Here for such a time as this

06 Jan, 2016 | Macedonia
OM International
Gevgeljia refugee camp, december 2015
The holiday season was a bit different for Jacek Duda and his family this year. He spent both Christmas and New Year's Eve in the refugee camp in his current hometown Gevgelija, handing out soup, hot drinks and sweets to refugee families.

Since September, this small Macedonian town at the Greek border has received thousands of refugees. The Macedonian government has established a well-organised camp at the border, run by major humanitarian organisations.

Jacek and his OM colleague Dragan have gained entry to the camp to assist in the effort.

"The main focus of our ministry is providing for the current needs of the refugees passing through our camp, and this through food and non-food items," explained Jacek. "The last few months we supported our mission partners delivering food packages for incoming people. We also provided other assistance like guiding the sick to doctors, or taking mothers with children to the UNICEF area."

A few weeks before Christmas, OM Macedonia started running a soup kitchen in the camp. The soup is freshly made in a restaurant in Gevgeljia. "The refugees love it, especially on a cold morning," Jacek said.

The number of meals served has increased from 200 up to 500 daily, but some days it's not enough for everyone. "We had to send so many hungry people away,” Jacek lamented. “Our camp is at the end of its capacity. People are freezing. Some have to sleep outside as there is no place in the tents anymore. This is a very sad and heartbreaking situation."

On December 24th and 25th, the team organised a Christmas special, with sweets, cookies, hot chocolate, milk tea, and Christmas packages from Samaritans Purse. "We even had a tree," said Jacek. "We spread some joy and shared God's love to the people passing through our camp." The team members always try to show love and respect to the refugees. "Sometimes we have the opportunity to share the good news and pray with some people," he shared.

New home

Jacek and his wife Magdalena are still amazed by how God led them into the heart of Europe’s refugee crisis. Leaving their native Poland in 2013 to partner with a small church in Kratovo, central Macedonia, the couple thought they’d found a permanent base. But in 2014, ministry opportunities began to develop in other towns, and they strongly sensed God opening up a new home for them: Gevgelija, a town of 16,000 people, right on the Greek border.

Jacek and Magda began planning to move a year ago, then had to return to Poland for family reasons. “We already had our plans and visions," said Magda. “We never imagined how the situation in Gevgelija would change so dramatically.” During summer 2015, emigrants from the Middle East began to pour through the nearby border crossing, and on their TV back in Poland, the Duda family watched chaotic scenes as emigrants fought to board trains leaving Gevgelija’s normally sleepy station.

“Jacek returned to Macedonia first," shared Magda. "As I was preparing myself and the kids to follow him in August, I sometimes had doubting thoughts. But I always had this verse in my heart, from the Book of Esther (ch.4 :14) ‘And who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this?’”

Taking advantage

The refugee camp has had a big influence on Gevgeljia. Ever since the camp opened, refugees keep coming. "There are over 700 taxis in the town now, with over 200 more awaiting registration," said Jacek. "Some taxi-drivers take advantage of the situation.  The refugees can travel by bus, train or taxi-- each costing the same, 25 euro per person. But some of the drivers stop half way and demand more money. Because of that we advise the refugees to wait for the train if possible."

The OM workers are most concerned about the situation of those that are not allowed to cross and are stranded on the Greek side. As soon as Macedonia decided to stop giving entry to refugees from countries other than Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, someone on the Greek side began selling fake documents for 50 to 100 euro a piece.  "Of course the Macedonian police worked this out very quickly,” explained Jacek. “All those people have been denied entry and were sent back to the Greek side almost immediately."

Prayer is needed, says Jacek. "Especially for the Iranians, as many of them are Christians fleeing persecution in their home country." The Duda family and other OM team members ask for prayer for all refugees passing through Macedonia. "Pray for protection against those who're trying to exploit them along the way. And for all of them to find a safe place to live in Europe."

Pray as well for the OM Macedonia team in Gevgelija as they respond to the needs around them; physical, emotional and spiritual.  As Magda says, it was not an accident that God put them exactly in this place.

The Safe Passage project focuses on meeting refugees at their initial entry points, providing information as well as water, food and essentials. To give to OM’s relief efforts, or for more information about how to get involved, please contact your local OM office.

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