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Divided by borders, united by purpose

More than half a million refugees have entered Croatia, and Baptists have been part of the response, writes Elvis Džafic, Cordinator of Volunteers for the Croatian Baptist Aid 

Croatia1Since the beginning of the migrant crisis, 568 439 people have entered the Republic of Croatia. A few days ago, the camp in Slavonski Brod (a city in Eastern Croatia, on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina) was covered in the first snow, as evidenced by the photograph of the snowman – with arms wide open, the snowman is the camp's symbol of hospitality and welcoming to refugees in Croatia.

In search of a safer life, in search of freedom and dignity, many were forced to leave their homes, leave years of hard work, leave everything they owned, and start their life-changing journey; a journey of hope, journey towards a better life.

That "journey of hope“ which began in Syria, and went through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria to finally come to Germany, was not easy. As a matter of fact, that was a "journey through hell“, and Croatia found itself at the centre of, and therefore became witness to the biggest migrant crisis in the history since World war II.

Touching stories and tragedies

In the midst of that hell, a truly touching story happened in Slavonski Brod, that we were able to witness. One of the refugees that recently passed through Croatia while his family stayed in Turkey waiting for the dealers of boats (who charged 1000 Euros per person) to take them to Greece, received a message through WhatsApp that a part of his family along with 80 other people is in the boats in the Aegean sea. They were in big trouble due to storms and rough sea. He managed to give this information to the Croatian police, who immediately responded and notified the officials in Greece, who then successfully did their job and saved those people.

There are a lot of stories that witness that Croatia is in the centre of the biggest migrant crisis but unfortunately, not all of them finish with a happy ending. Due to the cold, difficult weather conditions, fatigue, and hunger of the refugees, Croatia is, along with Greece, the second EU country that was faced with the death of some of the refugees. The recent tragedy of a dying baby in the camp in Slavonski Brod truly made all of us volunteers think about life and death and their meaning. The grief in the eyes of the mother and her husband is indescribable. There are no words.

Even though the temperatures are below 0 Celsius, the cold, the fatigue of a journey that seems to have no end made a lot of the refugees disappointed and incredibly sad. A lot of them came lost and afraid. On the one hand there is a strong will to live, on the other hand, fear and trembling became a normal part for many people. That was the Christmas and New Year’s atmosphere for many refugees in the camp in Croatia.

Croatia3A lot of volunteers that are working in the refugee camp truly want to make life better for the refugees they meet. Recently, my friend David, who came all the way from USA where he left his wife and four children to come here to volunteer and help the refugees, found himself in an interesting situation. During a conversation with the refugees, which is as important as sharing humanitarian aid, we met a man from Syria who, during a conversation with us, showed us his necklace with a cross on it. He told us that he was a Christian and asked us to pray for him. That man left everything he had in Syria and started the journey with his wife and two sons. He managed to come to Croatia, but unfortunately the life story for his wife and one of the sons ended in Greece in the cold sea.

In a terrible tragedy with the boat, part of the people drowned and among them were his wife and son. While we were talking, with tears in his eyes, he took out his cross and told us: “Please pray for me and my child. Pray that God will be our strength to make it safely to Germany. I have lost everything in life but not the hope for my son. I want to help my son have a normal life.”

Those were difficult, but at the same time encouraging words that came from that man’s mouth in the midst of a refugee camp. The power of faith and commitment to the Lord gave this man the strength to continue the journey after the tragedy in Greece. After we prayed we helped him to change his child’s clothes, and prepared him for the rest of the journey by giving him food, dry socks, and water.

170 volunteers from 22 different countries

Over half a million people so far have gone through the camp in Croatia. Since the first day of the refugee crisis there are a lot of volunteers from different Protestant Churches working inside the camp. They differ on some theological issues and opinions, but are united with the purpose of working together and helping the refugees. There were 170 volunteers from 22 different countries (USA, UK, Germany, Spain, France, India, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania, etc.) that through the Protestant Evangelical Alliance have come to work in the refugee camp in Croatia.

Croatia2The volunteers are working on different projects that are changing due to the changing needs of refugees. During the summer, they distributed water, food and clothes. Now during the winter weather, the needs are very different. Due to extreme cold and snow that covered the camp, volunteers are working on distributing “winter packets” - winter caps that contain gloves, a scarf, and socks. The cost of one of these winter packets is around 12 Euros. Every day about 700 packets are distributed. With distribution of winter packets, there is a project of high energy food distribution - muesli bars, peanuts, walnuts, energy bars, chocolate, and bananas.

With food and winter packets, volunteers are also distributing winter footwear. Around 80 pairs of different sized boots are distributed on a daily basis to people that pass through the camp. We hope that we will be able to raise the number of shoes we distribute to 150 per day. Even though thousands of people daily pass through the camp, our abilities are limited, and we cannot cover all needs. We believe that our God is a God who provides. We didn’t find ourselves in this crisis by accident. Therefore, dear sisters and brothers, dead friends, keep us, volunteers, in your prayers.

The importance of talking to the refugees

With different projects inside the camp, the most important thing to us is talking to the refugees. Our vision and mission on Earth but also in the camp is to talk to them, pray for them, and show them Christ in action. God gave us the great commission that we read about at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, and we want to follow it and be Christ’s witnesses to those who still don’t know him. It isn’t easy for volunteers to spend 24 hours in the camp working in this cold, but being a witness also sometimes means being a martyr in a way. However, Christ and the people we are trying to help are worth the sacrifice.

It is our wish to help these people on their journey from hell to heaven. That is the journey with salvation as its goal. We want to persevere in this, because we believe it is important.

Our abilities are limited. We need your help because together we are stronger. We might be divided by borders or different opinions, but our purpose and our God is that which unites us. Whatever little we do can change someone’s life for the better. United in Spirit we help because we love those people. We are thankful to God for the blessings of a safe and warm home, family that supports us, the job that we have, and everything that is necessary to live a dignified life.

Your help can go a long way. Join us to make life better for all who desperate for it and need our help.

We help because we love the people. 

The story originally appeared on the website of the European Baptist Federation and is republished with permission

Baptist Times, 13/01/2016
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