Winter Shoes and Other Aid for Refugees in the Balkans

The refugees we were meeting here in Europe were telling us heartbreaking stories of how they had lost their homes, livelihoods, and oftentimes even loved ones because of the chaos in the Mideast, and had fled for their lives with nothing but the shirts on their backs, simply in the hope of finding some peace from all the suffering and war! Some sort of refuge from the storm. After all, that is where the word “refugee” comes from — a person seeking refuge. But at least these lucky ones had managed to make their way all the way up to Scandinavia. There were still many thousands stranded in the south, hoping desperately to be allowed to move into the EU before the cold of winter set in. It was our fervent desire to make a humanitarian trip to bring aid and relief to those who were stuck at the border waiting for word that they could proceed.

We had worked with refugees from the Balkan wars of the 90’s for over 20 years in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Serbia, but this latest flood of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries of the Mideast and Africa was on a level that we had never experienced before.

When people began hearing that we were making plans for this trip, we began to receive bags of clothes from friends and neighbors who wanted to do their part to help. We got the address of a local chain of second hand stores and contacted their office, explaining about our upcoming trip, and they invited us to come to their sorting facility where we could freely choose from many large bins the type, size, and quality of clothing that we thought would be most needed and beneficial to the refugees. As we were leaving we thanked them for their collaboration and gave them a copy of our book which explains about our work with refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo. [You can request a copy of our book “Unplugged from the Norm” by writing us at info@healingheartsbalkans.org] For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/UnpluggedFromTheNorm/

The following day we received an unexpected phone call from a man higher up in this company who told us that they had just received a large shipment of brand new, good quality winter shoes and boots that they wanted to donate to us so we could bring them to the refugees! When we arrived at their warehouse this man saw our van and said “That van is not nearly large enough!” Wow! We loaded up as much as we could carry, and before pulling out he asked how our trip was being financed. We were about to travel over 6,000 kms, which takes a lot of diesel, cost of tolls, etc., but I honesty told him that Jesus is our financial source. He was slightly taken aback at this reply, even shocked, as of course he was expecting us to say that this or that church was behind it all! But to say that we only trust in Jesus, and that He is the One who touches people’s hearts and supplies everything we need to serve Him was an answer this man did not at all expect. As it says about the 10 lepers that Jesus healed, “As they went, they were cleansed”, so too with us, as we go and step out on the water, God provides. Our motto is: “Where God guides, He provides!” (Note: As it turned out, the Lord provided the funds we needed to cover the diesel and tolls from a few dear friends that we had planned to visit once all the aid had been distributed. While we never mentioned our need, these precious folks willingly gave from their hearts to help us. Thank you so much!)

Since the donation of shoes came shortly before we were about to leave, we had quite a bit of repacking to do, especially considering that we needed to make everything look like non-commercial “personal items” for the border crossing. Border officials can be very strict, and if your paperwork is not 100% in order including certificates that all the aid had been properly dry-cleaned before transport, you could be turned back and not allowed to enter the country. But we had been crossing these borders multiple times, and in our experience, it was best to trust the Lord for the customs, and not to lean on the arm of the flesh. We needed to claim God’s promises of protection over everything we were carrying, calling on His angels to surround our vehicle like when Brother Andrew of “Open Doors” ministry fame would carry carloads of Bibles into Communist eastern Europe. So as we reached the border, we asked the Lord for His protection and provision to help us get the things we were carrying to those who needed it, and the customs officer did not even ask us to open the doors of our vehicle. He just waved us through!

We found the most needy refugees living in tents in the muddy “no-man’s land” between the borders. They were of course suffering greatly from the ever-increasing cold temperatures! We found an independently run “aid-station” nearby where a few sacrificial volunteers had set up an old caravan as the foundation to build a temporary communal shelter that included a “free store” and a children’s tent. The caravan was being used as an office and a sleeping place for the volunteers. A little “tea shop” offered free tea, and a communal gathering area had WiFi and free phone charging. Another visiting team of aid workers prepared a traditional bar-b-que that featured delicious beef/lamb meat rolls called “Chevapi”, sandwiches, and fruit.

We immediately added all the clothes we had brought into the “free-store” tent, but as is so often the case, it was SHOES that were most needed, and that is why the Lord no doubt supplied so many for us to carry down. We could see that many of the refugees were still going around wearing plastic sandals or flip-flops! Because shoes must be fitted, and since we knew that they still had a lot of walking ahead of them, we did not want anyone to get a pair of shoes from us that were not perfect for them. So we used the open side of our van as a store front to hand out shoes as the refugees lined up and awaited their turn. There is no doubt that these high quality winter shoes ended up on some very needy feet! We had also brought with us lots of warm winter socks and box of jeans, among many other things! We made sure each aid recipient also received a booklet called “The Power to Change” in their own language (Arabic, Farsi, or Kurdish).

These refugees are people just like you and me, it’s just that their homes have been destroyed and we are living in warm, dry, comforted housing. Many people in Europe have become fearful of the refugees, suspecting them to be ISIS or up to no good. But Jesus said in Matthew 25:34-40: “For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me. Then the righteous answered him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

To view photos from this trip on Facebook, click here:

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