“Share their stories.” This is what I sensed God tell me when I was praying on next steps as I was leaving my last job. “Share their stories” has been repeated several times since. And, as John and I were heading home after 13 days in Italy where we learned about the refugee situation, met with churches and ministries that work with refugees and interacted with refugees there who are in a nearly constant state of limbo, I did not know how I could help or what we were to do next; but, again, I sensed: “Share their stories”. I do not know what format that is supposed to take or who the audience will be. But, today I start the quest to “share their stories".
John and I learned a ton while in Italy. We saw that there are many refugees in Rome (and know there are many others in Naples and cities to the north as well) – some living in tent cities, others are squatting in buildings on the outskirts of the city and still others live on the street. Most have not been able to get jobs in a country where the unemployment rate for people between the ages of 18-35 is 30%. Some stand in food lines, others beg, others sell socks or trinkets along the sidewalk. We did not find a refugee church or a center to help provide job skills, internet access, a home. There is access to food and clothing donations, and there is some nighttime shelter available (but not enough beds for all). However, during the day the refugees must leave and there is virtually no where for them to go other than the street, the train station and parks.
We did hear of churches that help (this is where most of the food services come from), but so much more is needed and there is no governmental/social service-type structure in place to figure out what to do with and for thousands of refugees once they receive their papers that show they are in the country legally and able to work. The other countries in the EU do not want them – they have many refugees themselves and see this particular population as Italy’s problem (based on articles I have read and the fact that we heard of many refugees “stranded” along the France/Italy border because they want to leave Italy but France won’t allow them in). We did not see any evidence of progress towards a solution.
The even greater heartbreak in all of this is that in addition to the thousands who have received their paperwork, thousands more are in camps in Italy waiting on theirs with the anticipation that once they have their paperwork then they can go anywhere and be able to have a life for themselves. It was not clear to us if they believed this because they had not heard of the challenges from those who have received their paperwork already or because they need at their core to hold onto this hope in order to make it through the time of waiting that can last up to 18 months. These camps provide food and shelter, but there is no access to reading materials, internet, entertainment, etc. and often they are far from the nearest town – they wait with virtually nothing to do for months on end.
For sure this situation is bleak. I don’t like writing about it and you likely don’t like reading about it. But it is reality and to not face it we would do a disservice to the refugees and to our God who in all things works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). My goal in the coming days, weeks and months is to share stories of where God has intersected the refugee story and provided true hope. I hope to recount some of what we learned from the refugees we met in Italy as well as have the opportunity to interview refugees right here in Austin who want to share the hope they found in Christ and how they experienced God on their journey to their life in the U.S.
In : Refugee Stories
Tags: refugees italy church christ