I’m just back at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church after a very inspiring week in Hungary. The original purpose of my trip was to speak at the Bible conference that launches the school year of the Word of Life Bible Institute. A few days before I left San Diego, Word of Life staff asked if I’d like to join their ministry to the refugees flooding into their country. I should confess—I went to Hungary with one impression of the current refugee crisis, an impression based heavily on media coverage. I left with quite a different impression, based on personal experience and discussion with refugees and Hungarians.
On Thursday, Sept. 10, I went with Word of Life staff to the massive Keleti train station in Budapest. The wall-to-wall crowds that I had seen on the news had largely cleared out. The several hundred I saw were well cared for. Many Christian and government entities were there with food, water, bedding, pup-type tents, extra sanitation facilities, etc. I spoke with a number of Syrian and Afghan men and with a Kurdish family that escaped their home in Kobani, Syria just before it was invaded by ISIS. Their journeys to Hungary were harrowing, to say the least, but they expressed no resentment toward Hungarians.
The Hungarian government had been dealing with a few hundred refugees a week, processing them according to EU regulations, which require registering each person, fingerprinting them, and running them through the data base of suspected terrorists. But when the tidal wave hit with tens of thousands in a week, understandably, the systems in place were overloaded. How are the Hungarians to respond with compassion and yet make some effort to guard against the very real threat of terrorist infiltration?
Ironically, this is taking place 10 years after U. S. governments (federal, state and local) did not distinguish themselves in responding to the tidal waves of water that Hurricane Katrina brought to our shores. And I painfully remember how some Americans responded when trainloads of desperate Central American woman and children crossed our border in the summer of 2014. I can still see the hate-filled Murrieta “welcome wagon” that grabbed the headlines all over the world. What will people think of Americans? Will we all be lumped into the “welcome wagon” that was on display in Murrieta? Yet we all know that the media doesn’t always tell the whole story.
This is a humanitarian crisis that NO ONE anticipated. Even the richest countries in Europe are stepping back and putting border controls in place. I think compassion is in order not only for those fleeing war and destruction, but also for those who are trying to receive them in some kind of organized fashion. I haven’t heard or seen any reports about how the U. S. government is stepping in to help. Should we send over and pay for a fleet of cruise ships to bring thousands to our shores?
I had a long conversation with three young Syrian men sitting outside a tent in the Keleti train station, with train tickets in hand for a late night departure to Austria. They are college educated, fluent in English. They risked life and limb in an inflated raft crossing from Turkey to a Greek island where there was one immigration window and officer facing thousands of distressed and exhausted, but hope-filled refugees. These three well-educated young men got through the narrow entry point and on to a cruise ship that the economically-strapped Greek government deployed to take refugees to the Greek mainland. From there these young men caught buses and trains into Hungary. “There is no future in Syria,” they lamented. I was deeply touched by the hope that animated their quest to find a new life. I offered them some U. S. cash, but they turned it down: “Give it to people who need it more than we do.” I told them I would pray for them. They did accept that offer. I gave them my email address and asked them to contact me when they reached a better place. They eagerly took that, too. I have been praying for them every day, asking that Jesus, who Himself was a refugee escaping a tyrannical dictator, would graciously open doors for my new friends.
The Bible Institute will be deploying all 80 students and all their staff to a Friday and Saturday outreach among the refugees. They will do this every weekend. I was immensely blessed by my time with these young people, coming from 18 countries. They are bright, full of life and love, deeply committed to Christ and to ministry for Christ in the world. I was their featured Bible teacher, but I think I got more than I gave.
Reverend Tom Theriault is the Associate Pastor, Outreach, at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.