Hundreds of thousands of people leaving the Middle East have trudged across southeastern Europe for weeks, buffeted by the rapidly changing policies and politics of various European governments, as they try to make their way to Germany or Austria.
Before 15 September, the refugees initially were flowing through Hungary, where missionaries Jay and Teanna Sunberg and others spent time with those waiting at train and bus stations for transportation to Germany, and also distributed emergency supplies. When Hungary shut its border on the 15th, Croatia announced that it welcomed the travelers with open arms.
In Croatia, resident Nazarene missionaries Dave and Betsy Scott, and Ashley Huber, now find themselves with an overwhelming, unexpected opportunity, as so far 35,000 people have entered Croatia in the last week. According to Betsy, Croatian authorities estimate another 80,000 refugees are on their way. (Read Betsy’s first person observations about the situation here.)
Huber and the Scotts have thrown themselves into the relief work, in partnership with Christian friends and numerous organizations and churches, to provide emergency relief to the people, as well as set up transition centers where people can sleep before journeying on.
There are two borders between Croatia and Slovenia where they have been focusing their help: Harmica, and Bregana.
They have been picking up trash, buying and delivering much needed tangible material things, like providing tents when there were only 10 tents for a group of 1,000 people, helping set up a mobile Internet hot spot station for refugees to connect with their loved ones, buying hygiene products, baby food, food, water and other supplies.
Dave registered as a volunteer with the Red Cross, which allowed him to assist in setting up transitional shelters for the refugees to sleep before moving on to cross the borders.
On Wednesday, Trino Jara, coordinator of Eurasia Region and Global Holistic Child Development Ministries for NCM, arrived. The plan is to assemble people who are interested in training, developing a plan, and helping form healthy, long-term responses for those who have been intimately involved in helping and for those who want to help.
The crisis has united numerous organizations and people in a response.
“We have not just served with local Croatian entities, but also with Austrian, Hungarian and Slovenian volunteers, and the cooperation has been a beautiful thing,” Betsy wrote. “We have personally had the privilege to partner with local non-government organizations, Protestant churches, the Red Cross, friends and colleagues, and other missions organizations who have come to help, and keep coming, from Youth With a Mission to Intervarsity to others.”
Many of the travelers fleeing war zones in the Middle East are finding new dangers as they walk through Croatia. Relics of war in the early 1990s, landmines pose invisible dangers to unwary people on foot. Additionally, according to several missionaries in Croatia, some local people are taking advantage of the refugees by charging them highly inflated fees to transport them to the border.
“They have walked over 1,200 km (750 miles) just from Greece to Zagreb, and many are families with really young children, ranging from 3 months old to teenagers,” Betsy said. “We met a woman who had been traveling by herself with her 3-month-old. Her husband is still in Syria. She found security traveling with another family. We noticed that she needed shoes, and we were able to get her a stroller for her baby.
“The stories and images shatter stereotypes. They are not pushy, but afraid, tired and exhausted. Maybe there are dangerous people in the mix, but I have to tell you, it didn’t matter, none of it mattered. My heart is completely broken. I’ve never seen such desperation, such heartache, such determination, such bravery, such sadness, never.”
Betsy asks our global church family to pray:
“PRAY for the strength of these individuals and families to keep going, for healthy babies, for those who are sick to get the help they need, for fewer infections, for better living conditions. PRAY for the volunteers who are giving all they have to help complete strangers. PRAY for new volunteers to help, to come alongside what others are already doing, to seek new creative ways for a long-term plan.
“PRAY for the love of Jesus to reach these refugees, and that they would feel loved and cared for.”
How to respond
Nazarene Compassionate Ministries has developed several resources, including bulletin inserts and a Powerpoint presentation, to educate your congregation or Sunday school class on the refugee crisis. Click here to download.
Churches and individuals around the world can support efforts to minister to refugee families through local Nazarene churches by giving to the NCM Refugee and Immigrant Support Fund.
In Germany, please donate through Helping Hands e.V., IBAN: DE56 5075 0094 0000 022394, SWIFT-BIC: HELADEF1GEL.
For other countries, please give through your local church or district, designating your gift to the NCM Refugee and Immigrant Support Fund.
Download a booklet with suggestions and guidelines for supporting refugees in your local community.
Photos courtesy Teanna Sunberg.