In 1998 and 1999, a brutal civil war in the Balkan Peninsula led to an expulsion of Kosovar Albanians who found themselves as refugees, their homes destroyed.
Imir Gashi is one of those former refugees. As a teenager, he found safety in Albania before being able to return home a few months later.
It’s because he remembers what it was like to be a refugee that he is now one of the Nazarenes from Kosova who regularly visits refugee camps in neighboring Serbia and Macedonia. These Kosovars are serving as volunteers with the Nazarene Central European Refugee Response team.
On his first visit, he met a young man from Afghanistan who had lost his entire family to violence. The man was reading a Bible on his phone — a gift from a Christian missionary he’d met. He fell in love with what Jesus had to say.
“As I was talking to him, he said, ‘I have a secret,'” Gashi said. “And he told me that he had given his life [to Christ] just the other day. I told him his story had a parallel with mine: When I was a refugee in Albania, I gave my life to Christ.”
Gashi told him that he is a pastor in Kosova. The young man was excited at this news, because he had so many questions. Every week, Gashi returned to disciple him, pray with him, and answer his questions.
Gashi and the other Kosovar Nazarenes have built relationships with some of the refugee families over the past four months, playing with their children, and bringing food, toys and other things they need.
Now the number of people in the camp has reduced from more than 1,000 to just about 125 people.
“But still we go to keep those relationships,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Gashi wrote to his Afghani friend, who responded that now he is in Germany.
“It’s been a good experience for all of us who have gone there on a week to week basis,” Gashi said. “It’s just been a way to be there for them. These people are desperate, they’ve lost everything. [We go] to show them somebody cares, and God loves them, and we’re there just to be with them more than anything and try to reflect the love of Christ to them.”
For those who have gone with Gashi, the Middle East refugees’ plight is no longer something they simply watch from a distance on the news. They’ve now met people from Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, and from Iraq and Afganistan.
“It’s a personal thing for them now.”
Previously published on Engagemagazine.com