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The Path of Syrian Migration, Day 6

Throughout Holy Week, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, is making the European path of Syrian Migration with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the PCUSA Moderator Heath Rada. For the published version with visual media from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, click here. This post was republished with the author’s permission.

 

 

Easter Sunday, March 27: Samos Island, Greece

 

Today you shall be with me in paradise

The word is a rare one– used only 3 times in the New Testament, it might instead be translated “garden.” Paradise as God’s garden — a place where the scent of orange blossom is in the air, trees are heavy with fruit, the ground brings forth abundance, both in produce and beauty.

 

Such was my first impression of the island of Samos, where we flew yesterday to meet with relief workers who are supporting asylum seekers at their first stop after the sometimes perilous crossing across the Adriatic from Turkey. The scent of orange blossoms was heavy on the light breeze, and everywhere we looked, even so early in the season, trees were laden with olives, oranges, lemons. The sea was beautiful, with just a hint of the violence in the waves that has endangered so many on their crossings. Samos is a beautiful place…for some.

 

Our conversations were with representatives and relief workers from the IOCC and Apostoli, the response and development agency of the Greek Orthodox Church; with the team leader of the UN High Commission on Refugees office, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. At the camp– now a locked detention center–on the rocky hill above Samos town, several hundred asylum seekers from many countries, are no longer able to leave the camp for sundries, SIM cards or a cup of coffee in town. All time is measured here by two dates: March 20, when the EU approved its refugee return policy with Turkey, and April 4, when the deportations are set to begin. Many have already spent time in camps in Turkey, where conditions are rumored to be difficult, and they do not wish to have come so far on hope only to be returned. The aid workers describe a heaviness of depression settling over the camp as hope of a successful passage to Europe dims and their conditions worsen.

 

That heaviness was mirrored in the voices and stance of the Doctors Without Borders Staff and the UNHCR, who, according to the practice mandated by international human rights standards, they may no longer work for relief within the camp’s locked fences. “We do not support those who imprison refugees,” explained one of the physicians there.

 

At the port, small IKEA prefab houses wait for the continuation of migration– more numbers are expected even in the face of such small odds for success. It is hard to silence hope. On this Easter Sunday, we celebrate the triumph of hope over despair, life out of death. Let us also bind ourselves to the Love that death could not conquer, and in the name of the Stranger who on this holy day long ago greeted his friends by name in the Garden, believe and act as though no one, especially no refugee, will be condemned as a stranger among us, or refused welcome in our midst.

 

 

My favorite Easter hymn was written by a Reformed Church of Hungary pastor at the end of the 16th century: 

  

There in God’s Garden stands the tree of wisdom, whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations.

Tree of all wisdom, tree of all compassion, tree of all beauty.

Its name is Jesus, name that means “our Savior,” there on its branches see the scars of suffering.

See there the tendrils of our human selfhood feed on its lifeblood.

Thorns not its own are tangled in its foliage, our greed has starved it, our despite has choked it.

Yet look!, it lives, it’s grief has not destroyed it, nor fire consumed it.

See how its branches reach to us in welcome,

Hear what the Voice says: “come to me, you weary

Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow, I will give blessing.”

This is my ending, this my resurrection;

Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit

This I have searched for, now I can possess its, this ground is holy.

 

 

 

 
 

The Path of Syrian Migration, Day 4

Throughout Holy Week, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, is making the European path of Syrian Migration with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the PCUSA Moderator Heath Rada. For the published version with visual media from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, click here. This post was republished with the author’s permission.

Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016

Our final day in Hungary… spent meeting with colleagues across the Reformed Tradition who showed up to practice welcome when the crisis was at its worst last September, and have been working with refugees and asylum seekers since: Hungarian Reformed Church Aid (our hosts), Hungarian Interchurch Aid (our ACT Alliance partners), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary and the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Hungary. They want us to know that they choose welcome, as a gospel imperative. They acknowledge and mourn the realities of xenophobia and privilege in their nation and faith communities that constrain that welcome and limit its scope — a confessional moment we, as part of the Church in the US, share wholeheartedly and with broken hearts. They looked back on the learnings of responding in the midst of an unanticipated crisis–last summer’s overwhelming numbers at the borders of all of Europe–and look forward to a coming crisis they expect to see soon, as violence in the Middle East continues to drive its citizens to flee, and last week’s decisions by the EU, to return waiting refugees to an already overwhelmed Turkey and constrain immigration into Western Europe. Many Hungarians expect a reverse flow of tens of thousands of asylum seekers to return here, to their first point of arrival and application; and they pray to have the resources and will to meet that challenge. The conversations, with partners we had never met, felt like honest communication among family members…and this was amazing grace.

 

This evening, our group separated, to travel separate paths to Greece: some driving through the night to visit the improvised camp now at the closed border of Macedonia, Idomeni. The remainder participated in the Maundy Thursday service at St. Columba’s here in Budapest, a church of refuge and welcome, where a few from many nations gathered at Table to bear witness to the coming passion of Jesus, and to be refreshed in the midst of the desert by bread and wine. The communion liturgy, adapted from a Scottish Church School curriculum, was particularly powerful in the midst of our conversations and journeys these days:

 

Lord Jesus, we pause at this Table because all the stories have been told and the words will soon run out. Promises seem so fragile now and hope seems much thinner. We cannot find the words we need, the questions are too great. All we have is silence. Yet hear, we no longer need words. The kingdom is breaking, love is choosing, the darkness is conspiring, and we find ourselves here because there is no other place to be and nothing else to say. We can only break bread and share wine and be with you tonight. So may we use the only words left, the angels’ song, that we might believe: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are filled with your glory. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

These stories gathered here of people who met salvation in Jesus–
Where lines were crossed and rules broken,

Where there was the promise of redemption for the outcast and foreigner And inclusion for all who had been excluded–

These kingdom stories are gathered here.

