The people displaced by the war needed more than shelter, food and clothing. They also needed attention and exchange. The best help I think I gave them was my presence.
- Whoever gives a drink, even a simple glass of fresh water, to one of these little ones (...) will not lose his reward.
- Lord, when did we see you...? (...) you were thirsty, and we gave you a drink?
- Whenever you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.
I hope Jesus likes Sprite and Pepsi too, because I've served more of them than water to Ukrainian refugees!
Many people ask me why I went to Poland, 1500 kilometres from home, to a refugee centre on the outskirts of Warsaw, giving away two weeks of my holiday, surrounded by people whose language and culture I do not share. Good question.
I didn't leave because of my political opinion, my desire for recognition or a lost bet. I left out of loyalty to my Scout promise. In taking my road departure, I asked to be considered as still on duty and declared my willingness to travel the distance necessary to meet others. So when the opportunity to serve came up, I took it.
To be of service is to sign a blank cheque and surrender to Providence. I experienced this very concretely at the centre: The number of volunteers present and the work to be done varied from day to day. I could work a whole day without a moment's respite and I could also wait for long hours without doing anything. And it was when the work ran out that I understood what it meant to give your time. In addition, we did not choose our task (putting away clothes, serving drinks, preparing lunch bags...). And the one I was sometimes given could seem simple or useless. It was humbling to realise that I was not indispensable.
But to stop at filling cups or putting away clothes would be to forget the true meaning of the service I rendered. The people displaced by the war needed more than shelter, food and clothing. They also needed attention and exchange. The best help I think I gave them was my presence. Despite the language barrier (French, English, Polish, Ukrainian and Russian mixed together), I forged bonds of an intensity I would never have suspected. It was when I left, greeting all those with whom I had exchanged, that I understood the value of the service I had rendered, sometimes without realising it. Adversity, if it is detestable in itself, makes it possible to weave deep and beautiful relationships.
To conclude, I repeat an old saying, but one whose meaning I have finally understood. To give is to receive. The sacrifice of one's time and small pleasures is well worth the unforgettable moments I have experienced. And it is in troubled and uncertain times, when we no longer expect it, that Divine Providence manifests itself in all its splendour.
Jean-Baptiste Angélis, volunteer in Poland from 21 June to 3rd July 2022