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Welcoming refugees

One family’s 3,700 mile journey to help refugees

Mission Society missionaries Charlie and Miki Chastain and their three children serve in Estonia. Charlie works in the arts, and Miki coordinates a prayer center and leads healing prayer workshops.

While making plans to attend a Mission Society gathering in Albania, news of the refugee crisis began to make headlines around the world. “Miki and I felt very strongly that we needed to try to do something to help out. We decided, instead of flying, to drive from Estonia all the way to Albania, because that route basically goes straight through the heart of all of the refugee migration heading toward Western Europe,” said Charlie.

The Chastains loaded up their minivan and drove the roughly 3,700 miles to Albania and back. Donations from individuals and churches from eight countries provided the funds for Charlie and Miki to purchase blankets, clothes, food, and heaters to distribute.

Most of the refugees, at that point in time, were traveling around Hungary, to northern Serbia, heading west towards Croatia, and then making their way up through Austria and into Germany.

“We stopped in Belgrade, Serbia, near the main train station and there were a lot of refugees in the parks there. There was a German organization set up to assist refugees, so we just asked, ‘How can we help?’” They were in need of bread, so my daughter and I walked from bakery to bakery and bought as much bread as we could,” said Charlie.

“While we were buying bread, we saw an Iraqi grandfather and his grandson, who was about five years old. The grandfather was digging through a dumpster, looking for clothes. The grandson had cuts all over his face. I asked them to follow me back to our van where we had our supplies. As I was looking for clothes, a tent, and blankets, Miki cleaned the boy’s wounds with a damp rag. That was our very first experience on the journey.”

We traveled on to Preshevo, near the Macedonian border, where there were 8,000 refugees waiting for a bus to take them to Croatia. Ten thousand more refugees were expected to arrive that same night. Often, families will put the women and children on a bus first and the men stay behind to wait for another bus, or just start walking.

The buses are not allowed to transport refugees across international borders, so they let everyone out at the Serbian-Macedonian border. Refugees then have to walk seven kilometers to a camp. Once they have been registered at the camp, they walk fifteen kilometers to another bus stop. The children are either being carried or having to walk with their parents, who are also carrying all of their supplies.

“When we were in Preshevo, it was cold and pouring rain. When everyone got off of the bus, they had to walk through the mud and rain to get to the camp. We saw children without shoes, families sleeping under storefronts, and everyone was soaking wet.”

Charlie said, “One of the volunteer coordinators in Belgrade asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I looked at him and said, ‘Well, why are you doing this?’ He said, ‘Because I believe that God is alive.’ I said, ‘That's my answer, too, my friend.’”

“A lot of talk in mission circles is the importance of trying to reach least-reached peoples. Most of the time that means trying to reach those who live in Asian or Muslim contexts. But for those of us who are working in Europe, the least reached are coming to us. We would love nothing more than the opportunity to show Christ's love to them.”

“Christ was a refugee. For Miki and me, it's clear that this is part of what Christ was talking about when He said, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:45, NIV)

For people in North America who are further removed from the crisis, there are ways we can help refugees in Europe. “The first is knowledge,” says Charlie. “We are witnessing the largest mass migration of people in the history of the world right now. Instead of worrying so much about the political implications of it, we should just figure out how we can show Christ's love to immigrants as it is happening. The refugee crisis is not going to leave us any time soon.”

Secondly, prayer is essential. Charlie said, “My prayer has been ‘Lord, show me how You love them, and help me to love them in the same manner in which You would.’”

Thirdly, you can donate to a fund set up to help refugees. On The Mission Society’s site, you can give to the Middle East Refugee Crisis. All proceeds go to missionaries working directly with refugees in the Middle East and Europe.