I’m currently sitting in my hotel room in Liberec, Czech Republic where we’ve been attending a conference for the past number of days. Prior to being here, we were in the north of France (Lille and Calais) for a few days. Tomorrow we’re heading to Paris and potentially back up to Lille/Calais depending on how things go in Paris. Here’s a few highlights of the trip so far:
– The Canadian government seems to think that the Roma (traveling Romanians of Indian descent i.e. Gypsy’s) are not a persecuted people in Europe. I would beg to differ. Since last August, the Roma have essentially been driven out of Lille by the local government. The city went to the trouble (time and money) of putting up large cement barriers along many of the places where the Roma had been living. Wouldn’t that time and money be better spent doing something productive and beneficial for the Roma? We did find one Roma camp that told us of nightly harassment from police. These are honest folk who have families and don’t deserve to be treated the way that they do.
– There is an organization in Lille that has provided some more permanent housing for a few Roma. Our good friend Elias and his family are living in one of the more permanent trailers which is actually quite nice and livable as it has running water.
– Spending time with the Roma is one of my favourite things to do in France. They are such a hospitable people, inviting you into their caravans and giving you what little food and tea they have. This reminds me of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians where he speaks of the Macedonians, who although they were extremely poor were quick to practice generosity. Playing soccer with the kids was another highlight. Simple simple simple.
– In Calais there are many refugees from the middle-east living in ‘the jungle’ and trying to get across to the UK. We met a young boy, only 15, named Abdullah who took us into the jungle (after we crossed a 6 lane highway!) and offered us water. We spent the next 2 hours or so listening to the stories of folks, mainly men, who had fled countries such as Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iran.
– This morning I walked into town here in Liberec and met a 35 year old man named Ali. I was just sitting on a bench when he approached me and asked if I knew where an internet cafe was. I said I didn’t and to my surprise he sat down anyway. We began to talk and I found out he was from Morocco but was living in Prague working at his fathers restaurant. As we spoke, knowing that Morocco was predominantly Muslim, I asked Ali if he prayed. His response was, “No. I drink beer and have sex.” To which I responded, “Cool. I drink beer, have sex and pray.” He then offered to buy me a beer (@ 11am on Sunday morning). Of course, I could not refuse this gift and so for the first time in my life I had 2 pints of beer before noon on a Sunday morning. I love Church. For the next hour and a half we shared about our lives and our families, our hopes and our dreams and at the end, as we parted ways, Ali was gracious enough to allow me to pray for him and his 6 year old daughter. It was only about a 20 second prayer, but I’m believing that through that God is working and maybe this is one step along the way for Ali. We exchanged contact info and I truly felt a connection with Ali. Pray for him and his daughter, Miriam, who he doesn’t see often as she lives with his ex-wife.
– The GEM conference has been great. It’s cool hearing the stories of folks who are living all across Europe doing what they believe God wants them to do.
That’s about it for now. I’ll have pictures when we return to Canada and hopefully some more updates along the way. Thanks so much for your prayers, keep it coming.