The rooms of the Fünfhaus Methodist church in Vienna, Austria, which is home to the Austrian Fünfhaus congregation and the English-Speaking United Methodist Church of Vienna congregation, have been used since Saturday for housing refugees. Stefan Schröckenfuchs reports on the experiences to date in this emergency housing.

I t is Saturday, 1:49 a.m. and the telephone rings. The message is that a bus with fifty refugees will arrive in an hour. They need a place to sleep in our emergency facility.

Several volunteers [from both congregations] had begun to organize mattresses, blankets, towels, and simple food a few hours before then. After a brief telephone tree in the middle of the night, volunteers were ready.

The bus arrived shortly before 2:30. Forty-nine people, who had been waiting in the open in Nicklesdorf [n.b. Austrian town on the border to Hungary] a few hours before, entered our emergency overnight quarters, tired and exhausted. The beds were chosen quickly, then mainly tea, Internet, and showers were needed – and then sleep! When the bus arrived at 7:30 to fetch the refugees, they were all still sound asleep. We woke them up and a patient bus driver ferried them an hour later to the West Train Station (Westbahnhof).

Two days later – a repeat of the previous experiences – a call after midnight, arrival of the bus. This time there were several women and children among the passengers. And this time we already expected that no bus would come to fetch them in the morning. And so it happened. So we improvised. A simple breakfast was quickly organized and volunteers for daytime duty were soon found. They came from the congregation, from the neighbourhood and from circles of friends. Nevertheless, everyone was unclear about how everything will continue.

W ithin a short time, the Protestant Diacony Refugee Service agreed to explain the legal situation to the refugees, through two interpreters. The agreed half an hour rapidly became an hour and a half. An interpreter came from the nearly Islamic high school and the Turkish restaurant provided a noon meal. A doctor was arranged through Caritas. And throughout the day clothes, shoes, and SIM cards kept arriving, since the news spread rapidly throughout the neighbourhood that these things were needed. The police were present outside the door – friendly, understanding, and only there to prevent any escalation – which never occurred.

The atmosphere remained calm and bright throughout the whole time. Although nobody knew what would happen. Although some of the refugees had been separated from parts of their families and didn’t know where they were.

M any of the refugees tried to get hold of a train ticket to Germany, several of them returned to the church to spend another night after an unsuccessful attempt. In the meantime, the volunteers were busy cleaning, sorting, cooking and developing plans for the next days.

Everyone is engaged and happy in the work – the mood is good. Everyone is here voluntarily. And it is good to be able to do something during these times when no one knows what the next morning will bring. These times have brought one thing already: new relationships between people of totally different backgrounds – but all connected through the willingness to commit and to help. And that is encouraging.

 

Stefan Schröckenfuchs is the pastor of the Evangelisch-methodistischen Kirche in Wien-Fünhaus.  www.emk.at/wien15

Matthew Laferty is the pastor of the English-Speaking United Methodist Church of Vienna. www.esumc.at

The original article in German can be found at http://blog.diakonie.at/blog/hilfsbereitschaft-auf-breiter-ebene. Translation by Jerry Barton