A blessed marathon of embracing others, listening, encouraging and getting inspired. We broke bread with strangers who became dear friends. We shared stories and then sat in silence together, to let the truth sink in.
Our week of SALT was layered, with local initiatives and visits to new and old friends in other cities who serve Ukrainian refugees.
At the northern border with Ukraine, we crossed a wooden bridge halfway, accompanied by a very friendly border patrol agent. He was surprisingly kind, warm and empathetic. He shared with us his experience and perspective over these past five months. Today Ukrainians still cross the bridge daily, on foot or by bike, to go food shopping, to get essentials or to change money at a better euro rate in Romania. The actual war hasn’t reach this border, though sirens could still be heard close to it.
The pine covered mountains majestically bridge the physical separation between our countries.
That day we also visited a kindred spirit, Viorica, a woman who is strong and inspiring in her small frame, taking on the lines of bureaucracy or fighting corruption. An engineer in her day job, a philanthropist in her spare time running an NGO called Suntem Vocea Lor (We Are Their Voice). She is serving the homeless and refugees in her city, giving them dignity and hope. Once a plaintiff face comes into focus, you need to decide if you will avert your gaze or if you will stop to help. She spoke words we had shared the day before. And it moved us. When we decide to love the invisible of our society, all of a sudden they are seen by others too.
Then together we visited an ecotourism haven SunRai, an extensive land that, high on the hills, opens up to a view of the Ukrainian mountains across the river. Where horses roam free when they are not serving their equestrian purpose. Lucian shares with us that it’s not a job to help Ukrainians, It is a privilege. He hosts many families in his wooden houses, and serves them warm meals right there. He shines joy and kindness and generosity. We were taken aback when he asked us what we need, what he could do for us. We’ve been asked this question many times this week, by people we were actually going out to serve. How unexpectedly refreshing!
We had another day in Cluj, where Tihomir shared lessons from the Balkans. His lively and engaging story telling, paired with the visual aid of maps paints a vivid picture about the effects of nationalism and how easily we can become victims of faulty narratives. There are layers upon layers of injustice. Fearing that we’ll be taken as fools or taken advantage of, human nature is reactive. The sad part is that history repeats itself. As global citizens we can speak with more courage and less bias about facts. It’s not an optional privilege. It’s a responsibility.
In Sighișoara, Perspective Daneș moves mountains of ignorance in the poor communities, serving the underprivileged for years, bringing people and kids together and inspiring them to study, to grow and become contributing members of society. They have been doing this long enough to see the positive effects of their service. Kids who had abandoned school, returned to their studies and not only graduated successfully, but they realized how intellectually gifted they actually were. With their new center built, Perspective Daneș has also opened up their doors to refugee women and their children.
When the news came out about Romanians coming together to help the Ukrainians, a slew of negative comments surfaced: “what about our own poor people? Why do we help strangers and we don’t help our own?” Without exception, the people who served before it was popular, and still serve after, are those people who had eyes and arms wide open for the outcasts of our own society. And they didn’t forget our own while helping our neighbors. They became more creative and even more generous. But in God’s remarkable economy, the more we share the more becomes available.
In Sighișoara we spent two hours sharing our hearts and listening. As Mihaela, an old friend and community leader there said, there are two type of people. Hurt people and very hurt people. The difference is what we do with this hurt. Use it as a catalyst for good, or just wallow in it.
Friends, there is a lot of pain out there covered by a thin layer of normality and sun. It occurs to me that many of our neighbors and friends walk around with broken spirits. If someone breaks his leg and it is not set right in a timely manner, it hardens with splinters and will continue to hurt. It may get infected. It may cause death. We are not experts in trauma, but we need to air out the wounds. Lend an arm, lend our open ear.
I’d suggest instead of hearing stories from TV, because we have an innate hunger to know more and to understand, let’s make ourselves available in person so we can have the opportunity to also give something in return, empathizing. Listening is healing. Listening validates. If we have to listen, let’s not avert our eyes. Let the stories move us. And cry with those who cry.
My daughters have suffered their own share of trauma. It’s my duty and privilege to walk alongside them for the rest of their lives, and listen when they feel like sharing, and feel their pain. Help them process. Help them name their hurt.
I could say: I’m not a profesional therapist. I’ll go pay someone to help them. But that would be incomplete and unwise. That time may come. But for today, whatever genuine love and human connection we have to share, no therapy can compensate. So let’s be human. Let’s step up now, so we don’t have to climb unsurmountable mountains of resentment of pain in a few years.
Back in Cluj, Laura from YWAM (Youth With A Mission) finds herself in a season of manna, where needs, barely expressed, are met with resources from unexpected paces. She has seen people progress from a frightened state, to rest and gratitude, to eventual smiles and refocus to action. She serves warm lunches, provides groceries twice a week, English classes and social events. She is full of life, of joy, and focus. I have said at the beginning of our camp that hospitality heals. She is a prime example of a healer. Setting boundaries and expectations, encouraging reciprocity, helping them to find purpose by hearing their plea to find work, to find something meaningful to do. She is not alone on her quest. Estate developers have stepped up with trust and generosity, joined hands and empowered her to act. We spent the day alongside Laura and her team, serving lunch to refugees.
On one of the evenings we visited a Ukrainian grandmother who, though mostly immobile, still welcomed us with a feast. We communicated with her through smiles and tears, dreaming of the future. Ukrainians sharing their meal with us, practicing reciprocity, make room for grace; we are all learning to give and to receive, honoring the other.
Then, our seventh day of SALT was like a gentle breeze of hope on a hot day. Camilla addressed the uncomfortable yet natural feeling of hate, when one is hurt, but the necessity to move through and out of it. It feels powerful and energizing but it soon consumes from the inside out, the one dwelling in hate. Through observation, much like the artist, we name what we see, we name what we feel. Then we gain power over it, embracing freedom.
We also got look in retrospect at the power of hospitality even when traveling. The disposition to take notice, to make space and to listen openly, to acknowledge and validate… these are hospitable steps towards healing.
The evening ended with a garden tour of sculptures, the kind of art that lifts your eyes up, and another deep conversation with the artist Liviu Mocan about bridges, connection, the sacrifice the Lamb and what it means to love your enemy. Around the sculptures, Ukrainian mothers, grandmothers, daughters, some understanding English, others needing translation, we dared to ask tough question to reflect on. Liviu’s demeanor and words of love and encouragement were perfectly in sync with our message and attitude this week. It’s incredible to feel and act the same without prior alignment.
We are completely spent yet utterly enriched.
PS. As you read this, part of the team is in Ukraine. Tomorrow they will cross the border into Moldova. For picture updates along the way, please follow our instagram/fb account @saltinitiative