mustafa finished his story about all of the things that his family has suffered through at the hands of ISIS, his daughters stood up in the middle of the room and sang children’s praises to God. The room watched the girls, but I watched Mustafa. 

This is real.

Sometimes when you’ve been asleep all night and you’re about to wake up, the smallest thing in the world can stir you awake.

I came out of the kitchen at the refuge center just as a Syrian woman was struggling to communicate with a Turkish volunteer.

When she saw me, her eyes lit up and relief spread across her face. She gestured to me and said, “Ah! Arabe!”

All I could do was smile, shake my head, and say in what had to be the most Southern accent anyone there had ever heard, “No ma’am.”

I’m not Arabic, even if I look it. You’re gonna have an easier time struggling through Turkish with that lady than speaking Arabic to me.

But I think that was the moment I woke up. 

Whether they’re fleeing from ISIS or the Assad regime, it’s easy to be concerned for the Iraqi and Syrian refugees when your only exposure to them is the news.

It’s easy to sit in your couch and say, “oh man somebody should do something about that.”

It’s easy to repost videos of refugee efforts in Lesvos.

It’s easy to say “yeah I bought a t-shirt from a guy who’s going to Turkey and Greece to work with refugees.”

But hearing stories first hand and being hugged hard by a stout Iraqi brother who is blessed more than I’ll ever know just by us coming to see him, looking into the eyes that have seen the loss of everything, making an effort to speak their language and hold conversation, actually encountering the faces of the people you’ve been hearing about… 

That’s when it’s hard. Because that’s when it’s real to you.

That’s when you wake up.

*Names have been changed in order to protect the privacy and security of those involved.