Well, I've been back in Eastern Europe for the past few weeks, working in a refugee camp at the border of Serbia and Croatia. All three times I've come in the past year and a half to various camps have looked and felt differently. This time is a lot more involved in the day to day life in a camp and involves contact with primarily men, as the women normally stay in their rooms or busy themselves with washing and tending to the children. Most of these men (many of them are young boys, but have earned the title 'men' in my book for all they've been through!) are tough and distant at first. As I hand them a cup of tea or sweep around their feet in our little 'cafe', they usually look up in surprise that this crazy Western lady just addressed them with a friendly greeting. Sometimes all I'll get in response is a grunt, sometimes a shy smile with downcast eyes, or occasionally it's a greeting back. But slowly they warm up, and often I'll find myself chatting away with someone as I serve tea to the masses. In the short time I've been here, I've begun to build friendships with a few of the young guys, and I've had the privilege of hearing the stories of a few dozen others. Though vastly different, their stories all are similar. Trauma, pain, loss, hopelessness, and uncertainty. With a few of them, I can see the emotion in their eyes as they share about their families or difficult journey, but mostly it's more a relaying of the facts. Any emotion I express is typically met with a shrug of the shoulders and perhaps a change of the subject. Emotions aren't comfortable for men, but this goes a lot deeper than that. These men come from war-torn countries, they've been taught to be tough and strong, and I found last year in the camps in Greece, so had the women. Not all of that is a bad thing. It is indeed necessary for survival. On a lesser degree, I can understand this mentality from all the craziness I experienced as a child. But what happens when that strength fails you or begins to break after a year stuck in a refugee camp? Many of the men bear marks on their arms from cutting, some have even attempted suicide, and fighting is a daily occurrence in the tents.
This morning I spent some time crying the unfallen tears of these men. Weeping for the pain and unmet longings of their hearts. I don't know what else to do with their stories, but lay them at the foot of Jesus who loves and cares about all of this! My goal isn't to get them to cry, but last night I was so excited when the man I was talking with did. You see, self-harm and suicide have become his coping strategies as the pain locked inside has become too great. Talking through the past year of crushing hurt and trauma opened his heart a sliver for me to tell him how much God loves him, how much He values his life, and how He has a beautiful plan for his future. Tears formed in his eyes as he tried to believe these things about himself. Today I cried the rest of those tears as I begged God to help this man truly grasp these things about Him, to see beauty again, and to experience the freedom that only He can bring.
In my camp here alone there are about 1,200 refugees. This is one of hundreds of camps stretched across Europe, and thousands throughout the world at the moment. My heart staggers at that thought... I just have no mental capacity to fathom this. So, in my overwhelmed-ness, I will continue to meet my God there and ask Him to continue to give me the strength to cry their tears for them until they are able to heal and find Hope!