#WorldRefugeeDay 2018

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“you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land” 

“Home,” by Warsan Shire

In the past few years I have had the privilege of meeting and hearing stories from many refugees and displaced people in different parts of the world. From the Sindh region of Pakistan to Northern Iraq, these are people who live out a stubborn resilience and will to not only survive, but thrive.

Brave.Resilient.Fierce.Tenacious.Creative.Strong. These are just a few of the adjectives I would use to describe the people who I’ve met. The stories I have heard include tragedy, humor, and everything in between. It’s a tapestry of the human spirit and a representation of the image of God in each woman, man, and child.

In the midst of the world wide crises another refugee/migrant crisis has been created on the borders of the United States. Children are being separated from their parents due to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy put in place on 4/6/2018. The policy was created by John Kelly and Stephen Miller to serve as a deterrent for undocumented immigration. It was approved by Trump and adopted by Sessions. While previous administrations detained migrant families, they did not have a practice of forcibly separating parents and children unless the adults were deemed unfit and unsuitable to care for their children.

Make no mistake – when voices on the left and the right all agree, then truth has risen above politics. That truth is this: This ‘zero tolerance’ policy that has been implemented at the U.S./Mexico border is immoral and evil. It separates families in unthinkable ways and punishes those who are desperate.

Consider these words released today by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on World Refugee Day: “The United States will continue to be a world leader in providing humanitarian assistance and working to forge political solutions to the underlying conflicts that drive displacement.” 

And yet, recordings of children sobbing at detentions centers go viral while in the background an agent is heard joking with the words: “We have an orchestra here.”

This, my friends, is cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

Most of us have little influence when it comes to big policy decisions, but truth challenges all of us to seek justice and a better way, and what better day to do that than the day set aside for #WorldRefugeeDay?

Can we ask ourselves these questions today:

  • How can we combat the cognitive dissonance that we see in ourselves and many around us?
  • What can we do to overcome apathy or fear?
  • What do you specifically need to do to avoid compassion fatigue and information overload so that you can care about what matters? What prayers need to be a part of our daily life? How do we need to start the day in order to face, with wisdom and grace, our life and the news around us?
  • What specific things in your community could you do to welcome refugees?
    • ESL Classes
    • Boston Area volunteer opportunities to teach English
    • Invite refugees and immigrants into your home or church.
    • Employ refugees – whether it’s for short or long term, if you have the ability to employ someone, do it.
    • Volunteer your skills – Are you a nurse? Social worker? Coach? Artist? Teacher? Use what you do well – don’t try to do something you are not good at!
    • Take this free online course on refugee rights.
  • How can we change some of the common myths and narratives, that are not based on fact, that marginalize refugees?

Lastly, will you take a moment on this day and pray this prayer:

Prayer for refugees from Catholic Relief Services

God of our Wandering Ancestors,
Long have we known
That your heart is with the refugee:
That you were born into time
In a family of refugees
Fleeing violence in their homeland,
Who then gathered up their hungry child
And fled into alien country.

Their cry, your cry, resounds through the ages:
“Will you let me in?”

Give us hearts that break open
When our brothers and sisters turn to us
with that same cry.
Then surely all these things will follow:
Ears will no longer turn deaf to their voices.
Eyes will see a moment for grace instead of a threat.
Tongues will not be silenced but will instead advocate.
And hands will reach out—
working for peace in their homeland,
working for justice in the lands where they seek safe haven.

Lord, protect all refugees in their travels.
May they find a friend in me
And so make me worthy
Of the refuge I have found in you.

Amen.


Friends – I am also incredibly excited to invite you to participate in the GoFundMe to help a country that has faced more than its share of war and displacement. Would you consider helping?


Articles from right to left: 

#FamiliesBelongTogether

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Updated – June 15,2018 – A doctor observing says she has never seen anything like it – a toddler pounding her fists on the ground, inconsolable with longing for a mom from who she was separated. Breastfeeding infants, screaming in emotional and physical pain. God have mercy on the souls of those who sanctioned this; God have mercy on our souls for allowing this government sanctioned child abuse. My friend Laura reminds me of this verse:

“The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.”*

And then she says “Call the midwives!” Amen and Amen.

