The smell of coffee wafted through the air, chairs were set up in an organized fashion, and outside there was a flood of refugees waiting – not so patiently – to get in. In these last quiet moments before Clothing Room began, we prayed. At 10:00 a.m. on the nose, the doors were unlocked and people from literally all over the world pushed through the doors into the OASIS – a refugee ministry center in Traiskirchen Austria.
I gained a lot of things while I was in Austria: a love for rich, dark coffee; the tuberculosis bacteria; the realization that this world can be a wretched and difficult place; and a deep compassion for people who are different than me, just to name a few. But, if I’m honest, it’s almost 20 years later that the Matthew 25 Challenge really opened my eyes to the lives of these individuals who are deeply loved by our God.
I’m not exactly sure what gripped me so through the Challenge thus far, but I do know that watching my children experience the M25 has had a profound impact on me. During my summer in Austria, I played with a lot of children, made a ton of balloon animals, and handed out many bottles of shampoo. The intense experience drove me to a place of survival rather than empathizing with the less fortune who I was learning to love. Differing languages, customs, religions, and preferences divided us in a way that made my understanding of my new friends' daily rhythms nearly incomprehensible. However, the challenge this week has opened my mind to seeing through the eyes of the young mother Anna who had several children and was hoping to join her husband, through the eyes of the young teenage girl Eva whose family had been completely separated during their escape and she was now solely responsible for her 5 year old sister with only a hope of being reunited with her family again, through the eyes of the man Mika who desperately wanted asylum to be able to bring his wife and children to a new place with a new start and a new hope of a better life.
I cannot imagine being in a similar state of life with my two children: being forced to sleep wherever we found ourselves – safe or unsafe – and hoping to find food for our next meal, carrying everything we now owned on my back, begging my little girl to please be quiet so no one finds us, hoping to not be found and yet longing to be found at the same time, fleeing for our lives. No, I cannot imagine having two little ones beg me for food and clean water and a safe place to sleep and having no way to provide for them.
Right now Matthew 25 rings a bit louder in my ears than it has before. Oh, I’ve understood the words and the meaning in days prior, but I think perhaps the empathy I have found for displaced and marginalized people has gained a new depth. So, as I sit here a little extra tired today gripping my coffee cup with yesterday’s clothes on, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share in the Matthew 25 Challenge with the community of Westbrook. I pray that the following words would gain momentum in each of our hearts and produce an enduring vision in our community.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ - Matthew 25:40