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The Killing of an Olive Tree

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” — Albert Einstein

“The lesson we have learned about migration over decades is that if you close one route, another opens up, and more and more people still come.” Patrick Kingsley

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

There are several global scale situations that I could write about this week, including the COVID-19 Coronavirus, the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in Syria, BREXIT, etc. However, for now, I would like to focus on a situation that is impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and could deeply impact Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East. For certain, there is more than meets the eye concerning the way this entire affair is unfolding.

I am tracking the Coronavirus, and should you want to learn more about the status of this global plague, click here to read my recent blog highlighting some very well-written articles on the impact of this burgeoning pandemic. I do believe it has the potential of becoming catastrophic. There is much already written so we will be able to read about it as it unfolds. 

I am in Germany this week. It is interesting that in the airports, on the planes and in the city, as in the USA, there are very few signs that the Coronavirus is diminishing people’s activities. I recognize that neither the US or Germany are considered high infection zones, but this will be significant to follow as the number of infections increase. 

Meanwhile, there is a tragedy of historic proportions developing right under our eyes which has the potential to explode out of control or at the least be a defining moment for humanity, especially Europeans. Most of us in the US and perhaps the greater parts of Europe are missing it.


So much has been said about the massive movements of people in the world today. It makes me wonder if we can even quantify the impact that the enormous shifts of people groups have made and are currently making on the global landscape. The bottom line is this: There are billions who live in relatively safe, stable and flourishing environments. There are also billions who live in dangerous, vulnerable, and impoverished conditions. Both groups have nothing to do with where they were born and raised. 

Because of the rise of communication technology, transportation, the Internet, education, and human progress, those who live in the unsafe, violent and impoverished places want to find a place of peace and prosperity. They desire to live somewhere they can raise their children and live out their days in peace while hopefully creating a better future for their children.  This is the story that I have heard hundreds of times. 

On the other hand, there are those who are living in relative prosperity. They work hard, obey the laws, and live in a social order that has been carved out over centuries. They are not necessarily opposed to newcomers, but they appear to have a breaking point as to how many, and how much they are willing to pour out from their societal treasury, as well as how far they are willing to bend to the cultural sensitivities of these immigrants. The problems they face often fathom over their ability to cope.

I have lived near to refugees and their plight for many years now. I have seen both sides. The distinctive problems feel almost insurmountable. In my heart I know that is not true, but it would be easy for mankind to just give up, secure our borders and “throw the baby out with the bath-water.”

We saw this week several events that are catapulting the refugees, along with a host of communities in Europe, into a potentially volatile and violent clash. What happens next will set the stage for either enormous compassion or much death.

The clash. As of Feb 28th, Greece has completely shut down its borders, sending dozens of naval vessels to patrol the Greek islands after Turkey announced it would allow all Syrian migrants to head to Europe. A senior official has claimed that the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opened the borders for Syrian asylum seekers and other migrants and will not prevent anyone from heading to Europe by land or by sea, Reuters reports.

According to a recent UNHCR report, there are presently, 3,585,209 registered refugees staying in Turkey today. Many, if not most, are seeking to request asylum in Europe. Why?  -Because in Europe there is peace and the possibility for a better future. As we read in the quote at the top of this article, by migration specialist Patrick Kingsley, “The lesson we have learned about migration over decades is that if you close one route, another opens up, and more and more people still come.”

This week Turkey opened it borders to migrants to move towards Europe. The same day Greece closed all its borders, both land and maritime. The Greeks turned away over 10,000 refugees with tear gas and barricades. The Turkish-Bulgarian borders have been closed as well.

Rather than focus on the events themselves, because this is a subject so close to my heart and is a situation in which I am still deeply involved, I want to analyze these things from a more micro-perspective. I plan to consider the view of what is happening from both sides. I have been interviewing people who are on the Greek island of Lesvos, currently on the front lines of this struggle, ranging from those who are working there with non-governmental organizations to the refugees themselves. This can be seen as a microcosm of what is happening at a grander level all across southern Europe today.

My colleague recently approached a Greek man, named Nicos sitting on the edge of a hill overlooking his beloved city of Mytilene, the capital city of Lesvos Island, Greece. Nicos’s family has lived on that hilltop for hundreds of years. They have run a beautiful olive grove and vineyard there over the generations. Nicos is distraught as he watches many of his hundred-year-old olive trees being cut down by refugees who are trying to find ways to survive during the chilling winter months on the Adriatic Island.

