The Long walk in Budapest: Syrian Refugees
I had done my morning run, went to meetings, picked up the children from school and sat down. I began to pray, and drift off for a moment, when my heart and mind nearly burst out of my dreams.
The time is now.
“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I knew it was reckless, but I began to check the train schedules, knowing that the next train would be coming in soon to Vajta, and if we could just get on one and go to help them, share with them, we could be working alongside them, lifting the burden of the walk.
I am sure that you are aware of the Refugees being stranded at the Keleti Train Station of Budapest, Hungary. They are chiefly Syrian Refugees seeking Asylum, amongst others. They have been pouring out of the war zone of Syria and crossing over borders in hopes of a 'promised land'.
Hungary is the first country in the Schengen Zone where the Refugees can be free, yet they have hopes to thrive by travelling further on to Germany, who is welcoming them. With only train tickets in hand, and no documents/visas to provide, they cannot legally be ushered into another country (nearby Austria). So it begins to bottleneck at our greatest Budapest Train station. This presents a complex, geopolitical situation for Hungary, and for all nearby countries and Refugees.
After waiting for days for some promising news, it didn't come.
They knew that they needed do something. They needed to step out and take a risk. So the men sent word around to the Families and stood up united at mid-afternoon.
Some 1000 people sought Refuge, and began to trek their way to the Austrian Border on foot. It’s an estimated 170 km which arrives them there after about 4 marathons. WOW. They wanted new life. And their hearts were set. They began to brave the walk.
All of this with children in tow, some with their clothes & belongings, and just basic human needs. Some of them didn’t have shoes, and still others- with tired children- who were not able to keep going, but still they did.
By Nightfall on Friday night, they had walked 30 km.
When we arrived that night at their Journey’s landmark, it was a gas station filled with people, and scattered donations. Humanitarian aid would call this ‘the 22nd Marker’ on the Highway. The zealous majority had already passed through as we came holding 10’s of bags of Pastries and Bananas, with a carload of water offering to all who continued on.
We came across our friend and Pastor, Phil Metzger talking with a family, trying to look for a stroller because their tired child had hit ‘over-time.’
Perception proved that the days of unsettlement had magnified, and the 30 km trek of the day was unbearable for the little ones, understandably. Yet they looked up, into the eyes of their courage-filled parents, who surged on for freedom’s sake.
These families are our heroes.
What courage to break away from the stand-still, and walk the Long walk.
They were so very kind, and grateful for our help, and even for the assistance of the police who held a strict control, yet in an undercover manner, helped them continue, while holding in line the traffic.
There were police lights edging all of their path along the freeway. Along with them, a plethora of Hungarian volunteers from Red cross, Migration Aid, and even your everyday civilian handing out water and apples. There was media-newscasters alongside bright lights of cameras, going over the script, rehearsing their lines that they were about to convey to the nations.
We were all there working together with the compassion of God’s heart, even if it was unbeknownst to them. Even the hearts of the people who were praying for us were there.
Golgota Budapest had passed out hundreds of Blankets who took them along their way, unwilling to stop if their bodies permit them to go… and somehow they did.
They weren’t stopping.
I saw a wearied Syrian lady who wobbled as she walked, pushing her stroller, with a look of tired determination. “Finish…Finish…” she chanted over and over.
Volunteers had been passing out food long before we arrived, so they thanked us and kept moving right past us. They were determined to continue, not able to stop. If the ladies and children haulted, they would be separated and picked off at the end, being sent to Refugee camps, bringing them back to square 1. There was no other choice but to continue, for their hearts were willing.
As a volunteer, we were unsure of how much more they were going to last.
We decided it would be best to go forward and meet them on the next landmark stop. A gas station about 7k up ahead.
We pulled up, meeting other volunteers preparing to unload as well.
Since The Refugees were determined to get there, we hoped to encourage them on…
Andi and I resolved to gather up 30 espressos from the gas station coffee shop, while Caleb, Arpi, and the guys brought the 100’s of water bottles to the roadside.
The night had grown later, and we sort of huddled, discussed, and questioned the length of time it would take.
