Today is the United Nations World Refugee Day. And, despite the tireless work of volunteers and professionals who care deeply for the displaced, disenfranchised, and forgotten, we continue to witness one of the most desperate humanitarian crises in history.
People of all colors and cultures are being persecuted for their faith. The slow emergency of famine is taking Africa piece by piece. Gangs and terrorists rule towns and villages where families used to live peacefully. Borders feel insecure and governments take the most drastic measures to secure what they consider sacrosanct.
Good golly, Miss Molly.
What is so important, though, in the middle of the chaos, is that we remember this: every refugee has a story. Every single one.
It’s hard to imagine, from the comfort of my home, what stories lie behind each escape. Stories that convince once-citizens that the only option is to run for their very lives. It isn’t a casual decision … “Where should we go on vacation this year?” or “Should we fly or drive?” It’s not drapes or blinds, plated or buffet, It’s not even just an important decision. Buy or rent, state or community college, this job or that one. No, it’s much bigger than that.
Sometimes they must run on a moment’s notice to escape certain death – or worse. Sometimes they plan for years, telling no one, saving bit by bit, talking in code, taking no chances until ready to chance it all.
“What was the last straw?” “or the first hint?” “Why didn’t you leave sooner?” “What did you leave behind?” “Who did you leave behind?” What I’ve learned is that it takes a long time before they can even speak about the experience. Sometimes years pass before anyone knows the answers. Some answers are just too painful to reveal. Ever.
But this I know is true:
Refugees aren’t always sure where they are running to
but you can be darn sure
they know it is better than what they are running from.
That hope of “better” is what keeps them going through the treacherous and unknown. It keeps them looking forward instead of back. It softens the reality, if just ever so slightly, of what they have given up, willingly but at great loss.
On this World Refugee Day can we please, for just a few hours, put aside what we want for us and our comfort and sense of security? Can we let go of returning our country to whatever we think it used to be and isn’t anymore? Can we admit that what was done in the past was wrong and let it go and just do the right thing now?
Can we, for just a bit, wear the thread-bare shoes of a mother who has carried her child for miles and days, hoping every minute that she will find respite and support, a clean and safe place to rest, a smile and genuine, Christ-like “Welcome”?
Can we, like Jesus and despite the law, heal on the Sabbath? (Mark 3: 1-6)
My head and heart see simple, clear answers to the burning questions about refugees and immigrants. Yes, I know they are complicated issues and require many heads and hearts working together to bring order to what is now a tangled mess of greed and callous, misunderstanding and political elbowing.
But those in crisis right this minute don’t have time to wait for congressional debate and action. Those making on-site decisions need the authority and self-motivation to move immoral rules and law aside when lives and souls are at stake. Those of us with voices and resources must speak now and give those with nothing a chance for more.
I was scolded on social media by a woman I don’t know who felt at liberty to set me straight. Something like “We cannot make the resources of our country fair game for anyone who wants a piece of the pie. Something for nothing.”
I was told in very clear terms, “It isn’t a free for all.”
No, my lovelies, no it isn’t a free for all. It can’t be. I’m well aware of the consequences of no law or order. Anarchy has never paid off.
But it can’t be – it just can’t be, “All for us. None for you.”
…From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
from The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus
mounted on the Statue of Liberty