Tag Archives: refugees

First Day of School (Again)

“So, what grade are you in?” the well-meaning youth pastor asked me, intending to invite me to high-school group. Ah, the familiar curse of eternal youthfulness. I smiled and explained that I’m actually in my twenties, swallowing the urge to snidely reply, “Seventeenth.”

Today, I can truly say that I am indeed in seventeenth grade; or, as it is better known, the first year of my master’s degree. Today is my first day of school, and I feel just like I did when I started my first day of kindergarten.

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Part of the reason that I’m so excited to start school again is that it does not involve any math this time. Can I get a hallelujah? The other part is that I get to study something that I enjoy and that I see as significantly impactful to the world. I’m earning an MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies from the University of London International. The training will equip me to work with refugees, NGOs, and governments to be a part of the solution for people experiencing forced migration.

I don’t have a lot of experience working with refugees (a few days of volunteering at refugee events in Phoenix, a summer in East Africa, and many conversations with friends and family who have been displaced), but I’ve seen enough overseas and in my own hometown to show me the reality of the refugee situation and the great need for more workers in the refugee protection field.

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Photo Source: Rwandajournal

 

It’s a hard field in many ways, because you’re working with humans and not hard facts. This is one time when I do think math would be easier, because you either have the right answer or you don’t. Not so when you’re working with refugees. Often their wellbeing depends on what you do, there’s not one right answer when it comes to handling victims of conflict, and it’s often easier to see the right choice in retrospect. Just look at the knots that the Syrian refugee crises has put so many governments into. The U.S. is completely divided on how to handle the potential influx of immigrants. Europe is learning how to accept the change that a new population will bring. NGOs are working to protect people who have nowhere to go, and wicked people are doing everything they can to take advantage of their vulnerability. Somewhere in that mess, there are refugee experts working hard to make sure the displaced people are protected and resettled. It’s messy, it’s painful, and it’s amazing. I want to be in the middle of the chaos and the hurt and be a part of the solution.

I used to always ask God why I was born in a safe, privileged place. Why me, when so many people who are better than I am are born into places of suffering?  I eventually stopped asking Him why and started asking what. I don’t know if we’ll ever come up with an answer as to why God lets some people have more privileged lives than others. But I do think He gives us a very clear answer about what we can do with the opportunities we have. Sometime during my college days at Arizona Christian University, I heard a chapel speaker or a professor talk about pressing into places of pain. And it clicked with me. I can use my relatively painless existence to enter places of pain and suffering and “bring heaven down to places of Hell on earth,” as writer Palmer Chinchen puts it. That’s what I really want to do with my degree. I want to learn how to work at the highest level to alleviate that suffering as quickly as possible. I want to bring the messy warmth of humanity to the coldness of political policy. But most of all, I want to learn how I can enter into someone’s place of suffering and walk with them to the end.

To be honest, I don’t know what that looks like or feels like yet. I’m just sitting here at my kitchen table with my dog at my feet, first online assignment of my first class completed and an empty teacup next to me. I can’t image the realities of the things I’ll be studying over the next few weeks. I can’t picture what my life will look like in ten years when I finally get to get my hands dirty and do some real work with real issues and real people in East Africa. All I know is that for the next two years of my life, I’ll progress in my education, one step at a time, toward that unknown place. All I can do today is the task set in front of me.

It’s the first school day of many.

 

One Hour in France

One week after the attacks on Paris, the French flags in Marigot, French St. Martin fly at half-mast. Although the crowds of tourists seem to obliviously enjoy the sun, sand, and sea, the denizens of Saint Martin–on both sides of the island– feel a change in the atmosphere.

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Fort Louis in Marigot, French St. Martin flies the French flag at half-mast

 

Although French St. Martin’s port flies only France’s flag at half-mast, the Dutch side of the island is hoisting all flags at half-mast, a gesture of support and compassion for its French counterpart. “Je Suis France,” cries a sign in Simpson Bay. It is times like these that the unity of the nationally-divided island is most evident.

The significance of the bombing hits close to home for many– for us, exactly .70 miles from home. I’m sure you can image the underlying fear that many people on our island feel. Besides sharing our land with the French, many of us, Ben and I included, have loved ones who live in Paris.

Security on the island is tightening as events continue to unfold. On Monday, the Dutch-side newspaper announced the arrival of a small group of Arab men with false Greek passports. The men were detained as suspected potential terrorists. I’m pretty sure they’re not– real terrorists would certainly have more realistic passports and would know better than to use Greece as their cover country.

Tuesday, the police created a road block and checked every single car on the route to the capitol. I’m not sure why, but it certainly slowed down traffic and I was glad to be coming back rather than heading toward Philipsburg.

The attack in Paris not only brought our attention and compassion to Parisians, it also (finally) opened many Western eyes to similar tragedies around the world: West Bank, Somalia, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Chad, and Cameroon all experienced acts of terrorism in the month of November, 2015 before Paris was bombed. We did not hear about those on the news because terrorism in Africa and the Middle East no longer shocks us.

