“They arrived hungry and cold asking ‘where am I’ and wondering how long they would be in this camp… They were the face of humanity, longing to be treated as humans. Their faces were streaked with tears, whether from the cold or something far greater, I do not know. All I know is our tears came from overwhelming love, breathtaking grief and bottomless compassion.”
Those words were written by a friend who is currently serving in the Slavonski Brod camp at the Serbian/Croatian border. She and a team from First Baptist, Richmond are doing what they can to meet the needs of the scores of people (approximately 6,000 per day) who arrive there in a desperate search for refuge, help and hope. Some of the team members have been posting updates and they have given me permission to share them with you. It depicts real people in the midst of great hardship. Please take a moment to look. What is happening there is important. These people are all of us. I urge you to not turn away. ~Jennifer
Posted by Ann Whitfield Carter at Washington Dulles International Airport, Sunday, November 1, 10;30pm •
A week ago I had no idea I would be on a plane headed to Istanbul tonight. But opportunity knocks and I can’t say no. I will be spending a week on the Serbia/Croatia border working in a Syrian refugee camp. 5,000 people steam through there a day looking for some food, some rest, and medical attention before they continue their journey. Grateful for a church that cares about the world and sends people to help meet the most basic human needs: safety, food, rest.
Posted by Ann, November 3 at 1:37am • Osijek, Croatia •
No sleep yet. My mind is racing. Elvis, a Bosnian born seminary student, along with his cohorts Evan and Miki picked us up from the airport. Because I tend toward car sickness, I rode shotgun and heard the most amazing story on our three hour drive (the one benefit to motion sickness!) This summer, Elvis and his friends had been gathering supplies through their local church for some community service project or other. The Syrian refugee crisis happened before they put their supplies to use. So Elvis and his friends went down to the Serbian border with their supplies and began handing out supplies. Local police who were trying to manage the flow of humanity began to work along side these young men to serve the refugees. Pretty soon, local government, UNICEF, the Red Cross and the Catholic Church were pooling their resources together, and a camp was formed. (They are opening a second camp this week) That was 90 days ago. Today’s trip to Budapest to pick us up was their first time away from the camps since then.
THAT, my friends, IS WHAT THE CHURCH IS CALLED TO DO. To be the hands and feet of Christ, seeing needs, being the first to generously share their resources, and welcome partners into the process of meeting those needs.
I am amazed by these young men – they are courageous leaders. Our world is a better place because Elvis and Miki and Evan are in it.
Posted by Ann, Tuesday, November 3 in Osijek •
Posted by Ann, November 3 at 6:57pm • Oriovac, Croatia •
Tomorrow morning, a new camp is opening in Slavonsky Brod. Today, a train filled with refugees came for a trial run before the real thing tomorrow. Tonight, Steve Blanchard, Jeff Dortch (Jeannie), Lisa Tuck and I will work from 10-7 helping the camp put the final preparations in place. They will begin to receive refugees first thing in the morning. This camp will be better equipped for the winter months. The refugees don’t have to walk to get here, they can take a train. They can wait to register in the warmth of a train car rather than outside in the cold. There are a few winterized tents that will not only protect from the elements, but will keep them warmer than the summer tents at the other camp. This is a major endeavor, yet the organization is impressive. Volunteers from Caritas, Jesuite Refugee Services, the Red Cross, UNICEF, Samaritan’s Purse, local police, and the Croatia Baptist Aid are working together to warmly welcome the 5,000 plus refugees who stream through here each day.
Elvis story of the day: He said something at dinner about “failing forward.” I asked him what that meant and he said that when something needs to be done and you don’t know how to do it, you have to start somewhere and just keep adapting and adjusting until it works. When you try to do something this big, you can’t be afraid to fail – because you are going to fail. You just have to keep failing until you succeed. Truth.
So now I am going to sleep before I pull an all nighter!
Posted by Ann, Wednesday, November 4, 4:40am, • Lovas, Croatia•
A 4am train filled with 1200 precious humans. Next stop Zagreb.
