Trapped in housing where a family of six may share just one room — and share cooking and washing facilities with other families — migrants in Serbia can suffer deep sociopsychological problems. In 2016, ADRA Serbia was providing emergency aid to the tens of thousands who passed through the country each week in the hope of a new life farther west. Now the aid organization is providing much-needed help for those living for longer periods within Serbia’s borders, including assistance with social integration, education, life skills, and counseling.
Such is the success of the ADRA Serbia community center in Belgrade that it was chosen as the venue and the topic for a special live-stream broadcast on Seventh-day Adventist Church-promoted World Refugee Sabbath on June 16, 2018.
Refugees crowded into the women’s resource room at the ADRA community center on June 16, eager to share with the world how ADRA became their family. Sotude, a mother with two young daughters, shared how she was in despair before ADRA became a part of her life. Now she comes to the compound each day. She reported that the visit lifts her spirits and allows her to develop life skills, engage in sports, talk to others back home via an internet café, and socialize in a safe environment.
ADRA also works with school-aged migrants, helping integrate them into the school system, providing mentors to help them with the local language, and drafting extra support at the center to help them catch up with the schooling they missed during a difficult journey from Afghanistan or Iraq.
Twelve-year-old Farhad is one example: a musician, keen football player, and a skilled artist, his time at the center has helped him develop his skills. An art exhibition sharing his paintings helped raise funds for a Serbian boy in need of a serious operation. ADRA’s “little Picasso” is already giving back to the community that is supporting him—which has not gone unnoticed. Last August, Farhad and his family were invited to the presidential palace to meet with the president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, who graciously offered them citizenship.
“I would like to focus on the fact that among the refugees there are a lot of children," noted Corrado Cozzi, representing the Adventist Church in Central and Southwestern Europe. Interacting as he does with the children at the center, he emphasized that “a child needs special care, special food, and secure shelter every single day.” Reflecting more broadly, he noted many of the children live in challenging conditions that will have a big impact on their future.
Throughout the one-hour program and then in the spontaneous “afterglow” that followed, beneficiaries at the center expressed what a blessing it was for them to be helped. A children’s choir sang about ADRA being their family.
ADRA Serbia director Igor Mitrović, at the end of his short devotional talk, summed up the event, inviting all to the table, not just in this world — as projects like this join communities together — but in the world to come.
Refugees Around the World Highlighted
A second live-streamed broadcast in the afternoon of June 16 expanded the journey with stories of hope from across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. It included video reports prepared by local churches, ADRA offices, and individuals, as well as panel discussions with ADRA Serbia leaders and ADRA officials from the European and worldwide headquarters.
ADRA International president Jonathan Duffy noted that while there are 64 million refugees or displaced persons in the world, there are 20 million members in the Adventist Church. “What if every Adventist just got to know two people?” he asked. “What difference would that make?”
Reports from Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden shared ways that members are interacting with their new neighbors. Members of the Adventist church in Gothenburg, Sweden, turned their building’s basement into a dormitory after they discovered young men sleeping on the street. In Belgium, where there is a continuing crisis, the church works with other volunteers to host migrants in private homes overnight, while in the Netherlands, a local church is helping with education and befriending programs.
Other church members have been focusing on fundraising. Two young adults from Portugal plan to climb the highest mountain of every country in Europe with the goal of raising at least €54,000 (about US$62,400) for the Belgrade community center in Serbia. Croatian youth shared how they gave up their New Year break to volunteer at a camp in Greece, while Stan Jensen from Canada reported that his recent visit to Uganda was spurring him to more action.
This year’s event marks the third annual World Refugee day program sponsored by the Inter-European (EUD) and Trans-European (TED) regions of the Adventist Church. This year, with input and support from ADRA International and ADRA Europe, as well as Adventist Review, the program has had an even greater impact than in the past.
ADRA Europe executive director João Martins commented, “While Europe claims to be a continent where human rights are more promoted and defended, we are challenged to see inside our borders children, women and men fleeing from terrible war situations are not received and welcomed as they should be.” Martins continued, “ADRA works to fill this gap that is preventing thousands of persons to live with the dignity they deserve. It is the reason why the World Refugee Sabbath is so important. When we have the chance to be in contact with this reality, we are challenged to do something to change it for better.”
“It would be fantastic if this were our last Refugee Sabbath because by next year the crisis is over,” TED Communication director Victor Hulbert said at the close of the broadcast. While ADRA leaders expect that will not be the case, Hulbert explained, initiatives like World Refugee Sabbath, highlighted and growing across Adventist media, help to raise awareness in viewers’ minds of “who is our neighbor.” “It gives us practical motivation to give, pray, share and befriend as we can in every area where we can have influence,” he said.