Friday, December 18, 2015

Good News of South Florida: Fort Lauderdale Missionary Serving in Syrian Refugee Crisis

I've been able to spend some time with my missionary friend Lisa Collins who is visiting for the holidays. I wrote this article about her and the work she's doing in Hungary.

Syria is experiencing the biggest exodus of people since the Rwandan war 20 years ago. While the brutality of the war in Rwandan was horrific, thanks to the Internet and ISIS, the atrocities of this war in Syria come to us via graphic social media images of beheadings and drowned children washed up on European Mediterranean beaches. It will take some time to forget the pictures we’ve seen. At least we should pray it does. But one Fort Lauderdale resident, Lisa Collins, who is serving as a missionary in Hungary, has witnessed the human struggle first hand as part of a team from Calvary Chapel Budapest.

Streets crowded with refugees in Budapest. photo credit: Facebook
The multitudes
Although it has only recently received media attention, the Syrian war is entering its fourth year. Over 23 million people have been uprooted. Six thousand people a day flee. Syria’s neighbor, Lebanon has taken in over a million displaced Syrians (that’s 220 refugees for every 1000 Lebanese residents according to the United Nations Refugee Agency) but has closed it’s borders. They can’t take any more refugees. Jordan has taken in another 630,000, but, overwhelmed, has also said, “No more.” Egypt has taken 133,000, Iraq a quarter of a million, and Turkey 1.8 million. Sadly, nearby oil-rich nations Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, while they’ve donated some funds, have officially taken in zero of their neighbors in flight.

By October 2015, applications for asylum in Europe exceed 507,000, 47 percent of applicants are bound for Germany.

One family-of-four paid $6,500 to board a three-man raft with eight other people to travel from the shores of Turkey to Kos, Greece. The family moved into a ferry boat set up by the government of Greece to temporarily house refugees. For some children, the flight from war has ended with them drowned, washed up on Turkish beaches short of their destination across the Mediterranean Sea.
Thousands of refugees make it across the Mediterranean Sea and travel to countries like Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary.

The massive migration of refugees has overwhelmed services as crowds have migrated through European streets. Public transportation has been totally choked and shut down. Collapsed.

No place to go
Police in body armor and lexan shields roll out razor wire along the border between Macedonia and Greece to stem the flow of migrants across borders. Time stands still as refugees are held in limbo sequestered at borders. In Germany, the intended destination for the refugees, bus loads of immigrants are pelted with rocks and bottles while across town counter pro-migration protests are held where banners fly saying “Refugees Welcome Racists Not.”

Angelina Jolie, the actress and humanitarian who acts as a special envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, shared these thoughts in a recent speech:

“Who can blame them for thinking that we have given up on them? Only a fraction of the humanitarian aid they need is being provided. There has been no progress on ending the war in Syria since the Geneva process collapsed 12 months ago. Syria is in flames, and areas of Iraq are gripped by fighting. The doors of many nations are bolted against them. There is nowhere they can turn.”

The struggle in Hungary
Once in Greece, the journey to Germany takes travelers through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria. The Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary, was shut down as it was overwhelmed by the flood of refugees travelling from Hungary to Germany. Hungary issued an order to churches threatening punishment if they gave quarter to refugees passing through.

“They’re not refugees. This is an invasion,” said Bishop László Kiss-Rigó, whose dominion stretches across the southern reaches of this predominantly Catholic nation. “They come here with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar.’ They want to take over.”

Refugees camp out in Budapest train station. photo credit: Facebook
Fort Lauderdale area resident Lisa Collins lives in Vajta, Hungary, as a missionary. She said she hasn’t witnessed anyone trying to take over, but she did see thousands of people in need. She, along with members of the church she attends, was at the Keleti train station when it was shut down under the crush of the multitude trying to get to Western Europe. A team from Calvary Chapel Budapest and volunteers were there daily passing out water and food to travelers in need. Church members and community volunteers also traveled to quickly constructed, make-shift refugee camps on the Hungarian border with Serbia to disperse food and water and help people get out of the cold. As camps were shut down, the team helped refugees get on buses to get registered for travel to other destinations outside Hungary.

Collins and her team continue to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of refugees hoping for passage out of Hungary. “Six refugees got baptized yesterday,” Collins said. “Their hunger for the Word is contagious. We gave them Bibles Saturday. One guy held his up and said, ‘in my country I’d be put to death to have this in my home.’”

I asked Collins how one prepares for such a massive migration of people in desperation. She said, “From my perspective, in this current situation, the need is beyond overwhelming–financially, emotionally and spiritually. So what you do is simply love on the one right in front of you.”

This article originally appears in The Good News of South Florida

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