19 January 2016 | Zagreb, Croatia [Victor Hulbert] It can never be easy to sit in a comfortable hotel room when you know that just two hours down the road there is a major refugee transit point. However, comfort was not the issue as directors of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) joined with Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders from across Europe to openly discuss the European refugee crisis and seek ways as to how the Church and ADRA together can better respond to the current needs of refugees pouring through Europe.
At the summit in Zagreb, just 190 km (118 miles) from Slavonski Brod, the largest refugee reception centre in Croatia, Division leadership and Union Presidents, along with ADRA teams from across the Trans-European and Inter-European Divisions of the Adventist Church met with ADRA International leadership from 18-19 January 2016 to listen to reports and discuss a coordinated path forward in the crisis.
Many wished that they had been given an opportunity to visit the transit centre and gain first-hand taste of what it means to be involved. Nevertheless they were moved by the very accurate yet moving statistical portrayals efficiently shared with delegates by Jasna Barberic and Jan Kapic of United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Croatia (UNHCR). Jasna was almost moved to tears as she shared real-life stories both of success and of unfulfilled needs, particularly with needs in the area of interpreters. She put a human face to the more than one million refugees who entered Europe last year and the 29,461 who have already arrived by sea this January. She also cried for the 4,000 who died during the journey in 2015. “It is very concerning as our primary goal is to save lives”, she said.
Her call fitted in well with Chad Stuart’s morning worship message. As a pastor of the 2,400-member Spencerville church in Maryland, USA, he reiterated what he had told his congregation, “Our vocal response as Christians must always be compassion.”
That compassion was then seen in action as reports followed the Adventist response from the ASI AdventHelp bus on the beach at Lesbos through ADRA’s work in Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary as migrants transit through Europe, to countries such as Germany, Norway, Sweden and Finland where the migrants wish to settle.
Many challenges were shared. Maja Ahac, who has coordinated work at a transit train station in Slovenia, shared how their ADRA mascot is a penguin since the conditions there are so cold. While her team, most of them volunteers, are doing an amazing job [See news report], she also noted the difficulties of working with issues of poor travelling conditions, illness, sexual abuse on route, and the hate speech and threats that can be directed both at the refugees and those trying to help them.
Along with colleagues from other countries on the route, she also faces a funding crisis. “We will run out of money by the end of March.”
Practical help can often be quite simple but much appreciated. Iliana from ADRA Croatia shared how they donated 350 baby carriers in Macedonia along with 300 cubic meters of much needed winter clothes. Working from a container as an office in the Slavonski Brod camp, they also found one of their most useful actions was setting up 18 information panels that provide 720 positions for charging mobile phones. Igor explained how in Serbia they run an Information Centre in Belgrade offering asylum information, advocacy, much needed psychological support and even an area for children to play and mothers to breastfeed.
It is a different story for ADRA offices that used to work as ‘donor agencies’ but who now find themselves with refugees settling in their midst. They are seeking to work together with local church community service departments to help provide support for those now wishing to settle in their country. For Germany, the support must be at grass-roots level and fully backed-up and supported by church members. This includes language classes, providing activities during the time they are not allowed to work, and helping refugees understand the values and attitudes of the new culture where they now live. ADRA Sweden still has a main focus on projects in Yemen and Syria while local churches are aiming to provide some support. This includes a church near where a former Adventist sanitarium has been turned into a refugee centre. That very active church is even teaching refugees how to ski – something essential for the Swedish winter!
All the recipient countries recognised that ‘integration’ is a key factor. For instance, Norway has set up a working group between ADRA and the Health and Education departments. They have sent assessment letters to churches and will be providing training to members during their May 2016 Camp Meetings.
As the meetings moved from reporting to action plans, Jonathan Duffy, CEO for ADRA International emphasized the biblical ‘salt and light’ concept. This in turn led to plans that would help improve coordination of activities in the Balkan region, improve the communication process within the church, with the general public, and with refugees, encourage active participation in UN World Refugee day on 18 June, and seek sources of increased funding.
Funding is the big issue. Some offices, like ADRA Macedonia are run by volunteers, while currently there is no office at all in Greece. Such issues are now being tackled with a Regional Coordinator to be appointed within the next few days. Also included in the action plan for 2016 is to develop a curriculum for integration, and to develop training materials for Church members to help them understand best how to interact with refugees. That understanding is important, both on a local and an international scale.
Increased funding is welcome and encouraged, and is best donated via the donor’s local ADRA office. Volunteer participation is also welcomed, but is best coordinated via an appropriate office who understand the intricacies of the situation. It may even be possible to team up donor churches, for instance, in North America with particular projects in the Balkans.
For Maja from ADRA Slovenia, the call is urgent. From a tiny church of just 500 members in a country that itself only has 2 million inhabitants, she pleads, “Get your hands dirty. Take action. Get involved in the story. Your life will be changed.”
Find out more about ADRA by visiting the ADRA International website or your local office.
To see more photos, please click here. [tedNEWS]
tedNEWS Staff: Victor Hulbert, director; Deana Stojkovic, editor
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