Written by Ed Durham, Director of HIM Europe
The women and children were tired, hungry, and lacked proper protection from the cold as they tumbled from the overcrowded buses. They formed a line as they waited to be processed into the refugee camp that I was privileged to work in recently. They were confused because the police were trying to talk to them in the only common language, English. The police only knew a few words of English and often gave conflicting information, shouting at them to go and stop within the same sentence. When the police became frustrated they would shout at them even louder in Croatian, further confusing them. There were few smiles on faces; some would not even look you in the eye, especially the women. Many had been beaten by police as they passed through Macedonia and Serbia. The only kind words that had been spoken to these people were from the Christians that ministered to them in the two to three weeks they had been traveling. Most of them were so thankful for the little bit of food that we could offer them, but our little horde of food seemed so meager for the 1500 people that would be processed into the camp in the eight hours I was on duty that night. People would say, “I am hungry, can I have another apple?” (It was the only food we had to offer them at that time). Many hours later they would receive a meager lunch of a cheese sandwich, an apple, a granola bar, and a bottle of water.
Due to the closing of the Hungarian border to refugees, nearly all of the refugees are now being funneled through Croatia in the journey to reach Germany and other more wealthy countries of Europe. Croatia has done a great job of organizing camps, streamlining the registration process, and getting them on trains to Austria.
For these people the journey has been hard and dangerous. One young man that I talked to told me that he had left his wife and two year old son in Syria in hopes to get established somewhere in Europe and then be able to bring them to meet him. He described the dangers of the trip across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. He watched in horror as a raft ahead of him only made it less than a mile before capsizing because the operator was a refugee that had never navigated a raft on the open sea. The rafts that are used are over loaded and the operators are picked from the refugees and told to pilot the boat or be shot.
It is no wonder that my heart ached for these people that were hoping for a better life. For months, or maybe even years, these people have been traumatized by situations beyond their control. One quote I read continues to grip my heart, “You will not walk into the mouth of a shark unless there is an even greater danger that you are fleeing from.” These people are fleeing from terror only to be traumatized even further as they journey north from the country of their birth into an unknown future. Uncertainty grips them—wondering if they truly will receive the asylum they are seeking or be sent back to the trauma they have been fleeing. I heard questions like: “How much longer will it take to get to Germany?” “How long do you think it will be before I can bring my wife and children to meet me?” I could not give them a definite answer. No wonder my heart was breaking with them. No wonder I often felt like sitting in despair in a darkened tent with them. No wonder I felt like crying with the small children as they cried for a warm bed and some food as they trudged through the processing line at 1:00 in the morning. No wonder I wanted to shout back at the policeman that was further traumatizing people that had known nothing but trauma for many months.
Of course I was not the only one who cared. Even many of the policemen and women tried to show compassion, and there were dozens of volunteers those two nights who, like me, were there because they cared.
As I walked away from the camp that Thursday night to get into a vehicle and within a few minutes be able to take a warm shower and climb into a warm bed, I thought of the thousands that I was walking away from; people who had not enjoyed any normal comforts of life for many weeks and possibly for months. I thought of family members left behind as I returned to my home to be welcomed by my wife. I thought of those who would not have their hunger satisfied as I satisfied my hunger before climbing into bed. I thought of those who did not have enough warm clothing as I hung up my warm clothing for the night. I thought of those who did not have adequate footwear as I took off my comfortable water-proof shoes and set them on a relatively clean floor for the night.
I don’t want to ever forget the experiences of the last few months as Heather and I have endeavored to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a few people who know nothing of Him. I never want to grow comfortable with my surroundings and forget the people that have no hope. I refuse to simply sit in a climate-controlled church from Sunday to Sunday and not engage the world around me. May God help each of us to take the opportunity to transform lives by being the hands and feet of Jesus.