Comment by Steve: “Such an eerie representation of human suffering as refugees debark from trains at Croatian camp”
Posted by Steve Blanchard, Wednesday, November 4, 5:45am• My heart was broken some 3000 times in the last 12 hours as I stood on the Croatian/ Serbian border helping process and temporarily settle refugees as they prepare for the next leg of their journey into the unknown. I saw sadness, anxiousness, and fear in many eyes and faces but at the same time it was amazing to see what a smile shared could evoke. I did not hear complaints as much as I heard “thank you” though the weather was damp, foggy, and downright freezing. I lifted them onto or off of trains to and from the camp, showed them to their temporary holding tents, took them to the doctor, answered what questions I could and tried to let them know they were loved. I was inspired by the countless volunteers from Croatia and other places around the world who give their time freely through some very challenging situations. I was impressed by the Croatian government and the many non-governmental agencies (NGO’s) who were there patiently providing what they could to people who were desperate, overwhelmed and uncertain what tomorrow held. Tonight, we return, engaging new faces, young and old, men and women, strong and weak and try our best to say to them through our actions and expressions that they are loved. God be with them and the ones who are the bridge to tomorrow as well. Amen
Posted by Ann on Wednesday, 6:16am, near Osijek, Croatia•
We are finally home from working a 12 hour overnight shift. In the cold, damp, foggy dark, we sent two train loads of people on to their next stop in Slovenia and received two train loads of people from Bosnian camps. The ones we met came from Iran, Afghanistan and Syria. They came by foot, car, boat, bus and train. Some had travelled as many as 35 days to get to Croatia. There were extended families, immediate families, couples and single men. The youngest we saw was two months old….the oldest was, well, I didn’t ask. But pretty old. There were children sleeping in the arms of parents or slumped on their dad’s shoulders, or on their feet propped up by the crowd around them. They stood in line after line after line to register, to get a blanket or some food, to get shoes or a coat, to board a train, to get medical attention, to use the restroom, to get warm water for formula. They pushed and shouted as they advocated for their families and the old or young around them. These kind and courageous souls hoped to end up in Germany or Slovakia or Sweden or England or Switzerland. They dreamed of finishing graduate degrees, getting jobs, being warm, reuniting with family. They longed for safety, peace, rest, and a home. They feared not being accepted, being sent away, being separated from their children, that their government they were fleeing would discover that they were in the EU and punish (kill) their families who remained. They arrived hungry and cold asking “where am I” and wondering how long they would be in this camp (12-15 hours). They needing food and blankets and shoes and gloves and coats and water. They were kind and generous to the volunteers; embracing us and thanking us for our help, asking God to bless us. They were the face of humanity, longing to be treated as humans. Their faces were streaked with tears, whether from the cold or something far greater, I do not know. All I know is our tears came from overwhelming love, breathtaking grief and bottomless compassion.
Posted by Steve, Thursday, November 5, 3:35am• Well, another night has come and gone in the camp. Last night was not as busy, only around 2000 refugees came and went. Before the trains came, we had time to sit and talk to refugees from many places; Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq. Many escaping not only war but also groups like the Taliban, Isis, and Al-Queda. Some had a story to share and a need to share it. As our team walked throughout the camp, listening, we again heard the fear, the hope, and the sadness of those who had to leave behind their homes, their dreams, their families, and everything they had. Still, many were thankful. They did not want to be a burden to anyone, they just wanted a chance to live their life in peace and safety; a place to raise their family and contribute to society. When the refugees were ready to leave or when they arrived, our goal was to meet them or send them off with a warm word, smile, or handshake. We were rewarded time after time with nods, hands over hearts, words of thanks, or smiles of hope. After they were settled into their assigned sectors, awaiting the next step of their journey’s, we helped them get settled, find toilets, places to rest and refresh, answer questions and concerns, listen to them and reassure them all was okay. Many of them had been travelling for 40 days or more, had endured rough seas or long walks, had witnessed violence on a scale many of us will never see, or had seen family members or loved ones disappear. Yet, they endure. Live for the next day, embrace the present, hope for tomorrow. We also saw many volunteers from Belgium, Wales, England, Croatia, Switzerland, the U.S., the Netherlands, and other places giving their time to be present with these children of God and to be with them on this leg of their journey. Thus far, in the last 2 months, over 350,000 refugees have passed through Croatia alone. Tomorrow, more will come. They will be met again with the love of God and sent off with that same love and hope.
Posted by Ann, Wednesday, November 4, 12:30pm•
Two precious faces out of thousands of precious faces. (Taken with permission and accompanied by silly giggles and warm hugs)
Posted by Ann, Thursday, 4am, at Slovenski Brod• A very tired boy and his father wait while Red Cross volunteers search for his mother. This is the greatest fear of the refugees; being separated from their families.
Note from Jennifer: Now that you have looked, I urge to to act. We were put on this earth for each other. Need exists all around us. Across the world, and across the street. Open your heart, reach out your hand. Touch the life of someone today.
As of this posting the team is still serving in Croatia. I will make a second post at the conclusion of their trip.
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