When she’s spotted at church in Maryland, the kids yell, “Auntie Isabel, the missionary.”
In a hot refugee camp in Macedonia, she hears “my friend, my friend” as the Syrian and Afghan children try out the few words of English they’ve picked up.
Isabel Lee, who serves on SEND’s US Council, formed a bridge between these two groups of children when she led a team to Macedonia to minister to refugees.
Her church, Chinese Bible Church of Maryland, is offering an Awana program for the first time. For February’s Missions Month, the kids collected pledges and memorized Bible verses to raise funds for the refugees.
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.”
— Isaiah 45:22, a verse the Awana kids memorized
The kids raised about $1,500 — with donations ranging from $2 to $200 — for Isabel and her team of seven people from five churches in three states to use as they carried the gospel message to people in Camp Tabanovce.
About 800 people live in temporary housing or tents alongside the train tracks in the Macedonian village. There’s a sign nearby: 400 meters to Serbia. But for many, it’s an unpassable distance.
Isabel’s team partnered with SEND missionaries Andy and Nadine Spradley. They worked at the Mercy Café, serving tea and coffee to the refugees. Before long, they noticed that little kids would come to the café to ask for coffee.
“At first, we told them that they were too young to drink coffee, but then parents in the camp started asking us for milk,” Isabel said. “And we realized that the kids really just wanted the milk in the coffee. So we’d pour them a ‘coffee’ that was mostly milk.”
The week Isabel was there, the temperature sometimes hit 90 degrees; the week before, rain had turned the camp into a field of mud. Many of the refugees arrived during colder months and were uncomfortable wearing their winter shoes. So, the money raised by the Awana children also helped pay for hundreds of rubber sandals.
“They asked for something that would allow their feet to breathe,” Isabel said.
The team also offered yarn so that the women could knit and crochet.
“A man in the camp suggested that we bring the women together to do something, and then we found out that the Spradleys had a lot of yarn left over from a project at church,” Isabel said. “We only needed to buy crochet and knitting needles. I felt God answered our prayer.”
Most of the women made pocket washcloths for their children, to help them bathe in the camp’s cold water.
“I could really see all the moms thinking about their kids,” Isabel said. “Parents are parents.”
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:9, a verse the Awana kids memorized
Isabel met one young mom who, at seven months pregnant, got on a raft to travel to Europe. She and a teammate went into a tent and met the woman’s 5-day-old baby.
As the team built relationships, Isabel said, “Everyone welcomed our prayer, even in Jesus’ name.”
“People would said, ‘There’s no hope. All the borders are closed.’ We’d answer: ‘God is our hope. We cannot put our hope in people or borders.’ ”
And, now that Isabel is back home in Maryland, she’s staying connected, especially with one family with four boys who were living in pup tents. They recently sent her a video message.
“My friend, my friend,” one boy said. “I love you much.”
To contribute to SEND’s refugee relief efforts, click here.