Welcoming Honored Guests
Written By Lauren Waltz
Nothing could prepare myself or the team for what we would witness.
We heard stories of thousands pouring over the borders in desperation. Desiring safety, healthcare, and stability. Most "refugees" are simply seeking “refuge”. Most Ukrainians desire to return home, rebuild, and restore their country to its former glory. Traveling to Poland, Czech Republic, and Moldova, being only minutes from the borders of a war zone, was surreal.
Food For Thought
First, I would like to challenge your definition of the word “refugee.” Many dictionaries might define refugee as something along the lines of “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.” However, I was challenged in my perspective when I met refugees first hand.
These are people with real stories.
I met several “refugees” who were my own age. There were young women in their twenties who worked as shopkeepers, worked in marketing or were mothers. I saw another “refugee” with the same brand of walking sticks as my grandad, which hit too close to home.
That could be me — or my grandad — getting off a train from Kiev, Ukraine with hundreds of other fellow nationals suffering the same plight. That could be me–-with all of my livelihood and belongings tucked into one tiny suitcase, briefcase or trash bag as I walk across the border. I can’t imagine what it would be like to choose between the mementos or practicalities of what to pack for the unknown journey ahead.
What it means to be a “refugee” shifted for me. We all have a likely similar picture that comes up in our minds. Rather than that picture, I want you to picture your mother, your friend, your grandad. Someone you love dearly. Someone who is defined by more than their home address. Someone with a story.
With this in mind, I think of the youth summer camps repurposed as temporary housing we visited in The Czech Republic. The team in Czech referred to the refugees they welcomed as “guests.” They were not defined by their lack of address. Rather, they were defined with the term - “guests.” “Guests” is a term that suggests the honor and dignity they deserve and they were treated as such. From here on, I will refer to “refugees” as “guests”, because I believe they deserve dignity as I write.
Welcoming Honored Guests
Perhaps, the country I was most impressed with was Poland. Despite Poland and Ukraine’s bumpy history, the unity and compassion I saw the Polish have for Ukraine was astounding. I saw yellow and blue ribbons in children’s hair and women’s handbags. I saw the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag proudly waving from points of interest and government buildings. This was a true sign of solidarity - a standing with the Ukrainian people.
When we visited the city of Chełm, we met with several people in this small village. Chelm was only 30 minutes from the northwestern border of Ukraine. When the war initially broke out, this village was flooded with guests escaping in fear for their lives. Many were women and children walking, driving, or taking the train for several hours as transportation was delayed by bombs and military action. The war broke out in the dead of winter in February, so it was below freezing.
Desperation was in the air as mothers sought to keep their babies warm from winter’s harsh freeze.
Searching for warmth, the elderly shuffled through doors of hotels that have now been repurposed as temporary housing. At one point, almost every single home and hotel in Chełm had welcomed a guest into their space. These families and businesses fulfilled their guests needs while expecting nothing in return.
Nothing can describe the immense emotion and solidarity that was expressed in these families’ voices as they shared their stories. I couldn’t help but think if I were in Chełm’s shoes, would I have done the same? Would my community do the same? Should a crisis or war break out in some nearby country, would our nation step in to help? Would we be the hands and feet and, quite possibly, the home that represents Jesus? Would we take in those who have been affected by famine and war?
I would hope that my experience in Chełm would challenge myself and others to evaluate how they can welcome those who are in need. Is there someone different from you in your community? Perhaps a single mom, someone without a home, someone who doesn’t know English? How can you welcome a “guest” in your community? How can you and I live with compassion each day?
I am challenged by these questions.
Living From Compassion
In my day to day life, I can welcome people locally. While you may not be able to visit a war zone, there are so many practical things you can do from home, both in support of Ukraine and your local community. There are several ministries and organizations still needing resources to continue their ongoing support and resettlement of their “guests.” Talk with your friends and your children about war and what it does to innocent lives in an age-appropriate manner. Try not to shy away from tough subjects. Raise awareness for the Ukrainian people and their unique situation. Pray as much as you can. Speak out for those who are forgotten.Treating others with the dignity and decency they deserve is a start.Furthermore, you can welcome someone into your living space and sit with them in their pain.
All you have to ask yourself is, “If this were me, what would I hope the people around me might do or say?” The Golden Rule of doing unto others as you might have them do unto you. Compassion starts with you and me.