We pray for and lift up the more than 130 individuals who were killed in terrorist attacks during this Holy Week.
In the face of such brutal violence it becomes easy for us to wish, as did the Psalmists, to see our enemies destroyed. We may cry out for God's wrath to "shower...upon these attackers," as did Nasreen Bibi while her two-year-old daughter lay in the Lahore, Pakistan hospital. After so many senseless deaths, our anger feels inescapable; vengeance seems justified; retaliation appears necessary; and more death seems the only possibility.
Yet, we have also rejoiced with choruses of "Christ is risen, indeed!" and embraced again the mystery of an empty tomb.
The message of Easter is that love conquers all, even terror and death. Though by the weapons of terror Christ was crucified, by the instrument of God's Spirit of life, Christ lives! As Pope Francis stated in his Easter homily, "With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death."
Even in the midst of our anger and our sorrow, we choose to be people of the resurrection, recalling that love is the only power with any hope to defeat death and overcome such evil acts. Love is the only way by which we might bring peace to this world. Love, rather than wrath, is what Jesus showed to the world when he cried on the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
This Easter Season, Week of Compassion honors the lives and individuals who were affected by the attacks in Belgium, Iraq, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Turkey, and elsewhere by calling for Christ's people to show the love and compassion that Christ exemplified through his life, death, and resurrection. We honor these individuals and we serve God by working toward wholeness and reconciliation in a fragmented world.
Asylum Seekers in Eastern Europe
by Week of Compassion Executive Director, Rev. Vy T. Nguyen
Belgrade, Serbia, March 14, 2016 - It was a quiet morning when we arrived at the Center for Asylum Seekers at Krnjaca, one of the five locations in Serbia that are receiving the thousands of refugees who are fleeing Iraq, Syria and the surrounding Middle East countries. Immediately we noticed that although there were several swings and playground areas for children, the center was comprised of mostly barracks--barracks that had once served as a factory for one of the biggest corporations in Serbia and that, after being abandoned, was later converted into a refugee camp in the 1990s for refugees of another conflict, the Yugoslav Wars.
We first met with Rade Ciric, the camp manager, who shares his small office with the other staff and doctors providing support for the refugees. Rade began working at this center last year, but he has been working with refugees for three decades. In a corner of his office hangs art painted by the many children who once lived in this camp after fleeing from their homes.
These were only a few of the places painted by the hands of small children--places that were once homes, places from which they fled, places they remembered after they eventually arrived at this center. The paintings, and especially the hand prints, make you wonder where those children are now and how they are doing.
Week of Compassion and our partners, including Church World Service, have been supporting centers similar to this one since the crises in the Middle East intensified last year. As these refugees cross the borders into Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia, this center is where their asylum applications are processed, a procedure that allows them to be in the camp and gives them a permit to move within the country for 72 hours. This enables them to move forward. Only a day prior to our visit, however, we learned that the borders are now closing. For these refugees, this means that moving forward will be a new challenge: as other countries make the decision to close their borders, refugees are now stuck, and families who were on the route together will be separated.
The center is an important place for these refugee families. It is a resting place for them after their long journey. The center provides warm food, clean water, beds, bathrooms and showers, medical and social services, play areas for the children, and more while they are here. Just in the last year, this center processed and took care of 10,000 refugees from the Middle East. "When the families and children get to this center, they have been through a lot. They are tired, and exhausted; and we try to help and provide comfort as much as we can," says Rade.
One of the refugees I met was Alana, a young, beautiful 21-year-old mother of 2 boys--7 years old and 4 years old--and a 7-month old girl. Her home was Damascus, Syria, but she fled four months ago with her family by boat over the Aegean Sea. Alana described her journey for us: "The three-hour boat ride to get to Lesbos island felt much longer, scary for me, as the boat was very crowded and I was trying to hold onto my 3 month old daughter to keep her warm from the cold wind and chopping waves." They arrived in Greece and spent a month in Athens before arriving in Serbia. Not all of Alana's family are together. Some may be in Germany, but she is not quite sure. They were separated along the route. They are all she can think about as she holds on to those in her family who arrived with her.
When Alana was sharing her story, another woman came to mind--Naomi, from the book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible. Alana and Naomi are mothers from different times, but they both have been separated from their land, their family, their community. They are mothers who do not know what their futures hold.
For Alana and many other refugees at this center, their future is full of uncertainty and the unknown. They have been at the center for a month, but they don't know what is next. The situation is changing very rapidly. In the coming months, Rade, the center manager, is expecting to receive more refugees from the many who are currently trapped in Serbia and neighboring countries: these are refugees who cannot move forward, and who will need a place to rest and stay. They do not know when they will be allowed to move forward.
Even in the midst of this uncertainty, we are called to be with people like Alana, to pray with her, to accompany her and her family. We turn to our sacred book of Ruth and are reminded of the image of God in Alana and each of her children, community, and family. "Where you go, I go; where you stay, I stay; your people shall be my people; your God shall be my god." We will be with them, rest with them, and hold them as they try to catch their breath and figure out next steps, and we will be with them as they try to move forward on their journey. We will accompany them for the long, difficult journey that lies ahead.
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