This is the final part of a six part series written by Melissa Shaefer who interned with OMS Hungary doing refugee ministry in Europe this summer.
Sometimes things cannot be truly understood until they are experienced. Simply hearing statistics and facts can lead people to say, “That’s terrible” or “Those poor dears.” Perhaps the words are heartfelt, but nothing is done. Maybe the words are just trite sayings that hold no feelings. It isn’t until connections are made that one truly begins to empathize. Putting one’s own self in the shoes of another person, especially one from another culture, takes time to learn and vulnerability—pieces of ourselves that we aren’t used to giving.
My nine weeks in Europe as a teacher, a confidante, and a friend, were paradoxically the best and worst weeks of my life. I connected with people in a way I never had before. I took orders and I took chances. I taught English and was given friendship. I loved, and had my heart broken. I cared, and had to watch from the sidelines as friends were yanked from safety into uncertainty. I felt my priorities change, and then had to say goodbye, knowing that I may never see any of them again.
Before I went to Serbia, I was told by a missionary to have no expectations because things change in a moment’s notice. Life was, and continues to be, uncertain for most refugees. They are here one day, gone the next—promised safety in a few weeks, only to be led around for months on end. I grew accustomed to the lifestyle. In Greece, our team would make a plan, only to have it blown to smithereens the next day. I’ve had trouble, now that I’m home, to plan for anything specific. The months seem to loom before me, asking questions that I cannot find it within me to answer.
I want to go back to Dored and Ivan and Orivan. I want to hug Mama G and Soher and Rodin. I want to learn from Dorothy, laugh with Dorothee, and talk about life with Jasmine. A part of my brain is always on the lookout for news about Iraq and Syria. Any headline or conversation that contains the words “Greece,” “refugee,” or “Serbia” immediately snatches my attention. These people, this ministry, became an integral part of my life. Now to be at least 4,365 miles from them is disconcerting and nigh on misery.
But I’ve learned too that one cannot, must not, mourn life away. Each new place I come to will hold some sort of purpose, some answer, some lesson. To mourn is good, even healthy, but to be stuck in a place of mourning is to shut off the light that the Creator has given. Mama G and Rose—every single refugee I met who found it in themselves to smile—proved this to me. Life is worth more than sitting around.
These people we call “refugees” found themselves in a harrowing situation. They had to decide to leave their possessions, their homes, their families, and pray that some kindred souls would accept them until they could restart their lives. “Refugee” does not mean outcast. It does not mean sluggard or worthless. Refugee should represent to you and me the people brave enough to fight to live. To seek safety is not unknown to you and me. But to seek refuge is to acknowledge one’s humanity and say I cannot do this on my own.
I suppose that is it. The main lesson that God allowed me to learn on this journey is that I cannot do this on my own. Though Maine is quite different from Greece, even here I cannot take my eyes off of Him. Over 4,000 miles from those I learned to call friend, they are still in my prayers every day. When the weeks are long and I don’t hear a word, still I lift them up to the Father. Because His ways and His power are more than I can comprehend.
Please, continue to pray for these people. In Serbia and Greece, the days and nights are freezing. Not everyone is clothed properly. Very few are allowed to cross the border from Serbia into Hungary. The people on both sides are tired, willing the whole thing to be over. Yet above all, God is in control. In the words of Zay and Kitty’s favorite song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Let us trust in Him.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
By Melissa Shaefer, OMS Refugee Ministry Intern
Review previous blog posts for the rest of Melissa’s story.