Real stories about trying to make a difference. Where no human being is illegal, The only question is how to serve and to provide humanitarian aid in the best way possible.
In the Trenches
Where no human being is illegal
By Maja Ahac
It all started as a normal day of rest. The autumn Sabbath was warm and full of sunshine. We went to church in the morning, and afterward had lunch with friends.
Then I received a phone call: “Get prepared,” said the voice on the other end. “What we just assumed yesterday is turning into reality today. Several thousand refugees are approaching the Slovenian border.”
There was never a question in my mind or in the minds of my other team members as to whether we would help. The only question was how to serve and to provide humanitarian aid in the best way possible.
A few hours later we welcomed the first people into our country. They looked so tired. Many carried small plastic bags containing all their possessions. I tried to talk to some of them, but there was a language barrier. Finally I found a teenager who spoke English. We sat down together, along with some of his friends. I asked why they were here, facing this difficult journey.
“I had two options: kill or be killed,” one young man said. “I just want to finish school and live.”
I was glad it was dark, because I didn’t want him to see my tears. The tragic situation with refugees had become “real” and personal. This young man was about the same age as my oldest son, but he was fleeing war and simply trying to stay alive. His family had gathered all the possessions they had and sent him away so that at least one person in the family would survive.
Can’t Close Our Eyes
It would be so easy to pretend that the refugees are not here, that they are not “worthy” of our help. They are often labeled not only as refugees and migrants but also as terrorists. But to simply believe many of the conspiracy theories and see people as threats is not a solution. During the past six months of working with refugees I have not encountered even one for whom Jesus didn’t die, no matter how dirty, scared, cold, hungry, smelly, sick, small, or badly treated they were. These people are just people. Nothing more, nothing less.
Every human deserves the opportunity not only to survive but to thrive. I dream of a day when we will welcome every person into God’s family, regardless of the country they are coming from, and without using invalid excuses about why we shouldn’t accept them. It is not for us to decide who deserves the opportunity to live; we’re only human. It’s our responsibility to provide basic care, to share what we have been given, to raise voices for the voiceless, to empower the powerless, to be a blessing to humanity—just as Jesus was.
During the past few months I have met many people and heard their stories. I’ve experienced sleepless nights, busy days, conflicts, shortages of funds and food, not enough blankets, never enough shoes, and many other challenging situations.
What inspired me most throughout this, however, is that I was not alone. Many others—I call them angels—joined us along the way. They came, it seemed, from nowhere. Groups and individuals were willing to give personal time, money, and effort for thousands and thousands of refugees. They provided encouragement. Many shared their memories with me.
What was common to all of us was that we felt we had received more than we had given during our volunteer service. Happiness came from little ones, mothers, those who were disabled. Pure joy was seeing a child smile, a baby dressed in a warm jacket, a father sharing food with his little ones, a woman being secretly given products for personal hygiene needs. Their gratitude was beyond words.
The mocking and threats we received were indescribable as well. I have never experienced so much frustration, bitterness, and anger from individuals spreading hatred rather than providing assistance. Some people did not approve of ADRA’s or my own personal efforts. I was called many names, ugly names. I received threats as well. Out of the hurt and sadness, however, was born a determination to help even more.
I also experienced loss. I lost some friends who didn’t understand our motives. But I became friends with so many more, people I never thought I would have the privilege to meet.
A Life-changing Experience
The refugee crisis has shaken me and the society in which I live. We will never be the same again. I have traveled to many places and witnessed extreme poverty before, but the inequality and obvious social injustice were never so intense.
During the day I worked in the office, in the afternoons and evenings I helped refugees, and in the mornings I spent time with my own children. Seeing my children reminded me that while they had unlimited possibilities and opportunities for their future, refugee children were not even allowed to move about freely. Even little children are considered dangerous by some.
This experience changed me. Was I traumatized? I hope not. Blessed? Definitely. I consider myself privileged to be thought worthy of serving humanity, not to mention being a voice for the voiceless. Seeing those who would not speak up for the vulnerable, or were unwilling to help, was painful, but meeting so many inspired individuals made me feel rich and special.
I have witnessed historical moments, and have heard personal stories of amazingly strong people who were able to face extreme difficulties along their journey to a better life. I’ve also witnessed much gratitude.
Refugees are not so very different from us. We all want the same things: to survive, to live in peace, to simply be accepted—as humans. Nothing more, nothing less.
Maja Ahac is country director for ADRA Slovenia.