A few months ago, I was privileged to spend a month in Hungary serving alongside a team working with Ukrainian refugees. The local Baptist church there has been turned into a refugee centre and has been taking in refugees coming through contacts in Romania, who are trying to get farther West. The church pastor, Zsolt, has been overseeing this ministry on top of his usual duties and so his church has become a hub for Ukrainians, Roma and Hungarians. Supporting him in this work are Erika (Hungarian) and Cathy (American). Erika has been looking after the hospitality side of things; making the beds, doing the laundry and ensuring that there is always plenty of good food on the table. Cathy has been fulfilling the role of administrator and travel agent; collecting the passports for their own records, finding the best situation for each family or unit that journeys through, and booking any onward tickets that might be needed.
I joined this amazing team at the beginning of June, just as there was a lull in the number of refugees coming through. This was an immense blessing for the group who had been dealing with up to 40 refugees a day since the war began. This slowdown allowed us to tackle the many jobs that needed to be done, but which hadn’t been possible to attend to while taking care of so many people!
The most frequently asked question I have been asked about my time in Hungary is, “What’s it like for the people (refugees)?” I think one of the hardest things about discussing the situation for refugees is that the very term “refugees” can make them seem like an amorphous blob, a great mass of indistinct and therefore slightly inhuman people. I found that questions around ‘what it is like to be a refugee’ or, ‘what it is like to serve them’, really depend on the individual refugee. The experiences vary greatly, based upon where they come from, how early they fled form the conflict etc. They all shared the common experience of “stress”, however everyone responds to stress differently. Some were responding with anger, others sadness, others were cheerful and grateful, still others were still numb with shock. Some ate nothing because their bodies had almost shut down with the stress, others ate enough for 10 men. Some couldn’t sleep, others were able to sleep for days if we had let them. Some gratefully received whatever we could give them, while others struggled a lot with the lack of control they had over their diets and sleeping arrangements. They were all individual people, possessing their own blend of strengths, idiosyncrasies, and foibles just like everyone else. It was helpful and challenging to see the individual human faces of such a large scale humanitarian disaster.
I stayed in a nearby conference centre and most of my days were spent doing whatever needed doing. As is usual with mission trips, we go to serve others, but the blessing is never just one way. God doesn’t waste anything, and mutual benefit is one of the great gifts that He offers to His church. So, while I was scrubbing toilets and mopping floors, painting rooms, constructing privacy screens, making beds, digging foundations for play areas etc. I was serving, but there was so much time to think and to pray and to consider what God was doing with me in this weird season of Covid-induced limbo. It was wonderful to be so practically useful again and humbly offer what I had to give! I was refreshed and had the time and space to let God and those I served with minister to me.