Austria has been in the news a lot lately. There is no way I can write a new blog post without addressing the stories that have brought the word "Austria" to far more people's lips than could ever identify it on a map.
It is a hard thing for me to talk about the "Refugee Crisis" in a forum like a blog, partly because I think these conversations are best held in-person, but mostly because I feel extremely under-informed on the topic as a whole. Yes, I have read countless news stories, I have seen the refugees with my own eyes, I have scrolled through people's opinions on either side of the issue. But have I immersed myself into the story, studying the issues from every side, examining the policy and politicians, weighing their claims, and interviewing the refugees themselves? No, although I would like to.
There are three things in regards to this situation that I can confidently state however:
1.) Vienna has traditionally stood on the boundary of East and West, an epicenter of world-changing history. It is this pivotal and influential positioning that made Vienna so crucial in WWII, in the Cold War, and now as a major UN and NGO hub. My Grandparents, living in Vienna in the late 60's, witnessed the Prague Spring of 1968, where Czech refugees poured over the borders into Austria. My father remembers his school, the American International School of Vienna, being temporarily shut down and repurposed to house refugees. My point is, this isn't a new story. It is the repetition of an old story, stories that have shaped nations and shifted perspectives. I, for one, am grateful that I get to see it firsthand and be a part of history in the making.
2.) When you boil down all the arguments for or against the refugees, you end up with one of two things: fear or love. In the end, all of the decisions we make, the actions we take, the things we choose to believe, about anything, are born out of either fear or love.
Many are afraid of the impact such an influx of people will make on the economy, housing, infrastructure, culture, public safety, etc. These are understandable concerns, and not ones to be taken lightly. I don't know the answers to those concerns and I am certainly grateful I am not in charge of making those decisions. My prayers for wisdom are with those that are. But in the little I know, and the little I have seen firsthand, I am so proud to see my city overwhelmingly choose to love every refugee who comes our way instead of fearing them.
So many Viennese have volunteered their time that new volunteers have been turned away from the train stations and camps. So instead, those people go shopping, coming back with bags of clothes, toiletries, and other items the refugees need.
The day the borders opened I was on a train from Salzburg to Vienna. I disembarked the train onto a platform crowded with thousands of refugees - it took nearly 10 minutes just to inch off the platform. Standing on a low wall near the front were some young refugee men, holding signs saying, "Thank you Austria, with my whole heart, love Iran"..."love Syria". I was so proud to be able to shake that man's hand and welcome him, to let him know that we were glad he was here.
3.) I am continually struck by the fact that 70-odd years ago Europe had their own mass exodus of refugees fleeing war. I was so touched to see Germany be the first to open their borders, the first to welcome those whose lives had been torn apart. The shadow and shame of WWII still hangs heavy over many, but oh! What beautiful redemption, that they can now open their arms to those in need.
So, to conclude. If I have been given the gift of seeing history-in-the-making firsthand, how do I make sure I don't waste it? I have no idea. I am still trying to figure that out. But I do know that, no matter what, I am choosing to love.