As a Christian, I serve a God who is the very essence of love. It is not just a characteristic of His nature. It is who He is. While traveling Europe this year, I’ve been able to watch others as they embody His love in very practical ways and practice doing so myself. I’ve found no greater satisfaction in sharing His unconditional love, than right here at Visioneers.
The first day I arrived at the office, Anja took me out for scrumptious falafels next door waving a book called The Lightless Sky saying, “you have to read this book!” It’s the true story of a 12-year-old Afghan boy who spent over a year trying to make his way safely to Europe as a refugee. Fleeing a war torn country and the pressure to be part of the conflict on both sides, he and his brother experienced what I can only describe as every variety of “hell” you can imagine. Their parents paid a hefty sum for their safe arrival. Some $8,000! This was to cover them arriving safely together. Not only were they separated from the start, but they risked their lives daily and endured imprisonment, starvation, crude housing, sardine like transportation, long walks through the wilderness and grossly overloaded boats. Putting their lives on the line again and again, they had to trust people who did not care for their welfare, but only the amount of money they could squeeze out of their contact with them. They were questioned relentlessly and without mercy. Taken advantage of at every turn. It is a wonder at all that they arrive as a whole person. Though certainly not emotionally, physically, some do.
It’s these stories that refugees will rarely tell with the detail this book was written. They are so painful to recall and most readily forgotten. I certainly hadn’t heard them before. I think I just thought most of them traveled the way I do to get to another country and perhaps some endured a rickety boat ride just before being rescued. A very naïve thought, I realize now, but that’s where I started. My first interactions with the youth, who joyfully visit Visioneers throughout the week, were with a young man from Afghanistan and a young lady from Syria. I asked each of them tentatively if they had a difficult journey getting to Germany. Each in their own way shared a small portion of their story that resembled the story I was reading.
Upon reflection and after finishing the book, it hit me, what a significant opportunity we have to love those that enter our countries fleeing unsafe places and how valuable and uncommon a safe place is for them. Let alone a place to have fun, make friends, and just be themselves! It is in Visioneers they find ALL of these things and more. They have found love here and the wholeness that comes from being well cared for. Not one person entered the doors without being quick to embrace all inside. Having an opportunity to give these teens a hug and ask what we could help them with is one of the greatest privileges of my life. After all that they have been through, to be a kind, loving voice and a warm embrace that wants absolutely nothing but to see their success has been one of my greatest joys. I’m so grateful to Visioneers for the work that they do and all the staff and volunteers who offer this unconditional love and kindness. Once you know the hardships these refugees have faced, its so clear why they return to Visioneers again and again.
If you are thinking about volunteering, what are you waiting for? Consider this your invitation. Once you begin, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner! You can serve as a mentor, teach a skill, help with homework, cook meals or just hang out. It is an experience you will quickly grow to love and treasure forever. 100% guaranteed.
Heather is an American nomad of sorts. She is traveling Europe this year to learn about charity work and non-profits in European cultures. Her long term goal is to encourage and facilitate collaboration among non-profits worldwide. As part of her travels, she’s volunteering at different non-profits in each location she visits. She volunteered with Visioneers in May.