"What if MY story were THEIR story?"

March 15, 2017

I know I have shared about Vladimir and his family before from the Ukraine and Daniel from Ghana but hearing a bit more of their story this weekend as well as a few others has prompted me to revisit and share their plight. Vladimir and his family live in a "hyme" or government housing very like the one pictured but theirs is in a very small village out in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately he was able to procure a car from a friend or they would have no way to get to their German lessons or to the store, both of which are in the neighboring town about 5 miles away. But, he says, they are grateful to be alive, for if he had stayed he would have been put into prison and then on the front lines to fight Russia and be killed. All this because he disagrees with the political party now governing the Ukraine. He is not technically a "refugee" in Germany's eyes, so he is having to fight for the right to stay here and he says they pray fervently every night that things will work out so they can stay and they are just grateful to be alive. He doesn't complain about his living conditions..everything is just stated as facts.He has a degree in Economics and Engineering.  It is truly humbling to hear his story and I wonder how can I help?

In the words of our general Relief Society President, What if MY story were THEIR story? What would I want someone to do? Possibly all my basic needs have been met, but I am lonely...I miss my mother, my sisters, my friends. I don't know this language. I need a friend and someone to take an interest in me. How can I help?

Then a little more about Daniel. He left Ghana because of the extreme  poverty there. He and six friends traversed the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber raft to get to Europe and then traveled to Berlin where they were separated and sent to different parts of the country..Daniel going alone to Rostock. When I ask if he was afraid, he just smiles and says "with Jesus you can have peace."

I was praying about what we could do...how could we help with so many refugees in our area here in Rostock? My friend Mary Bologna would probably be making blankets for them, or there are organizations that are teaching the native language, helping with teaching job skills and practicing interviewing. So, I thought, well, why not go to the Visa Office and ask where are the organizations helping in these ways and get some ideas? I prayed fervently that as we were out and about walking and running errands yesterday that whoever might need us would cross our path. As we were getting some pictures developed, there were two lovely exotic looking young women behind us with a baby in a stroller. They shyly smiled at us as we turned and looked and smiled at them. After we left the store, we headed up towards the city and ran into them again; I began speaking to the baby and talking about my grandchildren in America. One of the gals was excited to know I spoke English as she could speak very little German and felt very lonely here; she was from Pakistan and recently divorced so could not go home. Her friend with the baby was from Albania and her husband was in prison; they had both been in a women's shelter and now had a place to live in government housing. The Pakistani gal had just said to her friend that morning..."maybe we should find a church. There are good people there and they might be able to help us." What did they need? They have clothes, they have food. They are lonely. They want a friend. They want a mother. We exchanged numbers and gave hugs, promising to stay in touch. My heart was so moved and I was grateful that possibly we had lightened their load a bit and will pursue helping them and will follow up in a few days. My prayer had indeed been answered.

Then tonight at the church, three men from Syria came to take advantage of the German class the missionaries are teaching. One of them is a veterinarian, the other an engineer and the other getting a degree in Biology. They take the German classes offered from the government but come to this class because they have no work and nothing to do after schooling except go back to the government housing.They like to be able to speak in conversational German with the missionaries. They have invited us all to come to their place for dinner. Again, what do they want? Friendship. Someone to speak German with so that they can eventually find jobs.

I see all of this and I marvel. It has humbled me. It has caused me to not complain so much about my own little discomforts, so minuscule compared to them. Yes, I too am a stranger in a strange country, but I came here voluntarily to serve a mission. I did not come here because I would be killed, or I needed a better way of life, or my family had all been killed or my country was being ravaged by war. I came so that I could serve God and my fellowmen full time for just a short time. And I am with my sweet husband. And I have friends. And I have purpose. And I have freedom.

I think of the talk given by one of our church leaders in April of 2016, Patrick Kearon who said this:
"Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees, but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period—we hope a short period—in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and contributors in other fields. Indeed, many of them were these things before they lost everything. This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us."
“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
What must my response be? What if MY story were THEIR story?!! I am grateful for the opportunity we have to be up close and personal and see these situations in real life. Again, a  quote from our church leader: "The reality of these situations must be seen to be believed. In winter I met, amongst many others, a pregnant woman from Syria in a refugee transit camp desperately seeking assurance that she would not need to deliver her baby on the cold floors of the vast hall where she was housed. Back in Syria she had been a university professor. And in Greece I spoke with a family still wet, shivering, and frightened from their crossing in a small rubber boat from Turkey. After looking into their eyes and hearing their stories, both of the terror they had fled and of their perilous journey to find refuge, I will never be the same."
I will never be the same again either after tonight,  after yesterday and the sweet girls, after Daniel, after Vladimir, after Mosab who lost his mother and sisters in Allepo.  I hope that all of us can look around our respective communities and see who needs us. Who needs a friend? A smile? A dinner?  I am sure that as we all pray and ask to be guided and led to those in need, that prayer will be answered.  That of ALL prayers will be answered. 
And I also pray that our country will once again welcome with open arms as Germany has  those who are seeking  "refuge from the storm."

Great site for some ideas of how you can help in this effort: iwasastranger.lds.org