Helping today – and already thinking about tomorrow

Along the travel route of the refugees from various countries, members and friends of The United Methodist Church, together with many other people, are sharing hope and love of neighbor with those who are trying to find refuge and new perspectives in Western Europe.

Whether in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, or Macedonia – countless volunteers do not primarily consider the arriving refugees as problems but as humans. In cooperation with other Churches and non-church-based organizations, they try to provide refugees with the help they need today – and to already think about tomorrow.

In Austria, ESUMC Vienna and Vienna-Fünfhaus UMC provided temporary emergency shelter to about 300 refugees. Volunteers came at all hours of the day and particularly of the night to take care of the temporary guests and to offer them security – even though these people from many different countries often stayed for a few hours only. In the meantime this emergency shelter has been closed. Now it is increasingly necessary to find long-term solutions. How can church members – and the congregations themselves with their apartments and church rooms – offer long-term-housing so that refugees do not only find shelter for one night but can have a long-term place to stay? And how will it be possible to accompany refugees in becoming integrated into the community? These are two of the most urgent questions of these days.

In Serbia the Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization (of which the UMC is a member) focused on the improvement of the life conditions of the refugees in the camps of Subotica and Kanjiza (on the border to Hungary). When an increasing number of refugees headed for Croatia, EHO was also present in the north of the border town Sid. Refugees were brought with Serbian buses and dropped off on a dirt track between cornfields, from which they crossed the border on foot. EHO and other organizations provided them with bottled water and food. It will, however, be a difficult question how and where all these arriving people will be accommodated in case it should ever happen one day that Serbia is no longer a transit country

In Macedonia the activities of the UMC focus on a camp in Gevgelija. While the Red Cross and UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, are responsible for this camp, provision with basic supplies has been secured from the very beginning by a number of smaller organizations, which cooperate quite well in the meantime. The camp is a closed one, i.e. it is not accessible without a specific permission – not even for relief agencies. It is rather comfortless – people are sitting on cotton fleece lying on the bare ground/stones. There is clean water for washing, but water taps and toilets are available in small numbers only – and as makeshift solutions. Therefore the hygienic conditions deteriorate very quickly when it is raining. It is quite obvious that accommodating all these people during the upcoming winter will require considerable efforts. At the beginning of the month of October 2015, the UMC employed a young man from Strumica, whose task is to coordinate the church activities for refugees. In addition he is also responsible for recruiting volunteers who support him in his ministry. The former and the current delivery van of the Miss Stone Center in Strumica are used to transport humanitarian aid to the refugees in Gevgelija four times a week – water, food, clothes for children, and hygienic articles. When those, who are involved in the program, return to the camp for their next visit, they mostly see new faces because those people they had provided with relief supplies, have already continued their journey. In view of the upcoming months, blankets and winter clothes will be bought and stored in the Miss Stone Center in order to be able to respond to urgent needs. As difficult it may be to predict what the future will bring – humanity and love of neighbor shall not be lacking.

Source: ESUMC Vienna / Bishop i.R. Heinrich Bolleter / Superintendent Wilfried Nausner / Office of Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich
Date: October 5, 2015