Firsthand Look at Syrian Migrant Camp in Slavonski Brod: Stories and pictures shared by humanitarian workers

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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  •

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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 •

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Elvis calls this is the Croatian Ferrari. One time all the farmers drove to Zagreb to protest a government policy – on their tractors. It took them 2 days.

 

Posted by Ann, November 3 at 6:57pm • Oriovac, Croatia •

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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!

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Posted by Ann, Wednesday, November 4, 4:40am, • Lovas, Croatia•

A 4am train filled with 1200 precious humans. Next stop Zagreb.

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Comment by Steve: “Such an eerie representation of human suffering as refugees debark from trains at Croatian camp”  Continue reading

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Bill’s Message to Reba McEntire (He is her NUMBER ONE FAN!)

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Remember our awesome friend Bill? He does so much to brighten the lives of so many that I thought it would be nice if we did something for HIM. As I mentioned before, Bill is a HUGE fan of Reba McEntire. His birthday is May 13 and what he wants more than anything is simply for Reba to wish him a Happy Birthday.

Bill recorded this video for Reba to tell her how much he loves her and that he is her “NUMBER ONE FAN!” (He also has strong words of warning for anyone who would mess with “my girl Reba.”)  We posted his message here in the hopes that Reba might see it. Please share it if you want to help spread the word, & thank you for watching his video!

Also, please share any birthday greetings you have for Bill in the comments. It would mean the world to him. More than anything I wish my wonderful friend a birthday FULL of joy.

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What Bill Has to Teach Us

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This is Bill, and Bill is SERIOUSLY Not Boring. He is 50 years old (almost 51!), lives with his sister who is his loving caretaker, and his favorite things are his sister’s homemade cookies, his nieces and nephews, and Reba McEntire. Bill has Down Syndrome, and he has a lot to teach the rest of us about love and enthusiasm. Bill has some BIG feelings, and it is contagious.

I had the privilege of meeting Bill this winter. We were at a chili cookoff at our church, I introduced myself and we started talking. He started telling me about his nieces and nephews (he has their pictures in his wallet and proudly shows them to everyone he meets) and how much he loves kids. He told me that he would like to help and volunteer with the children’s activities at our church. I found it interesting he would mention that to me since I am not involved in the leadership of that ministry. I think now that it was divine intervention. I told him his idea sounded great, and that I would have to talk with his sister and the children’s ministry leadership and I would get back with him.

Then you know what I did? I am shamed to say, not very much. His sister agreed that he could help out and that she could bring him. I mentioned it via text or FB to a couple people involved with the ministry and didn’t receive a response. I don’t think they realized I was asking permission to move forward, OR they didn’t see my message. It was an incredibly busy time of year so I let the issue drop for a couple months. I didn’t want to overstep my bounds, and I knew that helping Bill get involved would take a bit of logistical work. I was worried that people would see that as an inconvenience (as an aside, that is exactly why a lot of families of children with special needs avoid church, because they are afraid their children would be seen as an inconvenience). I should have given more credit to my church and the loving people that are a part of it, and I should have followed through. Thankfully, I was given a second chance to give BILL a chance.  Continue reading

Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket

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The following is an excerpt of an article I wrote for Parents.com. Note: I do not describe my child’s meltdown in much detail because I feel that would be disrespectful to him. The details I did share were in order to share the importance of kindness, patience, and acceptance.

I have been a parent for over ten years now, and for a large part of those years I have also been an Autism parent. It has been quite the eventful journey; full of twists, turns, and lessons along the way. In my house we call it “Not Boring,” and have come to celebrate my son’s uniqueness. Back when my two boys were small and I was new to the Autism world, however, I spent a lot of time feeling confused and overwhelmed. I wish I could go back in time and reassure that worried mother, “Everything is going to be okay.”

