The newest refugee center in our area is nestled among industrial buildings, far from the rest of busy civilization.
It was hard to find.
But then we spotted a tell-tale cluster of bikes and a group of young men hanging out front. And soon, with our friends guiding us, we made our way to some parking.
Our goal last night was to find ways we could beautify this emergency shelter.
It looks like a warehouse… where they quickly built little cubicles of particle board and zip ties, stuffed them with bunks, and filled the bunks with over 300 men and five-ish families.
As the photo above shows, the walls don’t reach the ceiling. There aren’t doors, though some have found curtains or sheets to block the opening. There is no privacy. On this floor, they share two stalls in each bathroom. I didn’t personally see a shower, though I saw a few rinse hair, legs, and arms in the bathroom sink.
Three families (including ourselves) showed up with snacks, games, and a LOT of paint. The German security guards were SUPER nice, letting us go wild (literally) with color.
For awhile, the men and few families stood around watching. We handed out white paint, first, to cover the particle board in the most “common” area we could find. I filled many paint palettes with red, blue, green, yellow, and black and handed them to anyone standing by.
Most spoke Arabic, and fortunately, one of the families along with us did too! Through my friend, I was able to have a conversation with two women from Syria. They have been in two different camps in Germany over the last 20 days or so. And, to get to Germany, they took a car, a boat, buses, trains, and walked.
A lot. One women spent ten, and the other twenty, days of traveling to Germany from Syria.
Both of these women have children, young children, who made this long and dangerous journey with them. They often traveled all night in order to remain unseen as they crossed borders. Yet the desperation and danger of their homes drove them to do the unimaginable… to leave everything they’ve called home and familiar, including many family members.
One woman processed her great trust in Allah’s faithfulness… but her confusion and resentment over the evil happening in the world. If Allah is all-powerful, then why let them be driven from their homes by such terror?
We listened, shared a bit, and made space to grieve. Every one of the over three hundred people in that building rode in on grief.
Much of this was expressed through their art… the swirling of grief and joy intermingled… the hope of a life in safety, of better days for their children, of new starts… and deep, painful sorrow of all they’ve left, of their loyalties to their birth countries, and their despair over murders and destruction they’ve witnessed. One image was a Syrian flag, dripping in tears of blood. Across from that image was a big poster that said, “HOPE.”
This is where the art became powerful.
Many of their pieces included a blend of longing for home, and gratitude for the country who is willing to take them in, even though the days run long with little to do but hope and wait that the approval will come through. The living situation is sub-par… but it’s the best Germany can do with the crazy influx of people crossing her borders.
It astounds me how so many people from different languages, cultures, histories, religious ideologies, personalities… can all squeeze into one small, cramped space, and not destroy each other. Yes, there are incidences, but far less than I expect. People from Albania, Gambia, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey… and many other places, all fill these tiny cubicles.
The nations at our doorstep.
I asked this young man from Gambia if this painting was of home. He smiled. “No, this is just my imagination.” He went on to explain that in parts of Africa, people live in huts like these. He smiled again. He spent a few hours dedicated to this beautiful piece. A kind of therapy amidst so much hard.
This was an incredible night. One we hope to repeat over and over. I’ve visited the camps often over the last year and wondered how, with my counseling background, could I ever begin to touch their trauma, their post traumatic stress, their deep grief, when I so rarely share more than a few words of a common language.
Last night I saw it happen… with few words but lots of paint, these people beautified their space, with glimpses into their hearts and experiences. Many proudly stood beside their art, asking us to take photos of them. Gladly we complied. (*For the sake of their privacy, up-close and personal images won’t be shared here*).
Please join us in praying for these families, for these young men, and for their families left behind.
Just this weekend, a husband and father from a different camp passed away from a heart condition, leaving his wife and children in this new and foreign land alone. Please pray for them.
There is much that this particular camp could use… a hot water kettle, towels, blankets, coats, toys, pajamas. I heard that everyone needs pajamas. One of the two Syrian women I spoke with said her one and four year-olds could use long coats.
If you would like to contribute an item to the camp, let me know and we’ll connect over the best way to do so. You can also order things from amazon.de and have it sent directly to our home, and we will take it on our next visit.
Also, pray for us. The night of our visit to the camp I had many troubling dreams… dreams that caused me to wake and pray and shake off a spirit of fear. I had a similar dream before the Paris attacks. I want to be more cognizant of God’s call to pray for our world… a world succumbing to the many consequences of humanity choosing its OWN way for so long.
May we be wise yet generous in such a time as this.