When you get the safety briefing before the airplane, one of the things they tell you is to “Put on your own oxygen mask before you assist others”. When they say it, it’s common sense, right? I can’t imagine anyone of us have been in an airplane when we needed to use the oxygen masks, but if you have a child with you, do you actually think you would do it in that order? Honestly, would you?
Now that I have spent a week in Bielefeld, Germany, I am pretty sure the answer is a resounding “No!”.
The staff and kids from The Ark are living a real life emergency, and have been ever since February 24 when the war started in Ukraine. 9 days later, they were on a train and in Germany, and their life was permanently disrupted. If you ever take an evaluation of what causes the most amount of stress in your life, they have checked the box for every single thing,
Every. Single. Thing.
Don’t get me wrong – the German government has done an amazing job of helping 22 human beings in refugee status. They have a whole building to themselves, and have provided a stipend for food and clothing per refugee, and even provide a cook to make some of the meals. They have a “lease” on that building for three years if the war takes that long. I have no idea how they did that or why they did that, but am eternally grateful that a country without the Statue of Liberty off its coast was willing to offer shelter to the tired, poor and hungry.
But “Man does not live by bread alone”, either, right? And here is where the problems start.
When there is outward displays of anger, almost always the foundation is fear. And all 22 souls have a great deal of fear. A lot of the kids have brothers, uncles and grandfathers that have taken up arms, and wonder every single day if that family member is still alive. Their relationship with that person may not be much (they are in an orphanage, after all), but it is literally the only family relationship they have, and all the kids are old enough to understand the harsh realities of war. And that fear generates a lot of anger, and when you are a child, especially those hormonally charged teenagers, that fear generates an amazing amount of random anger, and that anger manifests itself to extreme degrees. Some kids deal with it better than others, but those that don’t deal with it well . . . you kind of have to see it to believe how bad it can get. A lot of the time, these same kids are really sweet, kind and caring. They just have very short fuses, because they have a lot of fear. (Full disclosure – there are also a lot of kids that just roll with the punches and are without issue all the time, and they are remarkable.)
Fortunately, there are loving, caring, patient, wise and empathetic caregivers that are with them.
And it is there that I realized we were barking up the wrong tree when I put all of our focus on the kids alone.
The caregivers emotional situation isn’t much different. Some have husbands that are at home fighting in the war. Some know that when it is time to go back, there is no home to go back to, because it has been bombed. Add to that a job description where you work 6 or 7 days a week, and even when you are “off duty”, someone is still tugging on your sleeve because they need a little attention, a little love, a little protection, or a little direction. Remember, you still live in the same place you work. So, since you are still living in the same building, you hear all the drama, hear all the slamming doors, and hear all the fear. Teenagers and pre-teens are really the same all around the world.
I admit that I just expected them to be able to deal with it. That is until I saw it with my own eyes, and felt it with my own heart. These guys are just wrung out. And yet . . . they just keep on pouring love into the kids. If you want a textbook definition of “going above and beyond”, it is what these caregivers do for the kids. Believe me when I say this – their tank has been flashing “empty” for a while, and it isn’t getting any better.
If we don’t take care of the caregivers, there is no one left to take care of the kids. Or in other words, “Put on your own oxygen mask before you assist others”. But their love is so deep, so committed, and so profound, that they just can’t. And for this reason, if there is an actual air emergency and the oxygen bags drop out of the overhead compartments, I don’t think you are going to follow directions, either.
Because of that, all of the funds that we raise during VBS will go towards doing something for the caregivers. Remember, there are only six of them, and they literally do nothing for themselves, and give everything they have to those around them. We are going to fix that. I am working with our amazing, amazing partners (Jane and Barbara), and we are going to find ways to take the money raised during camps, and breathe life back into the caregivers. Everyone feels loved and cared for in their own way, and we are going to authorize Jane and Barbara to find ways to take care of the unique, individual spiritual and emotional needs of the caregivers, including themselves.
I went there to be YOUR eyes and ears, and please believe me when I say this – the tank is flashing empty, and unless we do something to pour into the lives that pour into the kids, we are going to have significant problems on our hands.
As a congregation, and as a GO Team, you have been so faithful and so giving, that you need to understand the amazing things that you have already done. Thank you so much for what you have already done in the name of Jesus. Now we need to step up for the everyday heroes doing things we can’t. And it doesn’t have to be much. We brought home some flowers from the store, and you would have thought we bought them a car. Seriously, it isn’t going to take much. But we desperately need to do it.
Pretty sure that’s a wave Jesus would want us to make.