“I cannot forget the poignant memories of the march when thousands of refugees set out from Budapest, Hungary, towards Austria, and finally reached the other side of the border aboard buses provided by the Hungarian government,” said Bishop Tamas Fabiny of the Lutheran Church in Hungary, vice-president of the Lutheran World Federation. Bishop Fabiny spoke with members of a delegation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) during their visit to Budapest.
Fabiny said: “It was similar to the procession led by Martin Luther King in the cities of the US in the 1960s, or to the opponents of the apartheid in South-Africa singing, ’We are marching in the light of God’.”
Fabiny told the delegates of a one-legged man supporting himself on crutches and trying to keep up with the others. Many were carrying children in their arms or on their backs. One of the parents was pushing a toddler in a shopping cart. Yet others were carrying the elderly or relatives on their shoulders.
Fabiny asked, “Can we realize what it must feel like to be scapegoated all the time? Can we fathom what it means to give birth to a baby during such a flight, and spend the night at a railway station five days later?”
Fabiny underlined his conviction that “something has changed in the last weeks. More and more people dare and manage to express their feelings of solidarity towards refugees. Voices of disapproval and reservation seem to be less frequent and the willingness to help is getting stronger”.
“I know that we could talk about Schengen boarders, quotas, registration, hot spots and similar subjects for a long time. These are indeed serious issues. Everyone has their own responsibilities. At the same time, wherever we stand, let us not forget the most important thing of all: exercising mercy!” Fabiny concluded.
The department of Diakonia (service ministry) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH) has a number of projects in place or under preparation with the aim of providing help and assistance to the refugees.
Annamaria Buda, Head of the Department for Diacony in the ELCH said: “We are established in different areas with, for example, Railway Diakonia assisting railway travellers, and we try to support them with basic needs such as food and water, escorting minors arriving without an accompanying person, cooperation with social care networks and spiritual counselling, and we provide reading material to pass their waiting time.”
Buda continued: “Other projects are collecting clothes donations for children, youth-to-youth information at schools, cookery projects which involving woman from both the refugee and the local communities, giving traditional information to the refugees in different languages, crisis intervention and we hope to open the House of Integration providing refugees with a year-long wholistic service for refugee families with children staying in Hungary. “
The Diaconal Service of the ELCH is also donating medicine to refugee children in need through the Hungarian Association of Family Paediatricians.
Accompanying, supporting refugees in Hungary
Several congregations and pastors participated in the volunteer activities at the main station in Budapest. “Together with Migration Aid, a volunteer civil initiative established to help refugees arriving in Hungary, the ELCH has published information booklets in English, French and, among other languages, in Farsi, Urdu and Arabic. The booklets are being distributed in the most affected railway stations in order to assist in the orientation of migrants”, said Buda.
Helping refugees is not a new activity for the Reformed Church as its Refugee Ministry has been working for almost 10 years, although the church decided to reduce the development works in June 2015.
Dora Kanizsai, director of the Refugee Ministry of the Reformed Church in Hungary, said: “We have to meet all people with human dignity. We have to create a safe place to rest and to re-settle their lives in a very different context from what they are used to. It is very important that they feel welcome and have someone to relate to. That’s our job: to support and accompany them in Hungary.”
The Hungarian Reformed Church Aid is also offering medical help and holding afternoon child care programmes at the Debrecen Reception Centre of the office of Immigration and Nationality. It provides on a weekly basis general medical service, gynaecological care and basic medication for the residents of the camp. Twice a week volunteers brings creative toys, sports equipment and board games to the children living in the camp.
St Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest together with the Refugee Mission and the Kalunba Charity has decided to provide overnight shelter on a temporary basis to families. The Rev. Aaron Stevens, minister of St Columba’s, described his church’s efforts to help: “The situation is changing, the way out was suddenly closed. Because of chill and rain, our first guests arrived drenched. An urgent call for dry clothes was posted on social media, and within an hour, the items were at the church.”
The Hungarian Interchurch Aid, one of Hungary’s largest and internationally recognized charity organizations is also present with its decades-long professional experience.
Representatives of major international ecumenical organizations visited Hungary 25-29 September to strengthen efforts in support of refugees in Europe and the Middle East. The head of the delegation was WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.
By Marianne Ejdersten, communication director, World Council of Churches. The text is based on presentations and reports from the ELCH and the Reformed Church in Hungary.