By Shane McNary
I recall a comment by Željko Mraz made at the European Baptist Federation’s Council meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria: “We know that Croatia is the most beautiful country in world,” Željko began. “But this week we learned that we are not the Promised Land.”
His comment was in reference to the thousands of refugees who began to cross over into Croatia in their quest to get to Germany after abandoning the route going through Hungary. During a conversation last week with my good friend, Ksenija Magda, from Osijek, Croatia, we spoke at length about the situation with refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. Her description of the situation of how the Osijek Baptist Church, where her husband Toma is pastor, resonated within me. It is a story of how dangerously prophetic prayer can be, how providential the experiences in our lives can prepare us for ministry, and how natural caring for those in need should be.
Croatia is located on the Balkan peninsula, the part of the world from which we get the word balkanization – the breaking up of a state or region into separate, sometimes hostile factions. The scars from the latest balkanization of the region – the breakup of Yugoslavia and the ethnic wars fought there between 1991 and 2002 – can still be seen in some places in the region. Some scars are not seen, but are carried. Elvis, a “war child” who experienced the wars and who lived in shelters, carries those scars. But the scars of his childhood prepared him, as only God’s grace can, to be filled with compassion, insight, and perception for such a time as this. Elvis’ ability to see and understand the refugees who are fleeing war across lands where he himself experienced the same trepidation about the future makes him the perfect cultural bridge for refugees seeking a land bridge towards hope. Similarly distrustful of authority and institutions as the refugees, and yet with a mature sense of responsibility, Elvis has become respected both by the refugees and the authorities because he has earned a position of trust within both groups. His name has become a shibboleth for the authorities at the refugee camp for trustworthiness. God’s ability to transform Elvis’ experience into a balm of healing for others is a story told a thousand times over when we allow God to transform our pain into a passion for others. As Nouwen concludes, “hospitality (is) a central attitude of the minister who wants to make his own wounded condition available to others as a source of healing.” (The Wounded Healer, 99)
Thanks be to God for those who are on the front lines of the Middle East refugee crisis in Europe. Ministers like our colleagues Jeff and Alicia Lee. Jeff has tirelessly been active in serving the weary along their way towards hope near the border in Macedonia. Ministers like our Croatian Baptist brothers and sisters – Elvis, Ksenija, Toma, Željko, and hundreds of others – who serve where God has placed them for such a time as this. Pray for them and generously give to support their work. For the Lees, you can find a way to support them here: Jeff & Alicia Lee.