Blessing is not about power

“God is in this place,” Skye, a vicar from Oxford, said to me after spending a couple of weeks being involved in Little Darda Church.

Sometimes, amidst the hard stories  and daily struggle for survival characteristic of our church members,  it is nice to be reminded of that from someone visiting from the outside.

“I have received blessing in my time here.”

Blessing—so often that word is used to describe a relationship FROM someone who has more power, resources, or possibilities TO someone who is poor, marginalized, and needy.

With a jolt, I am reminded that Little Darda Church is called to be a blessing to the larger Roma community, to the Croatian community, and to any other nations that happen to visit our small church on a given Sunday.

And, as mentioned in an earlier blog post, one never knows who will show up.  Đeno, whose vision has always been to have a ‘church for all people,’ rather than a strictly ‘Roma church’ mentioned that fact last Sunday.

“We are an international church,” he said in his introduction to the service. “Right now we have people in our service from America, England, Croatia, and The Netherlands.  This church is not just for us Roma.”

I think back to the first ‘Great Commission’ in God’s promise to Abraham.  “…I will bless you…and so you shall be a blessing…and in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

God’s work and presence in the midst of the Little Darda Church is our blessing.  Sitting with the people over coffee in their homes and listening to their stories, my spirit has  experienced his presence in ways that are new to me. I try to be a blessing to the people by listening to their burdens, struggles, and heartaches.

But I realize I forgot the third part of the blessing.  No matter that sometimes we feel that we are taking one step forward and three steps back.  No matter our struggles as individuals and a church, the challenges we face in discipleship, our hopes for community transformation.

Although we are a community of new believers, we are called to be a blessing to others.  This must be our shared call.

Skye blessed us in many ways—using art as a means to facilitate connection and life-sharing among the women, preaching, and leading youth activities.  But her comment to me reminded me that my perspective has, somewhere along the way, slightly shifted away from my deeply held convictions regarding mission. IMG_1683

Blessing is a primary theme in mission—but it is not about the stronger blessing the weaker.  It is about experiencing the presence of God and offering that as a blessing to others with one hand even as your other hand is outstretched to receive blessing from someone else.

“God is in this place,” she reminded me.

Yes, yes, he is—and so all, from every nation,  are welcome to Little Darda Church.  I cannot promise the material comfort you might experience in an American megachurch, but I can promise you will be warmly accepted by this small community.

Tragedy and Hope: The Ongoing Refugee Story

This guest post is written by Elvis Džafić, coordinator of refugee camp volunteers for the Protestant Evangelical Alliance in Croatia.  

A few days ago, the camp in Slavonski Brod (a city in the 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, welcoming the refugees to Croatia.snowman

Over half a million people have come through Croatia since the beginning of the crisis. Since the first day, there have been lot of volunteers from different Protestant Churches working inside the camp. There have been 170 volunteers from 22 different countries (USA, Sweden, UK, Germany, Spain, France, India, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania, etc.) that came to work through the Protestant Evangelical Alliance.

 

The volunteers are working in three shifts, each shift lasts 8 hours. The work they do varies. The volunteers are participating in all the activities in the camp but the primary focus is always to help the refugees whether it is distribution of humanitarian aid, conversation with the refugees or  helping the police and medical personal by translating and helping to communicate with the refugees. If the police can understand and communicate with the refugees, it decreases the tension and the registration process operates without  panic.

Now during the winter weather, volunteers are working on distributing “winter packets” (they contain gloves, a scarf,  socks, and high energy, high calorie food). They are also distributing winter footwear.feeding

Recently, a truly touching story happened in Slavonski Brod. One of the refugees was traveling apart from his family, because they were waiting in Turkey for a boat to take them to Greece. He received a message through WhatsApp that part of his family, along with 80 other people were in trouble on the Aegean sea because of storms. He related this information to the Croatian police, who immediately notified the officials in Greece. Because of this, the people were rescued.

Not all the stories have a happy ending. Due to the difficult weather conditions, fatigue, and hunger, refugees have died in both Croatia and Greece. The recent tragedy of a baby’s death in Slavonski Brod forced all of us volunteers think about life and death and their meaning. The grief that was in the eyes of the mother and father was indescribable. There are no words.snow

A lot of volunteers who are working in the refugee camp truly want to make life better for the refugees. Recently, my friend David, who came all the way from USA, found himself in an interesting situation. During a conversation with the refugees(offering a few kind words can bring out smiles on the faces regardless of the suffering the people are going through), he met a man from Syria who 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. Tragically, his wife and one of his sons drowned in the sea before making it to Greece. 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.” The power of faith and commitment to God 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.

With different projects inside the camp, the most important thing to us is talking to the refugees—to pray for them and show them Christ in our actions. volunteers

 

There are ways of contributing to this effort—through financial support and prayer. We need your help! Right now we are distributing 80 pairs of boots a day and we would like to raise it to 150. We are also distributing numerous ‘winter packets’ daily, and they are about 12 Euros each.  For further information on how to help, please contact me at dzaficelvis90@gmail.com

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