One day in particular stands out in my mind. Many years ago I attempted the ambitious feat of grocery shopping with two small boys. Our trip to Kroger took longer than I would have liked, and the sights and sounds became overwhelming for my youngest. At the time he was pre-verbal, and his lack of ability to communicate seemed to heighten his moments of frustration. At that point I knew that he was facing developmental delays, and suspected Autism, but I had not discovered how to best help him when he became upset. I also had not yet learned all his triggers, and constantly walked around in a state of high alert because I never knew what the day would bring.

We finally finished shopping and approached the checkout counter to pay. I abruptly took a package of rice cakes out of the hands of my youngest son without thinking, and placed them on the conveyor belt. He was surprised and upset, because rice cakes were his favorite food at the time. A scream came out of his mouth and he took his frustration out the object nearest to him: the soft flesh of his older brother. My firstborn started crying, my youngest kept shrieking, and I desperately tried to calm the scene and comfort both children. I soon became completely overwhelmed, and all I could do was press my face against the soft hair of my oldest son and sob. I cried for his hurt, I cried for my own fears, and I cried because it broke my heart to see my youngest baby get so upset. Yet, as disturbing as it was for me, I knew it must be even more terrifying for him to feel so overwhelmed.

So there we stood, immobilized in the middle of the checkout lane… 

>>>>>>>>>>

To read the rest of the story please visit the original post, Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket  at the Parents.com Special-Needs Now blog.

(Image is via Shutterstock and was posted on the original article.) 

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Celebrate what makes you unique! It’s Not Boring. Seriously.

Letters to Mr. Goss

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(How hundreds of students reached out in gratitude to a beloved former teacher in the days before his death.)   Every year around Valentine’s Day, and in the spirit of Random Acts of Kindness,  I try to find a way to reach out and do something kind and unexpected for someone. Quite often it is to say “thank you” to someone from my past; someone who had a positive influence on my life and might not even know it. Several years ago I had been thinking a lot about my high school English teacher, Raymond Goss. I have always enjoyed writing, but rediscovered a passion for it when my youngest son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum disorder. I started blogging to find an outlet for my emotions, and somehow that ended up helping other people who read my words. I recalled being in Mr. Goss’s class and how he really enjoyed & encouraged my writing. One time he actually got quite giddy about a unique paper I wrote, jumping up and down in his chair, exclaiming, “YES!!! YES! THIS is what I wanted!!!” I wondered what he would think if he read any of my new work. I wanted to tell him that he made a difference in my life and that I thought of him every time I wrote.

During that time old high school friends had begun to reconnect on Facebook, and Mr. Goss often came up in conversation as we reminisced. He was one of those amazing teachers that got students excited about learning and about life. They appreciated his energy and passion, his unique view of the world, and the fact that he could teach with equal levels of earnestness the symbolism of Dr. Seuss or Dante’s Inferno. Despite his occasionally crusty exterior he was described as, “My favorite teacher”, “The best thing to happen to English”, “My inspiration for becoming a writer/teacher”, and “The only person I felt I could talk to”. One student wrote, “He was just one of the coolest teachers I think I’ve ever known. Even when it wasn’t about English or Literature, he was teaching about so many things.” Another said, “We LOVED Mr. Goss!! Who else could discuss how important it is to have your glass of milk so cold it almost hurts? Or read Dr. Seuss’ ‘Are You My Mother?’ to you and put it on your senior English exam?”

I had heard whispers that Mr. Goss was battling an aggressive form of cancer, but I was not sure if that sad news was supposed to be public knowledge. It increased the urgency of my desire to contact him, but I did not wish to invade his privacy. I waited many months for the opportunity to reach out to him, all the while a feeling of desperation growing inside me. I wondered if he knew how many lives he had touched, or how many students viewed him as a crucial positive influence on their education. I was sure that those students who sang his praises on the internet would be devastated to learn that they could no longer tell the man himself. I decided that it would be an utter tragedy for Mr. Goss to die without the possibility of knowing how many students spoke so highly of him; without knowing that he had made such a difference.

Continue reading