He was a 16-year-old Syrian boy in an adult body. The only telltale sign of his youth and vulnerability were the tears that came easily to his eyes. His Uncle, Muhammad, told the story. As he did, he warned that the tears would come. “Any time you talk of his family, the tears are coming.” The story began as so many do: running from war in Syria. This time, they are running from Aleppo. Two brothers began the journey leading their children and wives to safety across borders and in spite of the mechanics of government agendas.
Deciding that the sea was too dangerous, they made the calculated decision to take the land route through Bulgaria. They knew the risks. They had heard the stories that gave Bulgaria the name “Hell,” but the Mediterranean in the month of February just seemed too risky. As they crossed borders from Turkey into Bulgaria, guards pursued them. The members of the two families ran in different directions. Muhammad, his two children, wife, and his nephew, Sahid, were caught. Sahid’s father, mother, and three sisters successfully escaped and made it to Germany, where they are currently being processed as refugees.
Sahid, along with his uncle and family, were arrested and held in a jail where they suffered abuse, lacked proper food, and were subjected to inhumane living conditions. Nine days later, they were released, having been stripped of their phones, money, and any other personal items of value. Those days would not only cost them materially and physically, it would also prevent them from making it to Germany before the borders closed.
The last time I saw Sahid and his family, we shared a cup of hot tea in Belgrade. They were sleeping in the open, unable to put up tents even though night temperatures still dropped close to freezing. Muhammad’s children are small — under the age of 5. The youngest was nursing. This family, on schedule to make it to freedom before being jailed, now suffers an agonizingly uncertain future. Their story is repeated over and over again in the thousands across the Balkans. Sahid, and other children like him, are the reason that Nazarenes in Central Europe continue a focused refugee response.
So, what is the church doing?
In Greece, we are partnering with a beautiful Greek Evangelical Church to teach English for refugees, to help prepare apartments for refugee families, and to work with families in Refugee Camps.
In Croatia, we continue to work with NGOs to serve almost 600 asylum seekers who are in the midst of being processed for refugee status.
In Serbia, there is a perplexing ebb and flow of refugees in Belgrade, Sid, and Presovo. The numbers dwindle to a few hundred and then soar between 600 and 1,000. Serbia has become a rapidly changing and dynamic point of ministry. We are consistently present and available to partner with other organizations in the giving of sandwiches, clothes, shoes, and water while we listen and learn.
Together, we are the church. Together, we can make a difference.
Churches and individuals around the world can support efforts to minister to families and individuals living as refugees in Central Europe and other areas by giving to the NCM Refugee and Immigrant Support Fund.