Croatia – More Reflections

Here are a couple of related reflections I wrote down the other day:

The Power of a Smile

2015-11-06 13.02.14-1“Thank you for your smiles,” one sweet immigrant said as she passed by. In the chaos of the moment, other volunteers were rushing back and forth, too busy to personally engage the thousands of migrants that were bustling past them. Police were intentionally keeping stone faces, hoping to instill order by their intimidating presence. Then there was this large group of volunteers handing out backpacks. Their job could really be done by only two people… so what should the other eight do? Stand and smile, offer blessings and well wishes.

All the things accomplished that night were important. Food filled hungry stomachs. Hot tea kept them warm against the damp fog. Safety and order were maintained. Helpful items were given to accompany them on their journey. And I’m sure many of the people who shuffled by were grateful for what was being done, even if they didn’t express it.

So why would someone take the time to say, “thank you for your smiles?”

Most of us want to make a positive difference in others’ lives. This desire takes many forms… but sometimes, the most important thing we can do for someone is to treat them as a human being, to open ourselves to be vulnerable to them. A genuine smile (not that fake one we wear sometimes) can make a huge difference for others and within ourselves. If you offer a smile to someone who others usually just ignore – that person asking for a handout, that rude cashier at the store, that family who doesn’t fit in the neighborhood – you treat them as if they really are a human being, a child of God. We know it with our heads, but we sometimes forget to practice it with our hearts. By opening up our hearts to strangers, we give God’s love a chance to leak into their lives. There’s no telling how far that love might travel…

Angels and Demons

We’re all used to the idea of “demonizing” someone, but have you ever caught yourself “angelizing” someone? Considering them as perfect or nearly-perfect – either because we don’t know them well, or feel sorry for them? I’ve been guilty of this from time to time. It might not be as dangerous as demonizing someone, but angelizing causes lots of damage too… usually because it means we must demonize someone else at their expense. center.

11737953_10208012729734829_4650747750323365417_nFor instance, I noticed when I first arrived that I had the tendency to angelize the refugees and immigrants. They’re facing a hard time, and many of them have overcome extraordinary challenges just to make it this far. Because of this, I found myself getting angry at the police when they spoke harshly to the refugees and immigrants, or when they tried to intimidate more than seemed necessary.

These refugees are amazing and courageous people… but just like us, they’re not perfect. I saw pushing and fighting.  I heard stories of riots among groups that are hostile to one another because of race or religion.  I heard that some men along the way, seeing that the families were getting preferential treatment, have secretly taken small children from other families in order to advance their position… only to abandon those children later.   I saw anger, frustration and impatience that are understandable in these circumstances.

They are human beings, and the people helping them are human beings too. When we’re willing to treat them all as human beings – with the compassion and understanding that comes with being human – we avoid the mistake of making angels and demons where there are none.

4 thoughts on “Croatia – More Reflections

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  1. A team from Virginia just returned and Tues. evening we heard a bit some of their story. Without a specific assigned task in the refugee camp in Croatia, they had found themselves just sitting and talking with those who left the train and came into the camp for the night waiting for the next train. The team members found that the best thing they could offer was ears to listen and a heart to “hear”. We heard this team’s story at the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s annual meeting at the end of a wonderful evening worship service. For the first time in many, many years an offering was taken at the door using the teller’s vote-collecting buckets. No one came prepared with extra money in their pockets for the offering. Most didn’t have their checkbooks readily at hand in their conference bags. But hands dropped what they had into the paint buckets and when all was said and counted, over $3500 will be going to the Croatian Baptists to help them continue their work. It was our way of smiling.

    1. Yes I head that Steve had spoken at BGAV about the trip… he must have been exhausted, since they’d just gotten back! I’m glad there will be more money coming to this camp and to the Baptists who are working there – it is certainly needed!

  2. Your story about the immigrants and refugees touched my heart. I must remind myself not to demonize or “angelize” people but should remember that all people are loved by God. Since God loves them, it is my duty and honor to show love to those with whom I come into contact.

    1. Exactly, Karen. As I watched this playing out in Croatia, I realized my own tendency to angelize the Roma people we work with. Many of them are great human beings… but they are still human beings! We all benefit more when we treat each other humanly. 🙂

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