When the stories are so hard and the words run out, I think about those I have met thus far along the way, and those of you at home, and this affirmation rises in my heart: Blessed are the ones who come in the name of the Lord.

 

From Budapest, A Reformed church greeting: Áidás, békesség– blessings and peace.

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

 

 

For more information on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to Syria, visit: http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/syria/ The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is traveling the path of Syrian migrants who have fled war and are seeking safety through Holy Week. As she travels with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is writing and reflecting about the experience. Kraus worships with Highland Presbyterian Church and her reflections are reprinted with the author’s permission.

The Path of Syrian Migration, Day 3

Throughout Holy Week, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, is making the European path of Syrian Migration with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the PCUSA Moderator Heath Rada. For the published version with visual media from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, click here. This post was republished with the author’s permission.

Holy Week Reflections: Wednesday, March 23 Budapest, Hungary

For most Christians of Protestant formation, very little happens on the Wednesday of Holy Week. It’s not Maundy Thursday, when the family gathers around the Table in hope only to be shattered by evening’s end as betrayal, recrimination, mutual suspicion and shame take their toll on disciples who have been living already with anxiety and fear of loss for far too long. Neither is it Friday, a day of judgment, abandonment and death. It is the calm before the storm, a time to think about who we are and who we hope to be, when the time of crisis is upon us.

 

We remain in Budapest today, conferring with colleagues in the Hungarian Reformed Church: a people in the calm both before and after last summer’s storm of refugees that riveted the world’s attention for a moment. At this Table were brothers and sisters who lead their denomination’s relief and refugee response ministries; the pastor of St. Columba in Budapest, a PCUSA teaching elder who serves the Scottish Mission in Hungary and the English speaking congregation of the Hungarian Reformed Church; the presiding bishop, whose presence and experience guide the Church’s relationships in a country that has endured many dramatic changes and faces, along with its neighbors in the European Union, difficult decisions about how people of faith practice welcome — to those who are strangers on their borders, and to those estranged and hurting at home. We are privileged to be at Table with these friends, whose struggle and faith holds up a mirror to our own attempts to be faithful, reminding us that in uncertain times, we see through a mirror dimly.

 

At the height of the refugee crisis last summer, when tens of thousands of migrants hoping for refuge and safe passage were stuck in the city’s railroad station and surrounding parks, the people of St. Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest noticed that they had a lot of room in their building, a building which for many years housed a residential school for girls. The session decided they could house 20 refugees a night, providing shelter and sanctuary for some of those most desperate. Within a few hours of the decision, church members and aid organizations came together to provide beds and bedding, food and material aid, kindness and welcome. It was a light in the darkness for scores of Syrian and other migrants, waiting for a chance to begin the process of resettlement. Today, though those numbers have ebbed, the congregation and aid workers of the Reformed Church of Hungary continue to accompany families who remained in Hungary to seek asylum there, providing them with language lessons, job training, and support in finding housing and work. As we walked around the hall where both worship and work take place, I noticed two plaques on the wall (see the picture below). They commemorate a Scottish missionary, Jane Haining, who in the forties served as the Matron of the girls’ home housed in St. Columba’s, teaching and providing motherly care to the Christian and Jewish girls who lived in community there. Though her Church recalled her out of fear for 4her safety as the war spread Nazi hatred throughout Europe, she refused to return to safety, saying that if her care was a light to the girls in times of joy, how much more was she needed in a season of darkness and threat. So she stayed, until April 4, 1944 when the Gestapo dragged her away for harboring Jewish children, and she was incarnated and died in Auschwitz. It seems that her memory and her presence linger in this place, providing light for the way of welcome, and strength for the journey.

 

In the calm before –and after— the storm, it matters how we choose to be Christ’s own in the world. The relationships we embrace with strangers and friends determine who we will be, when challenges to our security and appeals to retreat to the known and safe world would entice us. Like Miss Jane Haining, we are changed by those we recognize as bearing the face of God, and by those from whom we turn away, saying (as Peter did when he was recognized as a friend of Jesus) “I do not know him.” In these hard days of accusation, anxiety, and potential, may we listen with compassion to neighbors and strangers alike, and choose wisely.

 

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

 

 

Supplemental information:

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance assists refugees overseas through our mission and church partners. The ACT (Action by Churches Together) Alliance brings together a worldwide network of Protestant and Orthodox churches and their related agencies to coordinate their humanitarian assistance. Hungarian Interchurch Aid is a PDA partner and member of the ACT Alliance. While thousands of refugees and migrants have crossed through Hungary, Hungarian Interchurch Aid has helped set up shelters, provide emergency provisions (such as hygiene items, blankets,) and staff to provide emotional and spiritual care, particularly for the children and young people.

 

For more information on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to Syria, visit: http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/syria/ The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is traveling the path of Syrian migrants who have fled war and are seeking safety through Holy Week. As she travels with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is writing and reflecting about the experience. Kraus worships with Highland Presbyterian Church and her reflections are reprinted with the author’s permission.

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