Monthly Archives: October 2015

‘I was naked and you gave me clothing’

In an ongoing effort to share inside experiences from the refugee crisis, I have invited Chris Lewis to share one of his stories from working in Opatovac refugee camp. He and his wife, Karen, traveled through Hungary, Serbia, and Croatia for over a month, serving the refugees.  In his own words…

I’ve heard the old cliche about someone being so generous they would give away the shirt off their own back. However, when I saw a teenage boy give away his own sweater to another cold refugee, I saw this principle in action. In fact, I saw this kind of generosity amongst many of the refugees who pass daily through the camp at Opatovac in Croatia.

I’ll call the teenage boy Majid. He came to the clothes tent and told me he spoke both English and Arabic and would like to help. We let him help us distribute clothes to the long line of freezing refugees who had just arrived.

We had spent hours arranging the clothing in the tent. Donations come from various places and are given to us to sort through and organize into boxes so that we can set up the tent kind of like a shop for the people. The main things people needed on this day were coats, sweaters and shoes. The cold weather had come in, and the people were freezing.

As Majid helped us determine the needs of the people and find clothing for them, we often discovered that we didn’t have what the people needed. We ran out of socks first. Then we ran out of coats. Now we were down to handing out sweaters to the shivering people.

As always, I was impressed by the generosity of many of the refugees. People who had extra often came to the tent that day and made donations of their own. If they had a pair of shoes or an extra coat, they gave them to us so that we could give them to others who needed them more.

But it was never enough.

Finally we ran out of adult sweaters. We had a few left for children and one or two tattered sweaters for young people. But the large sweaters were gone.

A grown man came to the front of the line. We were able to give him something for the rest of his family, but he himself was shivering. “Do you have any coats?” he asked. We told him were sorry, but they were all gone. “Sweaters?” Again we were sorry, but we didn’t have anything left in his size.

Majid, however, was wearing a beautiful new sweater he had gotten somewhere. It was a little large for the 14 year old boy, but it was nice and he was proud of it. That’s why I was surprised when he asked me, “Do you have anything a little smaller that I could wear? Anything at all. It doesn’t have to be nice.”

One of the volunteers found a small sweater that could just barely fit. It was a bit old and not very nice, but Majid took his nice sweater off and put the old one on instead.

Then he gave his own sweater to the shivering man.

Every day, thousands of refugees pass through Opatovac. Most of them are hungry, and all of them are cold. We never have enough to give them, but we give them all we have.

What impresses me most, however, is watching how often they also give to one another. It reminds me that these are real people just like you and me. Many have been forced to leave behind good jobs and good lives, and they are uncertain of the future. Many are scared and lonely and hurting. However, their hearts beat just like ours do, and often their hearts beat in compassion for one another.

These little incidents remind me that the media’s picture of this crisis is often incomplete. The fate of these people – male and female, young and old – is often discussed as nothing more than a political problem that needs a solution. This is, however, a human problem that can only be solved through human compassion.

Many of the refugees would give the shirt off their back for one another. How much are we willing to give? How much are we willing to learn from the example of people like Majid?

Chris Lewis has been a minister with the Church of the Nazarene for 22 years. Originally from the United States, he and his wife, Karen, are in the process of moving to Croatia where they will be working side by side with the Red Cross in response to the refugee crisis.

Other posts on the crisis: My brother Opatovoc Waiting This is our time

An Awareness of Him

We entered, suddenly, into a sacred moment.

But actually, every moment is sacred—it has more to do with our sudden awareness of something beyond ourselves.

Z., a regular attender at the Little Darda Church, has been getting sicker over the last few months.  A few days ago, she returned home after  a couple of weeks in the hospital.  Weak and in pain, she is having trouble moving around her house, her asthma making her sound  like she is breathing underwater.

“I am throwing up everything I eat except a little bread with some jam on it,” she told us after we stopped by to check on her.

Z. hasn’t been baptized—and although she faithfully attends church every Sunday, she has rarely expressed what she thinks in terms of faith or God. Like many adults in our church, her inability to read makes it difficult for her to access the Bible.

But as we sat around her fragile body, she began to speak to us.

“God is for us and not against us.  He is our father and is taking care of me even though I am sick.  We are in his hands and we are safe with him. He is our father and our healer.”

I caught my breath—could I be understanding this correctly?  This was not someone who was trying to impress us or give us pat answers, although some of what she was saying came from songs or concepts that we had presented in church.

These were words with power—spoken by someone who was and had been suffering—words that testified and exhorted, words that portrayed a simple yet deep faith.

Yesterday in the Little Darda Church, it felt like one of those days—missing keys, late starts, confusing stories, and minor drama.    We had announced the previous week that we were handing out food packages—and this week the church had a sudden surplus of people.

During the song part of the service, there was a loud POP, which startled everyone and caused three men to run outside to investigate. I personally thought someone had thrown a rock at the window, but we never got to the bottom of it.

After church, we drove a young girl home who had recently started coming to church.

“When that noise happened,” she said, “I saw a vision of Jesus standing in fire in the middle of the church. I was afraid and my heart is still beating really fast!”

She did look shaken—and so we tried to help her process what she had seen and what that meant.

By this point in my experience, hearing Roma talk about such an event is nothing new or shocking. God seems to speak frequently through dreams and visions to the Roma in order to testify, exhort, or encourage.

Whatever this young girl actually saw, she was moved into a sudden awareness—the reality that Jesus is among us.

A few weeks ago, I wrote  that the leadership of the Little Darda Church was   discouraged and frustrated, and that consequently we had decided to take a pauza from many of our programs in order to pray and seek God.

Since then, there have been no big revelations, or masses coming to Christ, or disciples maturing overnight.  However, there have been a few of these glimpses, a subtle quickening of awareness, that God is active in our midst.

“I am not afraid to die,” Z. said, “because my Father is waiting for me and he is not going to trick me—I will be with him.”