Having fled their countries to save their lives, refugees experience the best of people and the worst of people as they wander in search of a new place to call home. Many people are kind and caring, helping them buy food or giving them a coat. Some are indifferent and won’t make eye contact as they hurry past, ignoring them completely. Others are hateful, saying mean things or even causing them harm.
Surviving cold nights, aching feet, and hunger pains, these struggling humans move forward, carrying the hurt of their past lives but trying to focus on being grateful to be alive.
In Caen, France, an organization whose heart for refugees has led them to think outside of the box about how they can meet some of the practical needs. SOS Chai uses an old ambulance as a make-shift food truck to serve hot dinners to refugees who live in the area. The food is cooked beforehand and then a team drives to a location, where they set up tables and chairs to welcome everyone.
Refugees congregate around the truck, enjoying a meal and each other’s company. After dinner, many stick around to sip coffee and play card games. On warm summer evenings, when the sunlight lasts longer, games of cricket have been played in the street beside the truck.
Fed and surrounded by new friends, one might be able to, at least for a short moment, relax from the stress and pain of life and just enjoy a sliver of peace.
‘The refugee crisis in Europe is a complicated and terrible reality. SOS Chai offers the chance to move beyond the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to help, by simply making a space in which we can get to know people. It isn’t always easy, but I’m increasingly aware of how much God loves each of these refugee friends,‘ GEM worker Tom Appel says of the mission of the team.
While many have benefitted from the services, one man, Hamza*, having received from the SOS Chai team, embraced the vision and has become part of the team. As he waited to be able to secure a job, he said that serving with SOS Chai gave him purpose and allowed him to give back some of what he had been given.
As a business owner in Afghanistan, Hamza was used to working hard to run his clothing store and care for his family. When the Taliban came, they believed Hamza to be an American spy because his store had never discriminated against selling to American soldiers. Leaving his family behind in the care of his father-in-law, Hamza had to flee for his life and the safety of his family.
Since finding a job in France, Hamza is now working and saving to be able to bring his family to be reunited in safety. Even still, he spends his free time volunteering with SOS Chai.
Serving in every capacity, Hamza does everything from helping cook, to cleaning up, to handing out food. And because of his experience with his clothing store, the task that allows him to utilize his skills and experience is clothing distribution.
The organization accepts donations to buy clothing, coats, and shoes to hand out as needed, which is accomplished out of the back of the ambulance after dinner has been served. Hamza has an eye for sizes and has revolutionized the way this whole ministry is performed. He serves every task with an authentic smile and his inner joy can be easily seen as he fits someone with a coat that will keep them warm or shoes to replace their worn-out flip-flops.
Like many refugees, Hamza focuses on being happy to be alive, being grateful to those who have helped him, and being hopeful for the future.
As the hands and feet of Jesus, many of the SOS Chai team share with the refugees that the hope they seek can be found in Christ. They pray that through sharing and showing the beauty of the Gospel, many will find the hope and joy that comes in salvation through our Savior.
Interested in partnering or serving with GEM’s work in France? Click here to inquire.
*Name changed for privacy purposes.