Perhaps our horror at the attack on Paris will give us renewed perspective on terrorism in any country.

Maybe it will get our attention so that we will stop re-posting and start doing something about it.

Dutch Sint Maarten is not the only place Syrian refugees showed up with false papers. I heard of incidents in both Honduras and Texas in the last 24 hours. Of all the people currently affected by terrorism, certainly Syrians are at the top of the list. It seems they have nowhere to go, so they are going wherever they can. Wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do for the suffering of Paris except put up a French flag on my Facebook account and bear with the haters and the cries of “white supremacy.” It’s not much, but it’s a way to join with St. Maarten in supporting St. Martin and France.

Fortunately, there are tangible ways that you and I can help the people escaping violence in Syria!

I found this article from a UK-based news source that gives practical ways that “regular people” can be a part of the solution.

One of my friends offered this updated Amazon link. You can spend that unused Amazon gift card and send needed items to be distributed to refugees.

Friends, the world can be a terrible place. The acts of wickedness shock us, petrify us, make us weep. But we don’t have to live in fear, without hope. We can be the hope. We can be part of the solution. We can pray for God to bring comfort, peace, and justice. Then we can stand up and be the answers to our own prayers. We can bring light into this dark world. We can extend the hand of compassion to those who are hurting. This is what God has called us to do, and we can all do it, wherever we are.

 

 

 

#HumanLivesMatter

The Cyberpeople are busy this week. My Facebook news feed is filled with causes, political arguments, moral statements, issue positions, photos of suffering people, cries for help, and hashtags for this cause or that. We live in an age where news and opinions are available at our fingertips in two seconds. The online world is saturated with activism and issues.

I’ve noticed that the real-life world around me is oddly silent on the problem of dead Syrian babies, dead unborn babies, dead officers, and dead African-Americans.

There are a few things that I find disturbing about this.

First, I find the Facebook world irrationally dichotomistic on many issues. For example, in the matter of the shootings of African-Americans and police officers. I see some people posting a lot of #blacklivesmatter, and other people posting a lot of #policelivesmatter. Don’t both police lives and black lives matter? Can’t I care about both police officers and black people? Do I have to pick? I think that the heart behind these posts are good. People want to show their care for a group of people that are hurting. But in my view, making a case for it seems to indicate that there is a legitimate position stating that black lives or police lives don’t matter, and clearly this is not the case! In reality, do these “sides” really exist? I would imagine that there are very few people who are happy when an either African-American or a police officer dies. I think the real line is drawn between the psychos who maliciously shoot people and the people who want to live in a safe, fair society. In my opinion, the problem of a false division (and possibly the violence itself?) among people groups is perpetuated by attention in the media– the professional kind and the social kind. Black lives matter. Police lives matter. White lives matter, Asian lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, librarian lives matter, accountant lives matter, teacher lives matter. Because human lives matter. So let’s live our daily lives like we believe that–let’s stop posting our hashtags and go be nice to some people today.

The second thing that disturbs me about the social media saturation of issues is that I see far more “awareness” being raised online than I see people who are actually, physically, non-virutually doing something about these issues. Friends, posting an article on Facebook doesn’t count as activism unless you are also actively involved in the cause. People are willing to post their outrage over injustice; we’re not often willing to actually take a day and do something that makes a physical impact. I know I’m guilty of this! I really hate posting my political opinions on Facebook, because it reminds me that I’m not actually doing anything active like calling senators or circulating petitions or volunteering. I don’t feel like I need to share my opinions with 921 people (minus whoever unfriends me after reading this post) who don’t care. I don’t say this to condemn those who are politically active online. Many of you have a platform to post political items; I don’t. There are enough people posting my same ideas about government. If I want to make a difference, I need to get out there and do something with my voice and with my hands.

The same goes for the ten thousand causes I see floating around cyberspace. I don’t care if your favorite cause is homeless puppies or defeating Isis. If all you do is Instagram a clever meme, you’re not doing anything to further your cause. Those kids in Uganda are still going to be hungry whether or not you post a picture of a kid with big brown eyes and a distended belly. If you want to make a difference, go make a donation to World Vision. Or go volunteer with the Peace Corps. Or sell your house,move to Uganda, learn Lugandan, and train young mothers how to cook nutritious food. Then, once you’ve done something real, then post that picture, along with a link to your organization so others to get involved, too.

Here’s the million dollar question: Do I care, or do I just want to look like I care?

Ask yourself that. Be honest.

Here’s my challenge, to me and to you. Log off your computer and close down your apps. Go do something this weekend that makes a real difference. Be a real activist. And then blog about your experience– not so you can look good, but so other people can be inspired and do the same thing.

Make someone’s life better.

Fight for justice.

Heal a hurting heart.

Because #HumanLivesMatter.

Cover image copyright Breana Johnson 2015