Refugee finds safety, strength in Nazarene church

Zagreb, Croatia

Rania* was just a teenager when her mom, a well-known TV journalist, died protecting Rania and her three sisters at their home in Palestinian territory near the Israel border.

In 2007, a militant group moved into their neighborhood and used the civilian properties as bases for firing missiles into Israel. The Israeli army discovered where the rockets were coming from and returned fire.

One night, members of the militant group barged into Rania’s house. They demanded that Rania’s mother come to the property where they were pinned down. They told her to bring some of her clothes so they could disguise themselves as women to escape the army’s onslaught. 

At first, she and her husband refused to help them since she would have to walk through the crossfire, but she agreed after the militants threatened their family.

“We knew right away she would not come back,” Rania said.

After her mother was killed, her father fled with the girls to north Africa, where they tried to start a new life. 

Rania grew up there, studied accounting at university, married, and became pregnant.

In 2017, Rania and her husband wanted to travel to Europe in search of a better life. Rania was seven months pregnant when they reached Turkey, where they paid a smuggler to take them to Greece in a rubber boat.

While they were still in Turkish waters, snipers opened fire on the boat. The smuggler screamed to the gunman that a pregnant woman was onboard, but they kept firing. The nearby international police couldn’t help either until the boat crossed into international waters. 

Rania and her husband were thrown into the sea during the attack. Rania didn’t know how to swim, and she struggled to keep her head above water.

Someone threw ropes to them and hauled them back into the boat, but Rania was bleeding and needed medical attention. They had to return to Turkey where Rania could be hospitalized. There, she had surgery and gave birth to their son.

After she was released from the hospital, they tried to escape Turkey again. This time, they made it to Greece. Shortly after they arrived, Rania and her newborn son fell ill, so the Red Cross immediately moved the family to Austria.

Her family lived there for a year, but as European countries shifted asylum-seekers from one place to another, Rania’s family was moved yet again. The government housed them in a large hotel repurposed for asylum seekers in Zagreb, Croatia.

While living in the refugee center, Rania met an Arabic-speaking refugee couple who were also leaders in the Nazarene church in Zagreb. Rania quickly became friends with the wife, and the woman invited Rania to church so she could meet more people. 

Rania followed her culture’s traditional faith but said she felt welcome at the church. She even attended the English classes offered at the church’s community center — The Hub.

Rania’s husband grew desperate to return to northern Europe, but Rania was so emotionally exhausted that she didn’t have the strength to start over again. She remained in Croatia to make a life there while her husband left in search of something new.

“She decided not to go with him, and boldly decided to stay and raise her son by herself in a foreign country,” said Betsy Scott, Nazarene missionary and pastor in Zagreb.

Her friends that shared her traditional faith pressured her to stay away from the church. Despite living in another European country, her husband also threatened her for spending time with Christians. Afraid, she stopped attending the church for an extended period, but eventually, she was drawn back to the Church of the Nazarene, and re-engaged with the community.

“When I was preaching on Easter, I looked at Rania, and she was listening so intently to the resurrection story,” Betsy said. “She keeps coming back to our church [which] has become a place of belonging — a community for broken people. They feel safe and cared for. We welcome Rania and [her son] as though they are one of our own.”

Rania is currently looking for an accounting job in Zagreb. Recently, she was able to move out of the refugee center and into an apartment with her son.

“Good things are coming and I have to be strong,” Rania said. “If I’m not strong, my son will be weak. I will look for good, and I will find good. I will not surrender easily.”

*Name changed for security reasons

--Church of the Nazarene Eurasia

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