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Shoes for Refugees on the Journey

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The crisis continues and refugees continue to make their way toward Europe. Here, missionary Teanna Sunberg shares a reflection on the ongoing needs she sees as families come through camps in the Balkans on their way to Western Europe. 

In September, we naively believed that the tide of refugees from the Middle East would reduce to a trickle with the winter. The alternative was too difficult to imagine. To know the Balkans in winter is to know that mother nature’s foul mood rips and chews the skin when given the chance.

When the winter comes, then what?

The reality in September was a pitiful tent that did her feeble best to protect donated clothes and shoes from the downpour. There were families everywhere, soaked and pasted to one another in a shivering mess of mud and hunger and exhaustion.

Suddenly in my peripheral vision, there were wet toddler toes attached to a mother’s arms. Soaked – both of them shivering. The big sister stood to the side and spoke a few words of English. She became the translator for her mom and shivering brother.

We found shoes and a coat for her toddler brother. We found a coat for her mom.

“Do you have shoes for me, please?” She had waited patiently until her mom and her brother were cared for.

I looked down at what had once been her shoes, now riddled with holes, caked with mud, the sole flapping in the opposite direction.

“How long have your shoes been like this?”

She shrugged, “A long time. Days. But when the rain came last night, I am now too cold.”

And so we looked for shoes. She and I — a teenage Syrian girl of 14 and an American mom of 4 teenage daughters — we searched for shoes. 37 women’s! Anybody? 37 women’s?”

Gone. The 38s were gone too. We tried a 36. Painfully small.

I could feel the tension of minutes ticking too quickly – the call to load the bus was coming. Pushing past boxes and bodies, we began sorting determinedly through the mountain of clothes and coats and various shoes inside the tent. The clock ticked. “Just one stupid pair,” I muttered under my breath.

The finality of the call in Arabic reached our ears. “Load the bus.” Gently, she laid her hand on my arm. “No worry. No shoes. I go. Shukran” (thank you in Arabic).

Later, we  found a pair of size 38s — for a Syrian mom with her 4-month-old baby at the Croatian border. She had walked kilometers in shoes that were too small for her feet.

For months, people have been asking how to tangibly give help in the response to the tide of refugees on the Balkan highway.

Refugee - Balkans - Teanna Sunberg

Shoes. They need shoes.

Now, in the snow and winter temperatures, at the transit point in Sīd, Serbia and at the transit camp in Slavonski Bród, Croatia, people are desperate for shoes.

In fact, when the Central Europe Nazarene team walks into camp with a box of shoes, the camp cheers. NCM Central Europe has come to be known as “the shoe people” — people of the sole and the soul.

At the present rate, we can provide 50 pairs of shoes weekly. The estimated need is 1,000 per week. A thousand people each week come through the ice and the snow, most with shoes like the teenage girl. At times, they come with no shoes at all.

For a donation of $10, we can buy a pair of boots for a refugee along the Balkan highway. It is as simple as that.

All along the way, we have been wishing refugees “courage for the journey.” With your donation, you give courage and boots for their journey.

To donate shoes to refugees, give to the “Shoes for Refugees” fund:
https://give.nazarene.org/donate/f/125784

Please do not send shoes. We are trying to be the best stewards of what the Lord provides. Shipping is extremely costly for you and time consuming for us to retrieve. We have a special deal worked out with a reputable shoe company close to the camp.

To learn more about the Nazarene Refugee Response, visit ncm.org/refugees.
This was adapated from Teanna’s personal blog at centraleuropenaz.org.
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