April 8, 2022, 7:00 PM

Day 8 -- 8200 Sandwiches

Today was a series of highs and lows. Probably every day here is like that but not as dramatic as today.

 We started our day by arriving in Przemysl earlier than usual to meet an American friend. Amazingly enough Cheryl’s husband Steve has a coworker from the New York State Ag & Markets Department who is here working at the border. Dave is working at the border to help take care of the many pets who are coming across with the displaced Ukrainians.(Alistair gave me that wording – – displaced Ukrainians. So much better than refugee. Refugee is really a legal status and it shouldn’t be the way we define someone, as I’ve mentioned before. But all of the people who come across the border are displaced people.) Pets that come across the border need food, and sometimes their owners need pet carriers because they have been keeping their pets in their coats or wrapped in a blanket.

I want to make note of the fact that I’m not telling the stories to make you feel sad or to dramatize something. I’m simply recording facts of what I’ve seen. I know that some of it is very emotional and feels very emotional, but I want to make sure that people who are not here are able to face the reality of what is happening here. And I have to tell you, the border was a pretty terrible place. It was a terrible place because it was cold and windy and people were walking through on their way to boarding buses that would take them into the center of the city, and from there I don’t know. I don’t know where all of these people end up. I know that some have relatives and are going to safe places but there are others who do not know where they’re going and that is so worrying to me.

World Central Kitchen is at the border feeding people and greeting people. They’re giving people a place to sit down and have a warm meal and while we were there this morning I saw Kitchen volunteers giving out the same sandwiches we had just made yesterday. Talk about an immediate connection with your volunteer work. I can say with some satisfaction that we made the highest number of sandwiches ever recorded for a volunteer day at the Kitchen. We made over 8200 sandwiches And by all the shouting and hollering that went on when that number was announced you would think that we had all won some kind of group lottery prize. But we were simply excited that we were able to feed 8200 people today. 

So we worked hard. I did post a timelapse video on Facebook today so you can get an idea of what it’s like to work on the line while we make sandwiches. Amazing to think that a 24 second video took place over several hours!

 And then Cheryl and I decided that we were going to have dinner out so we drove downtown. The Przemysl train station Is the other area where displaced people arrive or head out to go to other places. Cheryl knew that it wasn’t going to be a good thing for her to go into the train station but I decided that I wanted to see for myself. For me, the train station was much harder than the border because it was relatively small but it was packed with people. I had no right to take any photographs of that place or of those people. This is their new reality. I saw one young woman sobbing in the arms of one of the aid workers Who are providing help and resources to the people gathered there. I saw a little boy carrying a teddy bear half his size and wearing a backpack printed with cartoon characters from the movie Cars matter-of-factly hopping into a Red Cross humanitarian van that was taking him and his mother hopefully to a safe place. It’s that well beloved, well worn teddy bear that I can’t forget.

When people leave their homes, even if they’re leaving them temporarily, they have to make choices about what they bring. Cheryl‘s friend Ana brought some changes of underwear and one toy for her own daughter. When you look around your life and your home, what are the things that you would bring with you that you could carry easily from place to place? That’s part of the problem right there isn’t it? You have to be able to carry whatever it is that you’re taking. I suppose I have a little bit of a window into that because I’m traveling for a little over a week with two suitcases. And I have to tell you that the suitcases are awkward and heavy and difficult. It would be tempting to have only one suitcase in order to make it easier to move from place to place. But I’m going to return to my home and everything else that I’ve left behind is still going to be there. Displaced Ukrainian families may not have that luxury. They may never be able to return, where they may find that their home has been destroyed in their absence.

Today there was also a scare because one of the train stations in Ukraine was bombed and World Central kitchen has a café set up right next to the train station, the same way it is set up in Przemysl. Luckily no one from World Central kitchen was hurt but I don’t know what the civilian toll was after that attack.

We also have had some very joyful experiences yet again today. We had a wonderful dinner out with our friend Lisa and ate pierogies and roast duck. These are classic Polish dishes. We laughed over dinner and enjoyed the company of this new friend who lives in Italy. A whole group of volunteers from World Central kitchen walked in shortly after we sat down for our meal and it felt like we knew the entire country of Poland by the way we were greeting people and laughing and smiling.

What I realize is that we are not supposed to pretend that we are suffering in order to serve our brothers and sisters better. We are supposed to refuel, and refresh, and refocus in order to help our brothers and sisters better, and we have to do self-care, so this dinner out felt like an enormous privilege for us. Seeing so many people we knew also reminded us of the community that we are building here. Cheryl and I are very aware that our time here is ending all too soon and I know that we will miss this place so much. In fact in order to dedicate ourselves to our volunteer work even more, we are moving out of the Airbnb where we are staying in order to move closer to town. Once again we can thank Cheryl for this. She does all the work of arranging and booking things. I’m really just a ham and cheese line worker next to her.

Honestly, I am terrifically frustrated with this whole blog idea. It feels like I am barely touching the surface of what is happening here and part of that is because I have to write these so late at night when we get back from work. I feel as though I’m not doing justice to my brothers and sisters who are suffering. I worry that I am not giving them the dignity or respect that I should be. I pray that I am not exploding their situation in order to simply tell a compelling story.

But Cheryl and I came here to learn these stories in order to tell them to all of you. You need to know that it’s OK that you aren’t at the border or that you don’t plan to come to the border. Not everyone is called to do so. Trust those instincts. I do believe that everybody is called to do something when brothers or sisters are suffering. So I would gently ask that you pray about what it is that God would have you do. Is it to donate money? Is it too somehow connect with a displaced family in order to support them In some way? Is it to consistently pray for people that have so many more challenges than most of us can begin to imagine?

I end this night disturbed and troubled by what I’ve seen today. I don’t have a sense of closure but just more questions. I am stunned by the wave of people wheeling suitcases, carrying backpacks, pushing baby strollers, and yes, carrying teddy bears half the size of their little bodies as they leave the country they call home. We work so hard during the day so I know that I will sleep well tonight, but I also know that I will wake up with a heaviness and the awareness that the work that Cheryl and I are doing here is just a drop in the bucket, just a beginning. We have so much more to do, you and I, In order to stand up for those who have become homeless and voiceless. And that doesn’t just mean for those in Ukraine, it means for people everywhere including our own neighborhoods who are experiencing this.

From Palms 43:

5 “Why, my soul, are you downcast?
     Why so disturbed within me?”

The disturbance I feel is a holy disturbance and I’m going to have to spend some time processing it.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,