Time ran on…
Soon, police officers came, either sharing with one another, or conveying to us, that they were haulted about 3 km back. Either they were being detained or detaining themselves.
I wanted to run back to understand the true consensus of the people, but as a group we decided to get to them. So we packed up the car, continued driving forward about 15k for the next off ramp, and did a U-turn to drive back towards them.
A few minutes later, we spotted the flashing police cars drawing closer on the other side of the freeway. It was clogged-up traffic for as far as we could see beyond them. Darkness and headlights held the view for kilometers. So there we were, pulled over with a barrier between us, questioning our next move.
We decided to wait for a break in the on-coming traffic and run across the double-barrier with bags and bags of food, my kids’ clothes, warm coffees, and ourselves. (Sorry, Mom)
There we met the sight of weary pilgrims, laying by the roadside, and into the grass beds farther than your eyes would allow. Some by the road, had blankets, tents, tarps, covering them, while looking gratefully dishevelled. We handed out coffees quickly, and moved into the downward hill.
So many were asleep.
We came across groups and groups of sleeping people. We quietly placed bags of Bread at their heads. Their morning would come quick, and we felt it would be a much-needed start to their day.
I came across a blanket filled with young people talking and laughing together. They were smiling and welcoming. They joked about inviting us into their home, as they smoothed out the end of their blanket.
With the flashlight of my cell phone, I asked them where they had come from.
“Syria!”, they exclaimed.
I was enjoying their conversation and excitement.
Their happiness struck me in a way that kind of surprised the sombre right out of me. I was so interested in their stories.
I asked them how long they had been traveling from Syria. “One month!” they said.
One of them offered up, “ Anything is better than the______war!”
I went on further, “What is your hope when you arrive?” They all shared that they would establish themselves and then, send for the rest of their family.
They were pioneers seeking an upcoming refuge, and new start. I was blessed to meet them. We had finished passing out the bread, and needed to get back to the car.
As we walked back up the hill, we knew that it was important for them to understand that Hungary was willing to help them. We were willing to talk with them, and care for them personally. As a Catholic, “Christian” nation, from their perspective, we infidels showed the Love of Christ, and I was blessed to be a part of watering the seeds of His Love.
I want to pause, and make mention that it was a privilege to represent the nation that I live in. Not just for Hungary’s sake, but for the Body of Christ- to be the hands and feet to these people. It was a privilege to take on that mantle from the land that has taken care of me so many times. Hungary encourages my heart. The people of Hungary teach my children their school studies, and give of their time and helping hand when I have had a car break down on more than one occasion. I am blessed to be an American who is growing roots of love here. It was a privilege to give to these people just passing through our Hungarian stomping grounds.
Getting back, the temperature was lowering, and my arms were getting pretty cold, but it meant nothing, as we began to feel rain drops fall upon us.
It began to rain.
We were able to find covering, but not yet for them. They had to endure it. We crossed back over to our car, hazard lights still on, and drove away.
I keep thinking about the courage of the ones who stood and went on.
They taught me that they are the pioneers of their belief in search for Freedom for themselves and their families. I think of it as a group of stranded people lost in a great forest. They are tired and weary, and stayed in one place for days. Some grew weak, and could not go on, but could stay with ‘the stuff’.
But the fearless ones decided to rise up and go. They knew that if they stayed in one place, they would die in complacency, but to go- there is also the element of risk in moving out of their comfort zone.
If they go, and it all pans out, their risk was worth it – and they can find refuge and freedom. Then, as they arrive, they send back for their family-their brothers and sisters too- and Live.
It is well worth it.
As we think of their situation, we can see that there is no place that can fully be our comfort zone.
We are all on a pilgrimage.
We are never truly comfortable wherever we land, right?
But we find comfort that we can be in His arms, and we can say with our hearts, ‘Finish….Finish…’ to each other- to spur us on!
We will rest when we are home.
Oh what a glorious place that will be! No more tears or pain.
Sweet Joy with our ultimate and Final Refuge!
I cannot Wait! Can you?
"How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns,even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion."
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Much Love in Jesus,