Pieces of our Story
This was not a spur of the moment thing, choosing to take in refugees. Gregory and I have been seriously considering and praying about offering our guest room via http://www.fluechtlinge-willkommen.at/ as a mid-term home for a woman and child. On Sunday, we returned from an eleven day holiday in Turkey, and this question of what can we do was screaming at us from all sides. I did a bit of research and lots of reading on Monday about the site above, http://www.refugees-welcome.net/ in English, as I remembered seeing it on Facebook a few weeks back. After searching online for more information about hosting refugees for short and mid-term needs, I connected via Facebook with this group, helping refugees in Vienna who are changing trains either for a view minutes or overnight. This connected me with this non-profit organization, working at the main train station that is a 15-20 minute walk from our home. I read about urgent needs for supplies and medicine, food and clothing, etc. I knew God wanted us to do something, and so I kept updated on the needs and kept asking, "What should we do, Lord?"
Last night, after climbing in bed around 11pm, I checked the Facebook page and saw an urgent request for blankets and portable beds for a large group of refugees who had just arrived and were cold and needed sleep. As I read through comments, I saw other people offering their homes and asking what to do. The organization couldn't handle the logistics of arranging private housing, but I was drawn to one lady's post. She wrote how her husband simply drove to the station, spoke with the volunteers to let them know he could take a family home with him right then and there, and as she wrote, two women, two children, and a grandpa were sleeping in their home. She posted that the scene at Hauptbahnhof was truly alarming. The people were cold and exhausted and trying to sleep on the cold floors wherever they could find space. I knew this was the time to act.
A safe room for families to sleep
The volunteer center
The volunteers at the station last night at 12:30am were amazing. They were grateful and helpful and caring. I admire them hugely. They said the need is great every night. No question. At that time of night, most of the families were bigger than five people (what we had determined to be our max this time), and they weren't sure they'd find any for us to house this time, but after a five minute wait, they did. A volunteer guided me through the crowd of dirty, tired humanity, weaving between sleeping families and lines of men waiting for the toilets. On one side of the station corridor were volunteers handing out warm food; another section housed donations of supplies and clothes. I was introduced to a young Syrian university student who spoke beautiful English (but no German!) and translated for us. She introduced us -- a husband and wife and their nephew, answered questions, and communicated when they'd need to be back. She mentioned that the husband spoke a bit of English, and I mentioned that I speak Turkish if that's helpful. The wife's eyes lit up, and she said in Turkish that she lived in Turkey for a few years and speaks a little. What an amazing God-send. We were able to communicate.
On the walk home, it started to rain. They were cold, wearing no socks and flip-flops, yet smiling and pointing and talking excitedly about this different place. They were beautiful and amazingly hopeful and happy, despite their exhaustion and recent experiences. Piecing together their story, they fled their home (in a large city in west-central Syria) by car, crossed into Turkey and then took a boat from there to Greece. That experience sounded quite traumatic, too many people, including children, crammed onto a small boat... We didn't ask too much more, and they understandably stopped sharing about the journey at that point. They arrived yesterday evening from Hungary with only the light summer clothes on their bodies. Tired. Cold. Hungry. Dirty. But grateful to have made it this far. They had already received food and some warmer clothing at the station.
Our home was likely their first night in a bed since they left their own homes. We were able to feed them a small breakfast this morning and send them off with socks and a backpack and a couple fresh headscarves. It was so little, but I know each little bit helps. On the trip back to the train station, the wife asked me about the cross-walk signs. They were trying to take it all in. Everything is different. We had no Arabic Bibles to give, but we gave them our contact information and a Turkish New Testament and trust that God will lead them onward in this journey to Him.
Embrace your role
As I said goodbye at the train station this morning, the wife and I embraced, and we wished each other well with tears in our eyes. We are praying about when to do this again. It will not be the last. The need is overwhelmingly huge. We each have a part to play. Now you have read our story. Ask God what yours may be, and then walk forward in obedience. God will care for you and provide for you as you lay down your life for those in need.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
A sidenote: If you have questions about hosting and interacting with Muslims in your home and are interested in special considerations to make, please email me. I'd be happy to give some tips and insight from our experience and our few years in Turkey.