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Posts Tagged ‘Refugee Crisis’

Photos by Franklin Hamilton and Shannon Harton

Jon Parks, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel, Roma Ministry in Slovakia

Voices from CroatiaIt was a test case for unmet expectations. This group had come to Croatia, sacrificing their time and their own resources to volunteer at the refugee center. Of course they had expectations of what they’d be doing, who they’d be helping. In the face of uncertain events, we almost always create some idea for ourselves of what might happen, just to help us deal with the uncertainty.

I didn’t know this group ahead of time, so I didn’t get to ask them about their expectations. But I watched as they dealt with the differences in their expectations and their reality. The reality was chaotic – there was a lot of waiting, a lot of changed plans, a lot of previously unthought-of ways of serving. But as an outsider I watched as they adapted themselves – sometimes with frustration, but finally with joy – to doing the unexpected things that God had for them to do.

Voices from CroatiaTo be honest, these folks from Virginia were primed for a unique opportunity. Most everyone at the center – police, Red Cross, translators – had a specific job to do, and it was easy for them to run back and forth doing the things they perceived were important… sometimes missing deeper human needs that a simple bag of food wouldn’t address. These people came with open eyes and ears and were able to see – and meet – the needs others were missing.

• A gentle touch for mothers, frightened for their children’s safety.
• A smile for people shuffling nervously between one country and another.
• A helping hand to gather all the little packets and clothes they’d been given.
• A thanks and a cup of coffee for policewomen and men, always on edge, wondering how to respond if things got out of hand.

When we are PRESENT, when we open our eyes and hearts to what is really needed around us, we’re in a unique place to help.

Voices from Croatia
Ann Carter, First Baptist Church (FBC) staff, Youth One Associate
Voices from CroatiaThe night shift is the place to be. During the day, scores of volunteers from Croatia and NGOs are in the camps, but few work the dark and lonely hours.

At about 1 a.m., we head into sector 3 which is filled to capacity (over 1,000 people).The train will arrive sometime in the night, no one knows when. So while the police protect the sector and the Red Cross mans the supplies, our team makes friends. Often the women and the children are in the tents asleep while the men stand guard outside. Our team pairs up and walks among the tents, smiling, saying good evening, asking if they have everything they need. Sometimes, the words go from pleasantries, answering a few questions and wishing them Godspeed to deep and meaningful conversations.

Voices from CroatiaWe made some friends: Mohammad from Syria; Hamza, also from Syria, traveling alone with his 8-year-old son; Sami, from Lebanon, traveling with his wife and 5 children – three girls and two boys, ages 2-10; Osama, from Syria, traveling with his pregnant wife. We hear harrowing stories of escape and what life was like for them at home – bombs falling on houses, family and friends imprisoned, children who can’t go to school for fear they may not come home. They talk about their families left behind and the ones who have already gotten out. They talk about businesses lost, education unfinished, the lack of work, hiding from snipers in their neighborhoods, about how they would go back in a minute if Assad were defeated and Isis and Hezbollah left their countries.

Voices from CroatiaWhen we hear the train whistle in the distance, everyone immediately lines up. With the crowd pushing ahead and the police pushing back, people are crushed and panicked. Our job is to try to form a single-file line. In the confusion, I lost my new friends but finally spot Sami and his family. The beauty and absolute sweetness of his children take my breath away. I stand with their few small bags as they take the children to the bathroom one last time. The mother pulls out hats and mittens, and I help little fingers into gloves while Sami puts hats on small heads, topping each with a kiss. We say goodbye amid blowing kisses and calls of “God bless you” and “Barak Allah fik!” (May Allah bless you!) I stand there and watch the police load them onto the train. There are no seats left. They must sit in the stairwell, clutching their knees to their chests to be out of the way as the door closes. They have a 6-hour train ride to Slovenia; then to Austria and Germany. Maybe Germany will let them stay? No one knows. And since they are from Lebanon, they aren’t really “war refugees.” Will their journey be in vain? Will they be sent back? I stand with tears streaming down my face until the train leaves, praying for their future and their safety. How could I have grown to love them so in only two hours?

Shannon Harton, FBC member

Voices from CroatiaThe last train out: after two hours of “processing,” our last trainload of refugees – 1200 of them – were on their way north.

We stayed busy this week distributing packs of essentials, sorting clothes, handing out hot tea, guiding families to their temporary quarters, stooping to make friendly eye contact with kids. It’s nearly impossible though to quantify the impact we had, other than the odd opportunity to run to the warehouse to replace a kid’s tattered shoes, to get a smile from an exhausted teenager loaded down with duffle bags and trudging to keep up with his family, or to squeeze in a few moments of friendly conversation to make a worried father feel more optimistic about his kids’ future. But as the train rolled out of the camp under the dawn sky – the last train we get to serve before heading home tonight – the smiles, waves and blown kisses from the windows make it clear that we scored at least a glancing blow against misery.

Franklin Hamilton, FBC member

Voices from CroatiaThe story of the lost shoe began one day in the refugee camp. There were an unusually large number of families with small children, 100s of them. As they rushed to get on the train, the children strained to keep up and some parents ran ahead to be sure their family could all be together in the same train car. I found this shoe on the train track long after the train had left. At first I thought it was a new shoe donated by the Red Cross. But as I looked more closely at the worn straps and the national colors of Syria, I saw stamped on the sole Made In SYR.

This shoe has become a religious icon reminding me of all the little children who have been swept away from their homes by war and hate.


Team members
FBC members: Steve Blanchard, Ann Carter, Jeff Dortch, Franklin Hamilton, Shannon and Heather Harton, Lori Humrich, and Lisa Tuck. Also on the team were Brent Kimlick (Franklin Baptist Church, Franklin, VA), and Jon Parks (CBF missionary).

Related video and blogs
Praying with our Feet, Spotting Jesus–Born on the Run” blog by Jon Parks
Brief Croatian refugee train video by Shannon Harton
Holding Space… Living with Arms Wide Open blog by Ann Carter
A little more like heaven”–VA Baptists Serve in a Croatian Refugee Camp
“Living with Arms Wide Open” sermon by Ann Carter

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