I sit across from this mother. Her head is covered. She’s sandwiched by two children, one young girl who is boisterous and eager for her mother’s approval and feedback on her picture. On her other side is a very young boy who doesn’t seem quite sure what to do with the colored pencils.
I offer the mother one of my coloring sheets. I speak English knowing that she likely doesn’t understand me.
We use some sign language. We use smiles. It’s amazing how far those smiles go. I so badly want to ask her questions. Ask about her life. What her story is. What pain caused her to leave home, country, every familiar thing… traverse crazy distances, to arrive at this entry point: a Swiss refugee camp. This holding “cell,” waiting for her name to appear on the cork board. Will she be deported? Sent back to every terror she fled from? Will she be allowed to stay? Did she leave family behind?
She motions to her children and tells me, in her way, that these are hers. I pull out my phone and show her a picture of mine. We mime and giggle and color. Another volunteer teases me for coloring, and I smile. To my right sits another young girl, with her head also covered. She’s very quiet and only speaks when realizing some of her puzzle pieces are missing. Another volunteer pulls out a box of missing pieces. She finds hers and quietly continues on. He speaks with them, this volunteer. All of them. He speaks Arabic and Farsi and Kurdish and German and English and who knows what else.
He was once one of them.
I envy his language skills but not his story.
The mother finishes her coloring page and shows me. I use my tone and my voice and my eyes to tell her that it’s beautiful. I motion to our wall where we hang the children’s art. Yes, she would like hers hung there too. She tells me her name. It’s written on the paper, in English, but it’s missing a few letters. No worries, dear mama. I tape it up.
The puzzle-worker beside me finishes. It’s a lit up circus on a dark night. She was patient, diligent. All of her thoughts cozied up under her scarf. Something safe and normal in the midst of so much change.
This room is open two hours a day. Well, that’s if they can get volunteers to open it. I’ve come to fill in for a volunteer who couldn’t make it. I’ve been before, a few months ago. None of the faces are the same. They are loading buses outside… filling them with these asylum-seekers. They are coming in so fast… they have to hurry and disperse them to the other camps around Switzerland. Until their number is called, they wait. And wait. And wait.
In a cramped space that looks like a prison.
Tall barbed wire surrounds it. I’m not sure whether it’s to keep people out, or in. It sits on the border with Germany. The air inside is stifling. Stale. And yet, here, they have a bed. They get meals. They get 3 CHF each day for a bus… but where will they go?
I bring bags to donate. Because they come with nothing… and even a bag is something to carry what little they have. They need suitcases for when their transfer or deportation comes. They need clothes. Food.
Someone to color with them.
And I am only one meager of many.
My friend has been working at this camp for years. Long before it was making headlines. Long before anyone noticed.
How glad I am that we’ve noticed.
How blessed I am to see my community of friends and fellow missionaries rise up with Godspeed to serve the least of these. To see the huge crowd of people who showed up to see what they could do.
As if they didn’t have enough to do.
And we talk of the politics. We share our fears. Our knowledge that every time we step into one of the camps, we step into the possibility of planted terrorists, face to face, posing like wolves among the sheep.
But among them desperate, hurting human beings.
And though our stories are so different, we all know desperate and hurting.
And we all have something we can offer. Clothes. Blankets. Shoes. Dishes. Time. Companionship.
We, in this community, all get what it is to live in this foreign place.
To learn the foreign language.
To figure out the foreign money. Customs. Food. Smells.
So we go and we give what we have, even if it’s two hours of coloring side-by-side. Or writing BINGO numbers on the old chalk board. Or passing the mamas with a smile, sharing the bond of loving our children desperately. Sacrificially.
Sometimes it’s just about creating a space where a weary mama can nap on the couch while her toddler plays with the toys.
He’s bringing them to our door. These beautiful people from far-away places.
He’s bringing them here. Making a way. Some call it the 5th column of Islam. Some call it a scheme of terror.
I call it God’s global vision of salvation.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Friends, the ends of the earth are making their way to us. Will you join us in praying?
We know who goes before us. We know who stands behind.
The God of angel armies is always by our side.