What follows is from Mission Connections, a newsletter of The Presbyterian Church USA.
This post is by Karen Moritz, known to our Preacher, Lori Patton from Seminary. They have shared a friendship for 32 years and even lived together, and still share through Facebook and email since Karen’s service to the Church has taken her to the Czech Republic. And suddenly, this newsletter brings the crisis across the Atlantic down from the usual “6 degrees of separation” to just one.
A letter from Karen Moritz serving in the Czech Republic
Fall 2015 – The Refugee Crisis Firsthand
I recently returned from my first trip to Hungary. We had a gathering there for all the mission co-workers and regional liaisons in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. We were blessed by the generous hospitality of staff from the Reformed Church in Hungary. It was a great time to connect with other World Mission staff serving in these areas and in our Louisville office. We had some great presentations and workshops as well as a chance to relax and reconnect.
However, it was also a challenging time to be in Hungary. We also saw firsthand the growing refugee crisis. I decided to travel from Prague to Budapest by train and arrived at the now infamous Keleti train station. When I arrived, after dark on Thursday evening, August 27, I was surprised by all the people at the train station. Sadly, I did not know that refugees had been gathering there for days.
During the following days I, and all of my colleagues assembled there in Budapest, learned more about what was happening. On Saturday afternoon I went with some others to the station. I have to say I felt a bit overwhelmed. I could not speak a language that would be helpful and I felt a bit like a voyeur, looking on the pain and misery of so many people. One could walk through the station, but there were people everywhere. Women and children trying to sleep, men trying to find food and information for their families. We learned that many people had walked unimaginable distances to find a better life. Many of them had lost everything. My colleague Amgad Beblawi aptly remarked, “You know, they are people just like us. They had lives, careers and homes. Now they have been forced to flee lands full of violence in a desperate bid to survive.” I was humbled by his remarks. When he said this I knew it was true, but I have to confess, I needed to be reminded.
As the week went on we left all this behind as we took a bus from Budapest to the church retreat center near Lake Balaton. However, the escalating crisis still reached us. Halfway through the week, train service west was suspended and the two of us who had come by train madly scrambled to find flights back home. When we returned to Budapest we learned that those desperate to continue traveling northward had begun walking toward the border with Austria. Over the next few days we learned of the violence once again perpetrated on these already traumatized people. Police forcibly removed them from trains and transported them to refugee camps. Those too afraid to board trains began, once again, to walk. They walked down busy highways and along train tracks. They walked, men, women and small children. Many of them encountered walls and fences intended to keep them out.
And yet, amidst all of this, many people in the church struggled to respond in loving and humanitarian ways. Many people were horrified by the reaction of their government and their fellow citizens. The day before my departure several of us attended worship at St. Columba’s Scottish Presbyterian Church in Budapest (http://www.reformatus.hu/mutat/6861/). The pastor and congregation announced their intentions to help even though it seemed to be only a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of suffering. Following worship several of them were going down to the train station. They hoped to bring some relief to the many traumatized and frightened children by playing games with them. They also hoped to bring at least one mother and her children to the church for one night of sleep in a warm and safe place. But how would they be received? It didn’t matter, they went anyway. You can learn more about their ministry with refugees on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/St-Columbas-Scottish-Church-157065307699849/timeline/
The Reformed Church in Hungary continues to reach out to refugees. They have done so in the past and continue to do so in the face of this new wave of arrivals. There is some really good information on the English page of their website at http://www.reformatus.hu/our-church/.
The church with which I work, the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB), and the Ecumenical Council of Churches of the Czech Republic have both come out with statements. These can be found on the ECCB Czech website at: www.e-cirkev.cz. An English translation of the statement from the Synodal Council of the ECCB is currently being prepared. The members of the Synodal Council, as well as other concerned people in the church, are urging people to put aside the fear and anger that many in the government and press are promulgating. They remind us of the call of the gospel to welcome the stranger. The path of violence and hostility is not the answer. As people of faith we are called to welcome them and find ways to include them in our churches and communities. Many individual congregations are already doing this and are to be commended.
We were all touched by the crisis unfolding before us. Other colleagues have written eloquently about this as well. There is a moving article about this at http://www.pcusa.org/news/2015/9/29/pcusa-world-mission-staff-encounter-middle-east-re/
I was deeply affected by this experience and I am still working to process all the feelings that still well up within me. I must acknowledge that my initial reaction, like so many, was fear. Who were all these people? Why had they come and what did they want? I also felt a deep sense of frustration, I felt useless in the face of such need. I had nothing to offer, no skills to provide. I have also struggled with a sense of guilt as I returned to a country that has not been so heavily impacted by what is happening. Although the Czech Republic is in the heart of Europe, it is not in the direct path of most refugees. Some people have fled here and the government and churches are struggling to respond, but the numbers have not been as great. Other countries, like Hungary, have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people arriving each and every day. The U.S. is not directly impacted by this crisis as are the countries in Europe. However, I have had to struggle with our national response to refugees who make their way to our country every day. How can this crisis in Europe invite us to look at our response to refugees? Can we honestly confront our fears and anxieties?
How will we respond? This is now the question for all of us, here in Europe and in the U.S. How will we be a voice of love and inclusion? How can we fight the voices of hatred and intolerance? Many people in Hungary and the Czech Republic are speaking out. In a recent demonstration in Prague people held signs saying “Refugees Welcome! We stand against xenophobia and fanaticism.” May our voices, and our lives, echo this sentiment as well.
Please continue to be in prayer for…
• All refugees, migrants, and immigrants who feel forced to flee their homes in search of a safe and welcoming place.
• All those who strive to serve those in need. Those people who tend to the physical needs of those fleeing.
• The churches and faith communities of Europe. The ECCB and the Reformed Church in Hungary as they call for a measured response of tolerance, welcome and love.
• All their congregations who reach out in love with tangible support.
• Our mission co-workers and regional liaisons in Europe and the Middle East, who are on the front lines striving to serve refugees and the faith communities who lovingly serve them.
• All of us who have so much—homes, jobs, families, and all the basic necessities of life.
• The governments throughout the world, particularly those in Europe. Help them respond with tolerance, not fear and hatred.
Thank you for your prayers and for all the many ways in which you support ministries of love and care around the world.
In addition to your prayers and advocacy, your financial gifts make it possible for us to share in this important ministry together. Lives are changed, not only for the many refugees fleeing across Europe, but also for all of us who strive to respond in faith and love.
With a truly grateful heart,
Rev. Dr. Karen R Moritz
ECCB Central Church office
Jungmannova 9 P.O. Box 466
CZ 111 21 Praha 1
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 330
Read more about Karen Moritz’ ministry