By Rhonda Egging
Sösdala, Sweden (August 28, 2015) — Gentle breezes ruffle through the lush flower displays of Swedish summer. Big puffy clouds enhance the ultramarine blue sky. Plump, red, juicy strawberries sold by a myriad of local farmers pop with flavor in our mouths. It’s the month of July and Sweden is on vacation, which means many Swedes throughout the country migrate to summer homes and camping grounds.
This past Sunday evening the hugs were big, tight, and lingering as we greeted each other and shared a small treat of fellowship. Toward the end of our time a boy walked in and began pulling at his clothing. He did not speak Swedish or English, but we are used to this now. We asked our friend Nhmat to speak with him in her native Arabic.
His face cracked into a wide grin, and the floodgates of language poured out into the quieted room.
“He is here with his family,” Nhmat translated.
“They are from Libya. They escaped with people smugglers who threw all their possessions into the sea. There are thirteen people in their family and they need clothes.” (For a related story on the tragedy impacting North Africa, see Missionaries Help.)
“Tell his family to come in and have ‘fika,’ ” Mattias said.
A large man carrying an injured child followed two women, covered from head to toe, not in traditional Muslim clothing but in what appeared to be whatever they could find to cover themselves. As the adults found a place at the table, older boys ushered in child after child, wide eyed, tight lipped, clean, and barefoot.
Large slices of cake, coffee laced with milk and sugar, and juice were quickly placed in front of each person.
Between bites Nhmat translated their story. “There is a terrible war in Libya. We could not stay. We paid to escape in small boats. We were rescued and left alone in Italy. We only had what we wore. We paid for a big truck to pick us up and take us to Sweden. The immigration authorities assigned us to live in this small town. People we met in the village said this house of worship is where we should come for clothes.”
We, the remnant, kept whispering to each other, “I have goose bumps.”
Some church members left and came back with bags of children’s clothing. Nhmat told our new friends to return the next Sunday and we would have more clothes for them.
A few days later Nhmat and I drove the mother and two sons to try to find inexpensive underwear. When I returned from shopping, a car pulled up and a stroller was unloaded.
“We heard the new immigrants have an injured child and we thought they could use our family’s old stroller,” Helena said.
Tears squished out of my eyes and onto my cheeks. Helena lives in the next village over. When I delivered the stroller to the new family, I also had four more boxes of clothes and shoes. The news traveled fast.
The United Nations reported in 2014 that more than 50 million people worldwide have been forced from their homes. This last year our flickering television screens have revealed many helpless families as they have finally found a place of rest and safety. We view the loaded boats, the children held tight by crying mothers, and the brave coast guard rescues across.
We never see what happens after the bold rescue. Now it is our privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to give a drink of water, a new pair of underwear, a Swedish culture lesson, and a prayer for peace. It may be what Jesus is speaking of in Luke 14:13: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Serve Globally’s current Friends of World Mission project assists missionaries in Sweden, Belgium, and France who are working with immigrants who have fled their homes throughout Africa and the Middle East. For more information on the project, click here.