moment their captors would come for them. As the day wore on and the distance grew, they felt a burgeoning sense of safety. Eventually, they stopped in a village, where they asked for help.
JOURNEY TO SAFETY Many months later, Amira told her story while gathered with a group from various nationalities, all sipping tea in a home in Croatia, where she and Mahdi landed after fleeing from Syria. Amira sighed and her shoulders drooped. “We have no idea what happened to the rest of the passengers on the bus, nor do we know why they let us go,” she said. The kidnapping was the event that catapulted the couple into escaping Syria in the fall of 2015. Unlike many other refugees who were also beginning the journey to Western Europe to flee violence and persecution, Mahdi and Amira determined to make Croatia their destination. When they arrived, they joined a refugee community being housed in temporary—and often challenging—living situations. After hearing that a group was offering free English classes in the dormitory where they were staying, both Mahdi and Amira enrolled. It soon became clear to them that their teachers were Christians, and when a worship gathering was planned in the home of a missionary family, both were quick to respond. They also began to find many others within the refugee community who were hungry to know more about Christ. To the surprise of Mahdi and Amira, opportunities
As refugee families like this one come through reception centers in Croatia, Mahdi and Amira are able to share God’s love.
for them to speak about the Lord were suddenly all around them.
MAKING CONNECTIONS Through their English teacher, Amira and Mahdi connected with a local church in their new city. Their story took another exciting turn one Sunday morning when Amira noticed the Nazarene logo being displayed on a video. She was acquainted with a Nazarene pastor back home, and she knew the denomination. Neither she nor Mahdi had realized that the English teacher, the pastor, and the congregation were part of the Church of the Nazarene until that moment. Soon after, the couple received word that their three-year resident visas had been approved by the Croatian government. That meant that they could call this country, this congregation, and this community home. With stability for the future settled, Mahdi and Amira approached the church leaders who had been such a long part of their journey to ask if they could volunteer officially to help other refugees the way they had been helped. Mahdi also indicated a desire to fulfill his call as a pastor through the Church of the Nazarene. Today, Mahdi and Amira are learning the language and culture of their new host country, and Mahdi is working his way toward ordination. They have found community through the church in Croatia. n *Names have been changed for protection and security. Teanna Sunberg serves as a Nazarene missionary to the Central Europe Field, which includes the country of Croatia. She and her husband, Jay, live in Budapest, Hungary.
OPEN ARMS IN CROATIA By NCM Communications
couple of years ago, hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence and persecution began to make their way through the Balkans on their way to Northern Europe. In Croatia, the Church of the Nazarene was present in a transit camp near the Serbian border to provide shoes, food, and other assistance. When Balkan countries began to close their borders, Croatia did the same but allowed people to seek asylum. As the transit camps closed, individuals and families seeking asylum moved west toward Zagreb. At this point, members of a small Nazarene congregation in Zagreb began reaching out in a couple of reception centers that housed hundreds of people who were seeking asylum. When some of the residents expressed interest in visiting the church, the leadership team had a decision to make. If a large number of people from outside Croatia began attending their services, it could scare off many of the Croatians in their community who were fearful. Betsy Scott, a Nazarene missionary and church planting pastor, met with the Croatian leadership team. “We made a decision that we would meet people [living as refugees] where they’re at. We would be their spiritual home,” she says. According to Betsy, the local leaders did not hesitate and collectively said, “We have open arms, and this is what God has given us.” Today, the church prints worship guides in nine different languages each week to accommodate those who attend their service. They still reach out in reception centers, including Hotel Porin near the church. Mahdi and Amira*, who are themselves seeking asylum in Croatia, have become part of the Nazarene congregation and are now leading those outreach efforts. They have received permission to host gatherings in the hotel where people can ask questions about Jesus and the Bible in a safe setting. The hope is it will also become a place where people can share their stories and begin to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced. As the church works to create community, they try not to use the word refugee. “We don’t use that word because people have names,” Betsy explains. “They’re our friends, and we get to know their stories.” *Names have been changed for protection and security.
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