Sunday, August 16, 2009

Every need has a name…Every name has a story.

This statement was the theme of Serve the City. We were constantly challenged to recognize that we are needy and recognizing that through “I am…I need” statements.

I am tired…I need rest.

I am a sinner…I need a Savior.

There were many people who I met and a few who really left a mark on my heart…

The first day we were traveling to different parks around the city giving hugs to anyone and everyone who would take them. Andrea, one of the teenagers on our team, had given a woman a hug, but came to me and said she really felt that she needed to go back to the lady. She asked for my lotion from my bag and went back to sit with her. Andrea learned quickly that the woman didn’t speak English, and was unsure of what language she spoke. She took the lotion and started to rub it into the woman’s hands. The woman started crying, and Andrea, being a compassionate person, started crying with her. They sat together for at least 30 minutes before our group had to travel else where.  I looked at the two of them wiping tears from their eyes, and told Andrea that it was time to leave. She tried to say goodbye to her new friend and collapsed in my arms sobbing. Through the sobs she said, “Erin, she is so lonely. I don’t want to leave her.” At that point I became teary eyed, and had an idea. I took a picture of Andrea and her new friend and we tried to communicate that we would be back. Andrea and I wandered the area looking for a kiosk to print the picture and bring it back. After 45 minutes of searching we were successful and went back to the park. She was so excited to see us coming back, and started crying again when we handed her the picture. We tried to communicate our names to her, when finally she pulled out her identification card. We learned that her name was Odeana and she was from Romania. We tried to invite her to the festival we were having on Saturday, but the invitation was in French and English, so it didn’t help her much. Every time we passed that park we would look for Odeana, but we never saw her again.

The second day of serving, the Stop the Traffik team (They worked in the Red Light district to bring awareness to Human Sex Trafficking) came across an abandoned office building that housed over 450 refugees who were there as squatters- men and women in protest because the government failed in giving them their papers. The Kamikaze Kindness team went there to bring them water and cleaning supplies. At first it was very intimidating to talk to the men as they surrounded us and were trying to take our pictures. I didn’t want my fear to put a barrier between the men and I, so I started talking to the ones who could speak English.  I learned their stories, how many of them have come to Brussels hoping for a better life and have been squatting for 8+ years waiting for their papers. Many of them didn’t work since they weren’t legal citizens, so they just waited for the day that they would receive their papers. Their integrity was admirable. Within the building there was a sense of brotherhood. They took care of each other and had writings all over the walls about how uniting together they would get their papers. Latiff was one of the men that I met. He came to Brussels from Morocco hoping to have a better life. He was so welcoming to me, offering me tea and something to eat. We talked for a long time and I invited him to the festival. He left a mark on my heart the way that he welcomed me into his home (or room) and served me, when I had gone to serve him. Later that week the first person that I saw at the festival was Latiff! It was so great to see my new friend again and hang out the rest of the day with him. I was running the 3v3 basketball tournament at the festival so I was able to get some of the guys to play basketball with him. When he finally had to leave I could tell that he didn’t want to. He told me that I was a good girl and he was so thankful for our friendship. He also said he had never had such a great day as he did that day.

I didn’t meet Nassir personally, but some of the kids on my team did. He was also in the refugee squat waiting for his papers. Nassir welcomed John, Andrea, and Chad by cooking them food and making them tea.  He shared his Islam faith with them while they were sharing their Christian faith with him. During the conversation Nassir shared that they had created a Mosque within the building and asked if they would like to see it. They went to the Mosque and Nassir showed them what an Islam prayer was, telling them that they could take pictures. When he was finished John asked if he had ever heard a Christian prayer before. Nassir hadn’t, so John asked if he could pray for him. Nassir responded that he would be honored to have them pray in his Mosque, so they go on their knees and prayed for Nassir!!!

On the last day we were cleaning up a nearby alleyway that was littered with trash. It looked like it was becoming a landfill it was so trashed. I was walking back to the EPEE center where a STC volunteer was asking if there was a car that he could use to drive a homeless man, who couldn't walk, to another part of the city so he could get his money. Unfortunately, all the cars that we had access to were in use, but Carlton (who was in charge of STC) quickly volunteered me to go with him and try to figure something out. By the time we got back to the homeless man some other Serve the City volunteers had met him and were trying to help him. We decided to call a cab. While we were waiting we learned that his name was James. Once the cab arrived we were walking James to get into the car, but when the cab driver learned who he would be transporting he drove away. We tried to think of what we could do, when I realized that Little Sisters of the Poor, which is a place for the elderly, was right down the street. We borrowed a wheelchair from them to push James across town. We finally got to the post and got him his money, and then pushed him to the store where he bough cigarettes and beer. We went to a nearby park and hung out with him for a while.

This trip really showed me to see people as people and not as the stereotypes and labels that the world has given them. People just want to be loved.  I pray now that I won’t allow myself to fall back into the hole of having a self-centered life– that instead I will constantly be looking for ways to love the unloved.  I want to learn people’s names and stories rather than seeing them as people with a need.


  1. The Odeana story makes me cry every time.

  2. I love how each story is unique, just like the people in them. Thanks for sharing Erin!