We've got to give them back their hope

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 doesn’t know if she’ll 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 Milosevic’s 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, "We’ve not only got to feed these children and care for them, we’ve 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 aren’t Christians. The people here caring for us are real Christians."

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
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