Trading Places

What if I was the Refugee?

A crowded train car.

Middle of the night.

I’m struggling to keep my kids, 2-year-old Jack and new baby Oliver, close to me as people are pushing, adjusting, trying to fit in this train car. I have to use the lone toilet at the other end, but there is no one to hold my boys and no way I can maintain my grip on them and still make it through the crowd. The baby is crying, but there is no food for him, and I have long-since run out of diapers. The only blanket we managed to bring with us is dirty, torn, and so soiled I cringe to even think of using it.

But we’re so cold. The smell from the bodies packed into this little space makes my head reel, but I push it down and try to keep focused on my kids. If I lose my grip on them, I don’t know if I could find them again. It’s just that dark.

I haven’t been with my husband since he went on before us to try to find a place to go. This train ride is only part of our journey. I’ve been on foot for months, trekking through the forest, trying to help the boys and keep myself together. I can’t even bear to look at Jack’s feet, they are so cut and bruised from the terrain. His shoes gave out months ago.

I’m going to have to figure out how to get some food soon. My money is gone. Anything of value that I had was left behind in our hurry to get out alive. I think back to the warm fireplace we used to sit by in our little home and tears come to my eyes. All of that beauty and togetherness we used to have, and because of the war, this train car in the middle of the night is the better place to be.

How will I provide for my boys? How will I keep them from harm? Will I have to sell my body? Will they have to grow up stealing just to survive? How will I give them a future? Where are we going to go?

The train is so crowded, someone accidentally steps on Jack’s little hand, and he begins to cry, joining Oliver’s hunger cries. I’m so tired even holding them is a chore, but I do my best.

Sleep can’t come, I must stay awake to protect them. There is nowhere safe. I think back to the days not long ago when I was worried about germs and healthy food and it almost makes me laugh at the irony. What I wouldn’t do now for ANY food – healthy or not.

I switch Oliver to my other arm and try again to console Jack, who is looking up at me with his big, brown eyes and wiping his runny nose onto his arm. Please don’t get sick, I think. If only I had a coat for him, or a new pair of shoes. I hadn’t had time to bring them from home when we left.

I wish my husband was here. He would know what to do. If only I could go home …

The Reality

Seeing Things More Clearly

When I put myself in the shoes of a refugee mother in Serbia, I can’t help but weep. I’m going through my American day with my babies, caring for them, playing with them, meeting their needs, and I’m unable to stop thinking: "what if I switched places with a refugee?"

What if I was forced to leave my home – only the clothes on my back – and flee to a different country? Walking for months carrying 30-pound Oliver on my hip, hiding out in the woods like animals, losing the ability to meet the needs of my kids.

This is an everyday experience for refugees coming into Serbia. In a recent report from Real Medicine Foundation (RMF), over 150 people have to sleep outdoors every night. The reception centers and refugee camps are full, there are no jobs and little food, and because of conditions described above, crimes, health issues, low morale, and hunger are just the beginnings of the trials facing refugees at this time.

Imagine if you had to stand up, right now, from wherever you are, and leave. No time to pack. Imagine grabbing your kids in whatever they have on, leaving dinner cooking on the stove, and starting a long journey that will take you away from all your resources and everything you own. No debit card. No savings account. No career. Everything you’ve worked for, gone. Right down to your family photos.

This is what has happened to so many people that find themselves on the run, nowhere to go; a refugee in Serbia.

RMF’s Work

Healing the Whole Person

I am so proud to be a part of the RMF team, working together in even a small part to help fight against situations like these. Currently, RMF Serbia is the only 24/7 medical team in the field offering medical services, boosting morale, and simply treating these refugees like people: offering hope. Liberating potential. In less than a 6 week period, RMF’s team of doctors and translators reported over 1,800 lives touched by their services.

I think of how much it would mean to me: my humanity itself being ministered to after a long journey on that train. How I might weep with gratitude as I watched someone wash and bandage Jack’s torn little feet and gave me food to satisfy my baby’s hunger cries.

N’Deane Helajzen (MSH, BS), RMF’s Program Director in Serbia, shared with me that sometimes physical ailments are small, but the need for human contact is great. N’Deane and her team work around the clock to offer a listening ear and emotional support as well as meeting medical needs. In my own struggles as a mom, I can understand how important emotional and mental health is to a person. I’m thankful to be part of an organization that recognizes the importance of treating the person as a whole.

These holistic health needs continue to grow as time passes and refugees continue to arrive. Each day, over 100 new refugees arrive in Belgrade, a city already full and taxed by broken buildings from past bombings and a long history of hosting refugees. And that’s where we can help.

It’s easy to dismiss news of a war far away from home. Until it becomes personal. Until you can see yourself in the humanity of our friends in need. When the faces of their kids become the faces of ours. Then and only then will we choose to help. That is how wars will cease. That is how lives will be liberated and people will be given the freedom to reach their true potential.

Anyone is able to help on this level, trading apathy for empathy and becoming aware of the human faces hidden within a war. Perhaps a busy family cannot drop everything to go be a part of the Serbia team. But they could skip a dinner out and give financially to the team. I’m not always successful at doing it, but I want to raise my kids in an environment that teaches them how to serve and sacrifice for the good of our neighbors, both near and far. Supporting the work RMF is doing in Serbia and throughout the world is one way I’m trying to do this.

Your Part

Support the Work

What if that mom in the train was you? What if it was your wife and kids? What would help from a caring team mean to you if it was literally all you had left?

Their journey has already been long, and for most, it’s far from over. Read more about RMF’s work on the ground in Serbia by clicking here, and donate to help support the RMF family by clicking below.

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