Traveling in Vienna

My children’s grandfather planned a trip of a lifetime this summer, but I didn’t want to go. We were to sightsee in Vienna and then venture to Slovenia, his birthplace, to meet family.

Admittedly, the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels made me nervous. Meanwhile, millions of refugees had poured out of Syria, many hoping to resettle in Europe. Fear from the attacks roused dissent among European leaders about receiving refugees.  Governors reacted to Obama’s pledge to resettle 10,000 refugees much the same way.  Months before the trip, Austria and Slovenia closed their borders to refugees. It didn’t seem we would encounter any.

Then one night in Vienna, as the traveling family clan of eight rushed through the city center looking for a restaurant, my heart sunk. We were approaching a crumpled form lying face down on the sidewalk. At closer glance, the form bore clues of being a woman, for she wore a head cover, long dress, and an overcoat. An empty Starbucks coffee cup was set before her. No one seemed to notice.

Staying with our group amidst the crowds was my priority. Retrieving Euros securely stored in my travel purse would take too long. My lack of response to my sister in need, refugee or not, seemed to mirror the kind of response some leadership has promoted over the last year, responses full of fear and self-preservation and empty of compassion.

Last weekend, I ran a 165-mile relay race with colleagues to raise money for refugee resettlement services through Lutheran Social Services. Throughout the 17 miles of my leg in the relay, I ran for refugees, most especially for my sister in Vienna. I wish she knew I had seen her. With every mile, I prayed repeatedly that the empty cup might now be overflowing.

- Wendy Kalan

Wendy Kalan is an ordained pastor of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Wendy has served the congregation of Peace Lutheran Church in Sterling, Colorado for the past four years.