Reflections From the Ukraine/Romania Border

It’s been a few days since we returned from the Romania/Ukraine border. So much of this trip took part in my heart, for to be in my Romanian home with my husband and others and love on people together are expressions of my immigrant soul, always and forever tattooed on my redeemed identity.

Many have asked me how it went. And I wanted to give a short, peppy answer but I struggled. I still do. There is no simple answer to witnessing war effects and broken souls.

From the first day at the border, I tried to walk a few feet in the refugees’ shoes: but I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t do it. I realized very quickly that reading about war and seeing videos on my phone, in the comfort of my peaceful home, pales in comparison with smelling the fear, hearing the sadness, touching the bodies, standing near silent faces, perceiving the underlining shock, and witnessing firsthand the injustice of war trauma. Being face to face with the people enlarges the humanity of the refugees as well as the horror of war. We were 2 minutes away from Ukraine.

I couldn’t walk in their shoes. Part of me didn’t want to anyway. I was afraid that their pain would numb me again. Pictures from my own country’s revolution in ‘89 were on repeat in my mind. So much from that December came alive at the border. And I was overwhelmed. I knew it could either open me up or shut me down towards the people. My Jesus knew all this when He orchestrated this mission trip. I begged Him to send someone else. I was afraid I’d let Him down. I knew of my memories and realities I’m working with a counselor today, and I felt inadequate and totally unprepared: “God, can you pick someone else? Not me, Lord. Not yet. Give me more time to heal.”

But God sent me anyway. On the border road with the refugees, Christ prepared me not to carry their load but to walk with them the tiny patch in front of our tent. Christ doesn’t call missionaries to be the answer to peoples’ pains and problems, but rather to point them to the true and real answer: Christ Himself.

On the road with the refugees, I saw them first. I didn’t pull away but walked nearer to them. I recognized the obvious effects of an evil war in the living eyes of these refugees. They walk with luggage and worry, pain and uncertainty hooked on their hurrying frames. What is it like to run away from war? How does it feel to know your home is bombed? What is the meaning of peace and justice when corruption and bribery take over in a chaotic, war-torn home? How vulnerable and humble can you become to rely on strangers to protect you and your children? How fierce can you turn when your humanity is being assaulted? Can hope survive? Can your family make it? Can you remain sane in such circumstances?

On the road with the refugees, I listened to them. Every day, the stories shared a common thread of pain that ran deeper than the mere eyes would let out. There was the husband whose newborn baby crossed the Ukrainian border cuddled in his mother’s arms just for him to hug him and love on them for the short daylight. Ukrainian grandmothers crossing daily to bring back food and necessities to their families relocated in the West of Ukraine. Mothers and babies sobbing as they left behind husbands and fathers fighting a war that may take away their lives. Young men with disabilities who can’t fight in the war, traveling alone, away from home, uncertain if they’ll see their families again. Traumatized parents sharing stories of the bombs that nearly killed them. Sick refuges looking for medications and health treatments. Heartbreaking stories of sexual abuse and cruelty at the hands of the enemy and evil men. Confessions of bribery and compromise. Pleas for peace and justice. Tears of fatigue and discouragement. Every day. At the border. We saw humanity assaulted and life threatened. The daily reminders of how it is not well in this corner of the world still affect me. Feeling utter conflicted emotions reminded me that the intensity of living doesn’t scare God away. He draws nearer even in the darkest, hardest of emotions. Their stories, like beads on a world necklace, garnished the paved road at the border. The words breezed through our ears and I’d latch on some and let many fly away. The heaviness of their message clawed to my heart. “Lord, you know their depths. You are familiar with their stories. Please, help them. You can bring them peace and healing. Have mercy on us all, Jesus.”

Right there, on that road with the refugees, they didn’t need me to walk in their shoes. They welcomed me to walk awhile beside their bodies instead. They didn’t need me to save them, yet they were opened to hearing about the One who saves us all. I know this trip changed me. Looking back, I still feel like I was not the most qualified person to be by the side of the road. But that’s alright because God didn’t send me there to be that person anyway. He sent me there to simply point to the One who is the best companion of all: our Man of sorrow, acquainted with all grief, the Keeper of our souls, Savior the Christ. And that changed how I walked beside the people, how I sat with the weary ones, how I laughed and cried, prayed and listened, offered water and snacks. Knowing that my purpose was to bring in the greatest Hope of the world changed how I loved on people and how I was being changed myself by their lives. The world is aching. War is devastating. Living today is filled with pains and heartbreaks. But God is real. The Bible is true. And Jesus still changes everything, in every country, on every border, even on the Romanian road filled with Ukrainian refugees.