And the funnel narrows…

“Everything changed again this morning,” the pastor said, “I’m so sorry I’m late.”

Constant change—that is the only unchanging constant in this refugee crisis.

I had driven over to Šid, Serbia for a few hours to deliver some donated money for food packets and talk to one of the  pastors in charge of the NGO which had been serving the refugees since their arrival.

“The changing situation has been the most difficult thing, ” the pastor answered when I asked him what the biggest challenge had been since the refugees  began to flood the small town of 70,000 in August.  “We have to constantly adapt as the situation and locations of the refugees change.”

But the news of this morning was that Slovenia would no longer accept ‘economic migrants,’  namely, anyone not from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  This began a chain reaction in Serbia, Macedonia, and Croatia.


Three weeks before, this was packed with cold and shivering people. Now, under the unseasonably warm sun, a solitary trash bin is the only evidence that remains.

I don’t blame the governments for making this decision as the numbers of people continue to climb—in the last 24 hours, 5,180 people arrived in Croatia, and over 416,000 have already passed through since mid-September.

But the problem is that now there will be stranded groups of people everywhere, although I don’t doubt that some will try to continue their journey out of the limelight.

In fact, when I left Serbia and was about 15 km into Croatia, I saw a group of refugees on the side of a cornfield.  The police were there, lights flashing, with more on the way.  I don’t know what the story was, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this group had heard the news and was trying their own method of crossing.

“What the Serbian government will do with the people sent back, I don’t know,”the pastor told me. “How will the government and the churches deal with this new challenge of all these people left here who cannot move further?”

I imagine the government will come up with some plan to send people back to their home countries. Regardless of their motivation for coming, and whether or not I think it is right or wrong that they be sent back,  I try to imagine the crushing disappointment this news would be if I were in their shoes.

To have high hopes and travel so far…only to have missed the window of opportunity.

This situation only  grows more complex with no easy answers.

“When this first began, ” the pastor said, “the things I saw stayed in my head for 10 days. The feeling of helplessness.”


The pastor left me soon after this to go chop wood for the church’s heating supply for winter.

“I was touched by the people with small children, newborns, who are constantly moving, walking for days…I witnessed a lot of trauma from the people who ran away from the war and came across the sea to come to us. I witnessed women giving birth at the border. And somehow a person as an individual becomes helpless in everything.”

I guess I was wrong—here is another constant.  In all this complexity, despite the resilience, perseverance, and creativity required for  each person to reach Serbia, there is still an undeniable level of helplessness involving anyone who leaves her country. Will I be sent back or allowed to stay?  Will I have food, water, and shelter?  Will strangers be kind to me?  Will I survive?

Somehow my thoughts go to the Christ child—helpless and dependent on his parents for food, shelter, and safety.

Somehow, I find it comforting that Jesus can identify with the very human feeling of helplessness.




And now what?

“It is a kairos moment for the Church in Europe,” my Bosnian friend said to me.  I found something rising up in me at this statement. Yes, I thought. In fact, when the crisis first hit Croatia, I wrote an impassioned appeal along these lines.

But he said these words two weeks ago, before the horror that pummeled the streets of Lebanon and Paris.

Kairos: The right or opportune moment; an appointed season

Over the last couple of months, around 370,000 refugees have passed through Croatia. The early days of this crisis showcased a mixed response from the Christians in Croatia:   from a fervent passion to serve, to  fear and worry, to a seeming indifference.  Questions abounded:  Were  ISIS agents infiltrating? What does this mean economically when I cannot even find a job and I worry about paying my bills and feeding my own family?

These kinds of questions have faded into the background as the government gained control over the situation, building a new winterized camp, and providing an increasingly smooth train transport system stretching from Croatia’s border with Serbia to Slovenia.


ISIS has viciously lashed out in the last couple of weeks:  A Russian airplane, Lebanon, and now Paris. The world is shocked, grieving, and angry.  And rightly so…the loss of life so indiscriminately taken should be named and resisted as evil.

And now what?

Some have written thoughtful reflections appropriate and timely regarding the tremendous loss of life.  Others have sharply critiqued the seeming priority given to Parisian lives as opposed to Arab. And still others have felt their fears justified about the unrelenting flow of refugees throughout Europe and are demanding a change of policy, closing of borders, and some hateful sentiments that don’t warrant further exposure.

Which way will the continent’s attitude turn in the ongoing refugee crisis, even as many of the refugees are fleeing the very people responsible for the attacks?

And if national sentiment turns against the refugees, what will the Church’s response be?

Paul Tillich, German philosopher and theologian, re-appropriated the concept of a kairos moment as being a time when something new and unexpected begins—a time which calls for creative action and “must be interpreted with a prophetic spirit.” ¹

He came to this interpretation by living and fighting through World War I,  a daily confrontation of death and suffering which irrevocably changed him, as he wrote to his family: We are experiencing the most terrible catastrophes, the end of the world order…it is coming to an end, and this end is accompanied by deepest pain.” ² 

In the spirit of Tillich, it seems that we are indeed in the midst of something new which requires creativity and a prophetic spirit—rather than a spirit of timidity or fear.

The questions close to our lips should be: What is happening here? What is God doing? How can the Church bear witness of Jesus in these frightening and challenging times? IMG_1287

These questions must be sourced in Missio Dei—the mission of God—who is actively at work in the world to reconcile all things to himself.

The terrorist attacks have not changed this kairos moment for the Church—if anything, it has sharpened our prophetic focus that is discerning the times.  Are our churches more nationalistic or Christocentric? Are we more apathetic or action-orientated?  Are we driven by love or fear? Are we rutted in ineffective well-worn paths or open to creativity?

And yet, Jesus did not intend for us to be naive (Matt. 10:16). Action also requires reasoned reflection, an awareness of world events, the possibilities—both dangerous and hopeful, and a theological and missiological grounding.

But still I say, this is our time.

For some ‘reasoned reflections’ on ISIS, check out this article by Dr. Martin Accad, Director of Institute of Middle East Studies in Lebanon: Beating Back ISIS

  1. Wilhelm and Marion Pauk 1976 Paul Tillich: His life and thought, Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers 2.  Pauk, pg. 51