Her eyes light up as she spies the cross on my ring. She gives me a thumbs-up, flashes me a blackened-tooth smile, and points to herself. “Me too!” But she doesn’t say it. She knows I understand.
We don’t speak the same language. I don’t know her name. I don’t know where she comes from or how old she is. She is just one of the many kids sitting around a table in a refugee center in Eisenberg, Germany, wrapping scrunched newspaper balls with brightly colored wool. She is anonymous, a name or number buried in the German bureaucratic system, but we are connected.
This time it was a piece of jewelry that gave me away, but didn’t Jesus say the world will know us as his disciples by the love we have for one another? Shouldn’t it be obvious even without a ring?
On April 19 over four hundred people drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach the Promised Land of Europe. What am I supposed to do about it? Yesterday it was hundreds and tomorrow it might be hundreds more. What does it have to do with me? They are leaving their own countries for reasons that have nothing to do with my life: war, famine, poverty, persecution…
Ten minutes down the road, a bit closer to home, over seven hundred of these people are packed into a complex that should house five hundred. Every day the regional induction center in Eisenberg, Germany receives refugees fresh from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, or other troubled nations, among them a number of children who have reached Europe in the face of amazing odds. Families live in cramped conditions, some even occupying what was once the children’s playroom.
Adults stand in clumps in the courtyard smoking. Large signs on the lower windows prohibit the use of balls outside: who wants to live in a room with a broken window? They line up in front of the clothing storage container, waiting, some openly ripping the shoes they have on their feet in hopes of getting a new pair. … Love them, Jesus says?
Yes, love them! What is a pair of sneakers in the face of what has been lost? Jobs, money, home, family, wife, children. Taken by militants, by human traffickers, taken as payment to the hungry sea.
How should I love them?
Jesus answers: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
So here I am, glue and bits of pink wool sticking my fingers together, with my new friend at my side. Making balls out of newspaper and wool is a deplorable drop in the bucket of what she really needs – she needs a home. I can’t give it to her, but hey, I won a smile and a friend and all without words.
Photo: UK Department for International Development