The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
After surviving her own journey, Zinash Witsel supports other people arriving to Europe. “I try and help them as best as I can, because I know how it feels to be a refugee.”
“As a refugee you don’t always feel as a human being”. Zinash’s long journey to Europe lead her to lose confidence, hope and her own identity.
Now many things have changed. She found stability, a new home, married Jan and “God gave us a beautiful daughter las December”, she explains. They live in Antwerp, Belgium.
“In my life I didn’t get a chance to study, what makes it more difficult to find a job I really like. For the moment I’m at home with my baby but in future I hope to do some courses and get a nice part-time job.”
Her desire now is to connect with other refugees, help them to find a safe place and give them hope. “In our church in Antwerp we meet many refugees from different places and also in my personal network I know people making their way into Europe.”
“I try and help them as best as I can, because I know how it feels like myself to be a refugee. Sometimes we visit people or invite them in our house just to encourage them and pray with them. Other times we help them get the right information or contacts or give them a little material support.”
Question. How did your difficult journey as a refugee affect you?
Answer. My personal experience is that as a refugee you don’t always feel like a human being. My journey was so terrible and heavy. My freedom was taken away, but also my confidence.
From the moment I left my country everything was new and strange for me. Both physically and mentally it was very heavy. The way was not easy and I walked for days through the dessert. My story is very long and complicated but after a long time I arrived in Europe and I was so happy to be in a safe and peaceful environment.
Q. What role did your faith play in all the situations you went through?
A. Jesus is the one who gave me hope and happiness. Even when life was very difficult and my heart was crying, Jesus was always with me. Every day I was listening to worship music in my language. It made me feel peaceful.
Now when I look back I had a lot of good times being with God in that period. I am happy my life is stable now. I think that whatever happens, God will always take care of me.
Q. Are there specific struggles that women refugees like you face?
A. I think women are more vulnerable than men. We are more sensitive and lose our confidence.
We have to be careful for physical and sexual abuse. Actually as a lady you can’t trust anyone. You have to be strong and fight for yourself.
Another practical thing is health care. Women have their period each month and need the right materials and privacy to take care of themselves. Unfortunately that is not always available.
I’m a mother now and I also think about a lot of pregnant ladies who are on the way. They need extra care but the reality is they often don’t get it.
Q. What are the main dangers women face in their journey?
A. Abuse. Human smugglers are trying to make their benefits and not all of them care about the way they do it.
Some help you crossing border, others force you into jobs you don’t want to do and enslave you. Not only on the road to Europe. This is also taking place inside of Europe!
Q. Are there some things Europeans should know about women who come to Europe as refugees?
A. They experience lots of dangers and stress. Therefore, they might react strange to the many questions you ask, but they didn’t come here to share how bad their journey was. They came here to start a new life!
It is important not to stamp them as ‘refugee’, but really see them as women. Before they left their country they had their home, their family, their work, their qualities. Cooking delicious meals and making themselves look beautiful, go shopping and having fun with friends.
Q. What can churches do better?
A. For Christians reaching out to refugee women it is important to show your love but at the same time respect their privacy.
Very often we went through things that you only have seen in the movies. Don’t ask too many detailed questions about the problems from the past but rather focus on the future. What are their dreams? And how can your church help them realise those dreams?
Sometimes creating a place where women can just relax means a lot. Have a room for some tea or coffee. Do a baking party or play some games. It helps to feel part of a bigger community and helps to grow their confidence in their new place.
The most important thing: give them hope. Maybe we can’t always find a solution for their situation, but tell them about Jesus! With Jesus in our lives we have a perspective that goes beyond this life!
The “Refugees in Europe” series of articles is the fruit of a cooperation between Evangelical Focus, the Refugee Highway Partnership in Europe and the EEA Hope for Europe – Refugees group.