A Stronghold in Times of Trouble

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The front of the camp in Basel, Switzerland

I’ve passed this place a handful of times. It’s just after you cross the German / Swiss border. Normally my eyes are scanning the traffic ahead and gauging how long the wait will be today. I’ve never noticed this building set off to the left side. I’ve never noticed the small crowd of people at the bus stop on the right. Their plastic bags of belongings resting against the bench or their laps. Some of their heads are covered with traditional garments, some not. They’ve been part of the background scenery as my GPS guided me.

But not today.

Today I saw them.

I recently found out that one of my friends regularly volunteers at the refugee camp in Basel… a camp I only just recently learned existed. During the last Christmas season, I heard there was a camp doing a coat collection. We went through all of our closets and were able to donate a large bag of winter coats. Today I got to hear about winter in the camp… and how so many come with only the clothes on their backs. From Serbia. Albania. Kosovo. From Eritrea and Afghanistan and Syria. From Tibet and South Korea and Egypt. The list goes on and on.

I spent two hours in the children’s room.

Each day, for two hours, the doors to this room open and children can come draw, make loom bracelets, play on the playground (weather permitting), put together puzzles, whatever! My friend grabbed a group of teen girls and gave them a bag of nail polish. You should have seen the smiles! One of the mothers came and painted her nails too.

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One of the girls colored these wings

I colored with three sweet little girls, from different countries, who could not speak English or German. So we used smiles, sign language, and art. I loved it. Then I sat with a group of boys and made bracelets from little rubber bands. It was fun to see how these loom bracelets are all the rage in the camp among the children too. One little boy was making a LONG rope with his bracelets. Though my kids love to make these, I’d never actually learned.

Today seemed like a good day.

I got the boys to teach me how. Among our little group was a boy from Eritrea, a boy from Kosovo, a boy from Syria, and I’m not sure about the other. For a little bit I wondered what their common language was… because they seemed to communicate seamlessly amongst themselves. But then I realized- they weren’t using one particular language. They were just communicating with what they had and getting by very well. Some of the children were picking up bits of German. This was helpful to me! One spoke a little French… some spoke a small amount of English. Many didn’t speak anything that sounded familiar to me.

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The back right group is the bracelet-making-boys. 😀 A few mothers hang around with their kids. Other mother’s have their interview and drop the kids off for supervision. This interview determines whether they get sent back to where they’d just fled, or if they get to stay.

At one point the boy with the long bracelet asked me if I was Muslim. (It took me a bit to understand what he was asking). He said, “Muslim? oder Christ (kreest)?” So I told him that I follow Christ. My new little Eritrean friend sat on the other side of him and asked him, “You Muslim?” to which he responded with a smile, “Yes.” The eyes widened on the Eritrean boy. So I asked him the same question and he said he is a Christian. The other boy said, “Muslims good, Christians not good.” I asked him why and he impersonated what looked to me like a monster. I said, “Ohhh, that’s not the Christ I know. My Christ is GOOD. Not scary like that.” He continued to repeat, “No, Muslims good, Christ bad.” I spoke my silent prayer over his sweet life. And realized how eclectic and incredible this group of refugees are.

They’ve walked how many thousands of miles. They’ve left everything familiar. They’ve fled political unrest, civil wars, religious persecution to arrive in a camp like this… and wait.

For weeks. Months. YEARS. Waiting for that interview. For their name on the list. For their flight back… just so they can run again and try a new country for asylum. And here are these two boys, sitting side by side, making bracelets together.

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Part of the playground, just outside our art room doors. The building behind houses the refugees…. 4-6 to a room in bunks. (A building behind me held the same, small, dormitory-like rooms with only beds and their meager bag of belongings.

The boy from Eritrea, the Christian boy, I can presume has fled with his family for his life and theirs BECAUSE they follow Christ. Eritrea is ranked 10 out of 50 countries known for horrific crimes of persecution against Jesus-followers. Many are fleeing. I don’t know the other boy’s story… how he ended up here… but it made me realize how many different, incredibly moving stories there are in this small place. That the Muslims and Christians and Buddhists will sit together (at least as children) and enjoy whatever freedoms they have in this place. They become like a family, even if they still have their opinions about whether Muslims are good and Christians are bad. It didn’t keep us from playing Chinese Jumprope together with his long rope of bracelets.

Our two hours ended and we closed up. One of the mothers was still in her interview and couldn’t retrieve her children. As we wondered what to do, a young woman came and took them off, knowing the mother wasn’t ready and how important these interviews are. “Yeah, they do that for each other. They take care of one another like that,” my friend said. She’s a wealth of information. She’s been volunteering here for years. “I watch the world news and end up with a pretty good idea of what people group will be showing up to the camp next.”

I hope to spend more time at the camp. In fact one of the boys wanted to make a bead bracelet that spelled his name… but we didn’t have enough letter-beads. I hope to buy some and bring them to him. We take so much for granted in life… and these kids have seen things I can’t even imagine. The least I can do is bring him some beads to spell his name. 🙂

Please pray for the families at this camp in Basel. I also heard that a new camp recently opened nearby in Germany. The need is far greater than we can ever meet on our own… but we serve a Sovereign God.

The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

-Nahum 1:7

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