December 7, 2022
I am on a trip to see my sister, who, like me, is a Ukrainian refugee. The journey is hundreds of kilometers, and I will have to take quite a few buses and trains.
After a few hours wandering through a small town, I sit on the stone steps of the local city hall, which are still warm from the sun, now setting gracefully. Like many other small squares in West European cities, at this time of the tourist season, the entire space is packed, but it is peaceful and quiet. Here they say tranquille. The opera house, decorated by enormous ads for an upcoming season, is on the left. Across the opening is a cozy local hotel, probably passed down through many generations, with bright bunches of red flowers hanging from every balcony.
People are bicycling, walking, standing, or sitting. Wearing dresses and elegant hats, leather flip-flops, shorts and backpacks. There are plenty of gastronomic delicacies around, where tables are filled with people eating meals and desserts, drinking fresh juices, fancy cocktails or wine, talking and quietly laughing, feeling relaxed and content.
I am here almost by coincidence, with a few hours in between bus rides on my way to visit my sister. I haven’t seen her for many months. Before the war broke out in Ukraine, we lived in the same city. Now we live in different countries.
It takes only a few minutes of inactivity and my mind is immediately flooded by a cascade of thoughts.
These people look successful. In some sense they’ve “made it.” What is the percentage of people in the world who can afford a meal in a nice restaurant in the center of a touristic town during high season?—Even if we’re not talking about the extreme poverty of some parts of the world.
But are those well-dressed smiling people really happy? Are they truly satisfied? Can you actually be successful, by today’s definition, and content at the same time?
What is happiness? What is success? Are they real? Maybe those are just some pretty labels. How should one know that he or she is on the road to success? Is it because of prestigious education, the number of friends and followers on social media, the size of their property or a highly rated business, the number of grandchildren, the number of published works? And who decides?
What if you had some of that and then lost everything and had to flee your country? Your job is lost. Your education is not recognized. Family and friends are spread all over Europe, and there is no certainty that you will ever be able to go back to the city where you were born and had a home and life.
Looking around and back into history, it becomes obvious that, unfortunately, so many have had to go through similar circumstances. Even thousands of years ago, the Old Testament insists on helping migrants and refugees.
I don’t like wasting time. I’ve met many people in my new country of residence and have made new friends. I’ve done all possible legal paperwork, and due to EU insurance visited some doctors and went through some routine checkups. I’m researching, visiting cultural events, and looking for a suitable job. I’m learning a new language, and I got a positive result on my first language test. In a couple of weeks, I will start the next course of language and culture.
I’m now back on the bus and will soon embrace my sister. We will cry for what we’ve lost, then pray for faith, strength, and wisdom. We will joke about our embarrassing language-learning experiences, discuss obstacles, and share know-how gained about our new and uneasy situation. And then we will dream about a successful future and make wonderful, if sometimes unrealistic, plans for the near future.
Despite all the odds, with hope and God’s care we are making it.
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Shattered hopes and dreams are not final destinations. God says He has plans for you, plans for good and not for evil. “For I know the thoughts I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV). God doesn’t desert us in our times of disappointment. Instead, He’s there. He’s thinking good thoughts of us. He has plans for our future. He wants us to carry on with life and not give up, to have hope for what’s ahead, even if things seem so awful today. The key is to look to Him, to know that He loves and cares for us, that He will carry us into the future. We aren’t meant to stop living, to give up hope, but rather to carry on in faith and trust. He will heal. Things will change. Life will continue on, and there is hope ahead.—Peter Amsterdam
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