This is part one of a six part series written by Melissa Shaefer who interned with OMS Hungary doing refugee ministry in Europe this summer.
Have you ever feared for your life? Have you ever wondered if your child would survive past 15? Have you ever had to say goodbye to the life you knew, the people you grew up with, and the home you loved? I haven’t. But the people of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, along with countless others, have. There is a war in their lands that they cannot control. Mothers, fathers, children, bakers, doctors, shoemakers—they are not responsible for the devastation in their cities and hometowns, yet they are the ones who must deal with the destruction.
My name is Melissa. I am twenty years old, from a tiny town in Central Maine. I have known nothing but love my whole life. My parents brought me up in a home loving the Lord. They, along with my family, my church, and my friends, have always supported me, prayed for me, and helped me find the path when I lost my way. I grew up knowing I could trust in God, and that through him I was safe. My interest in missions started young. When I first realized not everyone was as loved nor as privileged as I, my whole world shook a little. I believed all people were equal under Jesus, and should be able to know they are wanted and cared for by God. When it was made known to me that there were people called by the Lord to spread his grace, I knew my calling.
This past May, I received my Associates from Houghton College in Western New York. During my four semesters there, I became part of a program that opened my eyes to the true diversity in America. Journey’s End Tutoring, or JET to those in the know, took Houghton students to Buffalo to help refugees from all over the world assimilate to American culture. This allowed us to work with Burmese (the people group is actually the Karen), Congolese, and Iraqi families. We taught English language and American social customs. We helped kids with homework. One time a father pulled out a math book, and asked which one of us could explain it all in English (that job fell to me— it was probably the most fun I ever had on one of those trips). Other times we sang and danced, or kicked a soccer ball/fútbol around outside. I and my fellow JET-ers learned so much from those people. They were resilient. Many had lost family members. Many had spent at least six years in refugee camps. Some of the children had never known a life outside of tents. But at least they were safe now.
Earlier this year, I was feeling lost. I was anxious about the future, and I lost my drive for anything. Then one chapel service at Houghton, a professor got up and spoke about his ministry among the Muslims. I heard him extol churches in Europe, who were opening their doors and their arms to those fleeing the Syrian War, giving them food and shelter, and more than a little hope. The next week Bill Hess, an OMS missionary, passed out the “European Refugee Internship” flyer. After some prayer and fasting, I decided to apply. It wasn’t easy. I applied a little late. As I would be spending up to 10 weeks in Europe, I knew it would be a lot of money to raise. My father, who was very supportive, yet also realistic, tried to warn me that we wouldn’t be able to raise enough money to send me. When I was finally resigned to the fact that God must have a different plan for me, I missed two calls from Heather, my OMS contact. Needless to say I was nervous to hear what she had to say. What if I had to tell her I couldn’t go?! When I finally read her email, I may have squealed a little bit. She told me my journey would be completely covered. I was going to Europe, by the grace of God. He has been so good to me. Even amidst trials, anxiety, and pain, he came through. He always comes through.
By Melissa Shaefer, OMS Refugee Ministry Intern
Continue following our blog to read the rest of Melissa’s story.