I saw it in their empty eyes and hollow cheeks. The ethnic Albanians pouring over the Kosovo border into Albania for refuge have seen the worst.
I met two elderly women in their 70s who returned home to find all 50 members of their families gone. A 16-year-old university student I spoke to is separated from her father and doesnt know if shell ever see him again. Most heartbreaking of all is the children. Like the students at Columbine High School who saw classmates murdered, those coming into Albania by the thousands have been robbed of something very precious. Many saw their own peers lying flat on the grass, having been shot and run over by Slobodan Milosevics tanks. "These children have been brutalized," an aid worker in Tirana, the Albanian capital, told me. "Their childlike innocence is gone."
No one is unscathed. I stood in a soccer stadium where 3,000 refugees are receiving food and shelter from local churches. No one knew of a single family still intact. Survivors have lost their home, their jobs, and their identity, and they see no answer to the plight they now face.
The task of relief workers is huge. In the words of an aid worker, "Weve not only got to feed these children and care for them, weve got to give them back their values and their hope for the future."
At the soccer stadium I asked one of the Muslim refugee families, "How do you feel about these so-called Christians who forced you out of your homes?" A young man adjacent to us abruptly broke in and answered, "But they arent Christians. The people here caring for us are real Christians."
For this reason, the Albanian government may never look at the Albanian evangelical church in the same way again. The dynamic young churches are doing an incredible work among the refugees, providing food, clothing, and emotional support. The miracle is that there are so few of them. The amazing thing is they are achieving so much. But they are tired and overtaxed.
Our brothers and sisters in Albania have asked that we dont forget the refugees when they leave headline news. This is a long-term effort that will require development and care. If Christians are to share the unconditional love of Jesus, they must continue the work they have begun.
DR. CLIVE CALVER is president of World Relief, which is helping the churches of Albania and Macedonia meet the enormous physical and spiritual needs of thousands of refugees. To be involved, call World Relief at 1-800-535-5433.
For more on Kosovo and the relief situation see:
- The Moral Dilemmas of Doing Good. A July-August 1999 cover story by Pearl Sensenig.
- Christians resist Yugoslav war by aiding Serbs and Albanians. An April 1999 press statement from Sojourners listing several relief organizations.
- Christians in Solidarity with the People of Kosovo: A Kosovo Organizing Packet for the Churches. By the Editors of Sojourners magazine.