Live from the Emergency Shelter: Things I Don’t Like About Refugees

Hi guys!

It’s been a while. A long long while, I would say, since I last updated this blog. I have been receiving a couple of emails every now and then from some of you vis-à-vis my not writing, so, thanks for caring and being thoughtful! I am really doing fine, though. Newsflash: It’s my first year in Germany and I am still trying to juggle things, hence the blogging-hiatus (and now I feel worse because it’s been almost a year since I arrived here, which means I have left this poor blog for almost a year as well…)

But that’s not what I am going to write about. At least not this time. As you guys might have known from the title, I am going to address the much-discussed issue in Germany (and worldwide as well) right now: refugees.

This issue has been drawing not only a lot of attention, but this, too, has been sparking up a lot of debates within and out of Germany. Some are for, some are against. I am not going to write a paper on that, but do let me share a thing or two that I have learnt from a day spent in the emergency shelter for refugees in Berlin.

Thursday, 1st of October, 2015, was quite a day. After a series of all-too-“coincidental”-things happening one after the other (one of them being a sermon by Steven Furtick about expressing our love for others with the title It Works Both Ways), I signed up as a volunteer for the childcare team for one of the emergency shelters in Berlin. I spent the weekend being excited about the day (namely the upcoming Monday), but undeniably, let some questions get to me as well. What is it gonna be like there? Will the children like me? Will they even listen? Wait, are they even going to understand what I say (since I speak neither Arabic, Farsi, nor Russian)? How are we even going to get along? What ifs, how ifs. It’s like I can picture God shaking His head and lovingly hushing me, “Woman, you ask too many questions”.

And so the day came. We started by checking in with the security officer, and we were then led to the office for volunteers’ registration. After I filled the form, the lady showed us the way to the children area. She asked me whether it was my first time there. I said yes. With a warm smile, she said, “It’s good to have you guys here”. I smiled back.

We walked up some flights of stairs, took a turn, walked a little bit more, and we finally reached the children’s area. There were only two or three kids in sight, so I talked to a girl, who looked like a regular there. She said the children were currently playing outdoors with the volunteers from the shift before mine, and that they will be coming upstairs soon. Seeing that I didn’t look like I was familiar to the place, she asked, “You new here?”. I nodded. “When there are too many kids here, it can get pretty chaotic sometimes. And they are now taking German classes, but as of now, they speak neither German nor English. So you’ll have to try speaking to them in Arabic or Farsi, should they not understand your body language or hand gestures. But you’ll manage it. They are lovely…at least most of the time”. She laughed. After packing her bag, she then waved goodbye.

I approached one little girl sitting by herself. She was shy at first, and then with some broken Farsi I learnt from my Iranian friends I made back in college, asked her what her name was. It didn’t take her long to loosen up, and soon, we were pretending to be calling each other up on the phone, although I didn’t understand a word out of the many she enthusiastically uttered. And then another girl ran and hugged me from the back, asking (re: demanding) for a piggy-back. And soon, more kids came in, and I understood what the other girl meant by “chaotic”. But it was sweet. One kid asking for piggy-back after the other. When they got bored of piggy-backs, they asked for a spin. Again, one after the other. With a sore back, a dizzy head, and a happy heart, I shook my head at the kid asking for a second round.

Then there was this little boy who stole my heart. His name is Jode. He looked so different from the rest of the kids. Not that I don’t like childlike children, but he just looked so composed and mature for his age. When the other kids were running around and playing with toys, he just sat there, with a brush in his hand, painting. I went to him and tried striking up a conversation with whatever language that both of us understand, and my goodness, is he sweet. If I didn’t misunderstand his Arabic (although I most likely would), he told me where he came from and how old he was, and that he and his mom managed to get here, but his dad and brother could not, so they stayed back. My heart broke a little inside.

He then smiled at me, and gave me the painting he was working on. He wrote his name on it, and mine. The tears welled up my eyes, and I tried real hard to hold them back. Not long after, it was time for the older kids to grab their meal. Jode included. He went, and sweetly gestured that he’ll come back.

Jode and the smitten me

Jode and the smitten me

We played some more with the younger kids, got some loving stamps on the hand and face, (almost) a new haircut, and all sorts of mischief a mini monster could come up with. Then it was time. We cleaned the place up, locked the door, and went home. I left the place with an awfully sore back, some painting marks, a sketch from Jode, and a grateful heart.

So, what has it got to do with the title, you think? I am not done yet. There are things that I indeed do not like about refugees (the children, at least, since they were the ones I interacted with), after coming home from the shelter.

I don’t like how they went through so much, yet didn’t look even a tiny bit like it.

I don’t like how they endured so much hardship, yet laughed so freely.

I don’t like how they so lovingly hugged and asked for hugs.

I don’t like how they so adorably laughed at the way I pronounced words in Farsi and Arabic.

I don’t like how sincerely Jode handed me his painting.

I don’t like how resilient they were.

I don’t like how lovely they were.

I don’t like how they successfully made me feel bad about complaining about my life.

I don’t like how they made me realize that I have so many things to be grateful to God for, so many blessings I can never count, and that I have nothing that comes close to what they have experienced that I can moan about.

I don’t like how they stole my heart and made me grow a little too fond of them than I planned.

You see, I think we are soooo frequently reminded about how blessed we are that it has grown up as a cliché on us. We hear it all the time – through sermons we hear on Sundays, the songs we sing, the devotionals we read, etc – that there are people out there, willing to do anything it takes to be in our place; the place we keep complaining to God about. The place we find to not be good enough. We pray for more. We want more.

But it’s true. For this one moment, think about the truth of it. There are these refugees, as an example, who had to go through so much to get where they are today, that offers probably not even the half of what you and I have taken for granted. Food rationing, space sharing, indefinite waiting. Not to mention the border crossings and lengthy journeys they went through before getting here. And the threats they faced back home before escaping.

And there you are (and I am), staring at a screen, reading this post, with something nice to wear, a full tummy, and a roof above us. What right do we have, really, to complain?

If you are not able to be of much help to them yet (although I sincerely pray that we do), at least help yourself. Stop complaining. Instead, count your blessings (if you can, that is).

With love in Christ,


Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:20


2 thoughts on “Live from the Emergency Shelter: Things I Don’t Like About Refugees

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