Abdullah, a poor Syrian farmer cutting down an olive tree for firewood so that he can provide warmth for his family was asked, “Do you not know that this olive tree is over a hundred years old and that this is the only family income for that Greek man, Nicos? Abdullah replied, I understand, but let me show you something. My co-worker followed him for a couple of hundred meters down a rocky winding path through the brush and hastily chopped down trees. As they came into a slight opening they encountered Abdullah’s wife and five young children. They were huddled in front of a tattered canvas tent made for two and a smoldering fire on its last embers. Abdullah, who had fled with his family from ferocious fighting in his city of Idlib, Syria looked at us and said, “What can I do?”

This is just a short story. Unfortunately, it is true; probably a thousand times over. The strong desire of Nicos, a Greek olive farmer on a farm handed down to him after generations of living on this island, has been to provide for his family and to enjoy the life he was born into on this tiny insignificant island in the Adriatic sea. Abdullah, a Syrian farmer, did the only thing he knew to do amidst the war in his home; he fled with his family, finding himself on a tiny Adriatic island in the midst of winter. All Abdullah desires is to find a place where he can live in peace, provide food, shelter and a safe home for his family.  Thus, a collision begins at the foot of a hundred-year-old olive tree which provides the only hope for two different families from two entirely different worlds at exactly the same time and place.

As an aside, what about the humanitarian workers? This group is stuck between a serious rock and a hard place. Many of the Greeks are angry with the non-governmental organizations. They feel like they are empowering the refugees to stay. The refugees feel like the NGO’s are not responding enough to their plight. They are angry with them because they are hungry and cold. The NGO’s are there to do all they can, but it simply does not seem like enough. It is very difficult to be an NGO in Lesvos right now.


Why have I told this story? I know it does not represent the grossest of evils surrounding the refugee crises in the world, but it does represent the worst of conditions that force all of us to make a decision. It pushes us to make a choice for which most of us are totally unprepared. My assessment is that we won’t make a decision about how we can help these millions of desperate people. So, what will we do? We simply ignore it. We ignore the reality that there are millions of people in the world who are stuck in the same predicament as Nicos and Abdullah. 

Even after reading this story, seeing the paradox of this situation, it will be tempting to finish this article, put it down and turn the television back on and engross ourselves back into a coma of a sitcom or a high adventure film from where we can safely and vicariously live our lives, while thoroughly convincing ourselves that we deserve a break from our own personal hardships.  Meanwhile, the Nicos and Abdullah’s of the world struggle over an olive tree…for their very survival. We can no longer ignore that world. We do so at the peril of our own humanity.

When we turn our backs on the poor we disobey the greatest of all of Jesus’s teachings…“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” ( Luke 10:27)  Ignoring the Nicos and Abdullahs of the world is ignoring the very Word of God. And if we are not careful we might find ourselves disregarding the plight of Jesus himself. He did tell us, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:40)


It is tempting for me to attempt to give a solution to this grave human dilemma. It is of significant importance that we take some time to think about these situations. Let us look at what is being done. Consider the consequences. Examine why refugees are being displaced, not just the Syrians, but also the Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemeni and all the North African and Sub-saharan Africans. Why is there so much movement? 

Let’s find out what is being done to solve this global dilemma? What can Christians do? What should we do and what can we do practically? This will take time.

How does this subject fit in with what we hope to accomplish as a global intelligence digest? Is this actually “intelligence?” It is, in the intelligence community called, “actionable intelligence.” If the intelligence and analysis I provide each week does not cause us to do anything differently than what we are currently doing, then I am wasting my time, as are you. If we do not do anything differently, we will be just like everybody else: read, pour ourselves another cup of coffee, order another piece of cheesecake and move on to the next episode of our favorite reality show.

The follow-up.

One of the best resources you can turn to in the United States is the Center for Disease Control, also known as the CDC. They put out some of the best information on how to practically deal with the threat of the COVID-19 Coronavirus…

How Iran Became a New Epicenter of the Coronavirus Outbreak…

The feed-back.

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