Exodus 1:17


In late February, a woman named Miriam G. from Honduras walked across the border from Mexico to Texas seeking politial asylum. She had all her papers and her 18-month old son with her.

She told immigration officers her story: She was fleeing danger in her home country. Every day more people disappeared and when her home was tear gassed, she packed up her 18-month-old and headed across the border.

Immigration officials took all her documents, including a birth certificate and birth record for her son as well as her own identity card. She spent that night in a detention facility on the border. The next day, two cars waited outside the facility: one for her, and one for her child. She was told to strap her child into the car seat and then the officer shut the door. Her last view was that of her child screaming as he was driven away to a federally sponsored foster home.


There is a new “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings that is affecting even those like Miriam who are seeking asylum. Due to increased violence in Central America, people are fleeing in record numbers. Many are showing up at U.S. borders with their documents, essentially begging for mercy. Instead, they are criminally charged and their children are taken from them and put into federally sponsored care. In the first 14 days since this policy, over 600 children have been forcibly separated from their parents. This is cruel. There is no other word for it.

Regardless of what your view of immigration policy is or is not,  the forcible removing of children from parents is unconscionable and must be stopped. We must do better.

Root Causes:

Take a moment to ask yourself why a parent would flee to a border that they know has become unfriendly. You have to be completely desperate and fearful to make this journey leaving home, family, friends, jobs and more behind. Those arriving are beyond desperate. They have run out of choices.  Any policy has to address root causes to be effective, but while researching and looking to change root causes, temporary solutions and asylum are essential. We must do better.

Refugee Resettlement:

The United States will only receive 22% of the number of refugees that were resettled in 2016. Refugee programs throughout the United States have seen a dramatic decrease to their numbers. Fully functioning programs with robust volunteer programs do not have enough to do. The United States, with its many resources, can do better. We can do better.

Myths on Refugees:

How many of us have heard over and over of the “refugee burden”? But in fact, the “burden” appears to be only a short-term burden.

From Denmark to Uganda to Cleveland, studies have found that welcoming refugees has a positive or at least a neutral effect on a host community’s economy and wages…beyond the upfront costs of processing and settling refugees, the perceived burden of refugees on a host economy may not be as significant as it seems. “There’s not any credible research that I know of that in the medium and long term that refugees are anything but a hugely profitable investment,” says Michael Clemens, a senior fellow who leads the Migration and Development Initiative at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank.

Clemens cites a study by Kalena Cortes, a Texas A&M professor who followed refugee and non-refugee immigrants who arrived in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Cortes found that it took the refugees a few years to get on their feet. But soon the refugees were out-earning non-refugee immigrants, and adding more value to the economy each year than the entire original cost of receiving and resettling them. [Source:The Big Myth about Refugees] 

The Punishment of Removal:

Make no mistake, the forcible removal of children is being used as a punishment to parents, and today I stand against this. I stand against this as a mom; I stand against this as a human being; and I stand against this as an Orthodox Christian. The words of scripture sometimes whisper softly and gently; other times they shout from the pages of those who wrote so long ago.

Today, those words are shouting. Today those words are crying out from the pages of scripture, crying out from a God who welcomed children; a God whose hand stretches wide for justice, whose heart beats with compassion for those who deserve compassion and for those who do not; a God who calls out nations and leaders and turns around what the world sees as great; a God who asks that we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him as our guide. Will we listen? 

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Luke 9:46-47 (also Mark 9:35-37)

Though Christians will disagree on immigration policy, let’s not disagree on this: forcibly separating children from their parents, except in cases of abuse or neglect, is inhumane and intolerable.Jen Pollock Michel

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God of the Displaced and Exiled

Oh God of the displaced and exiled,

Hear the prayers of those in limbo.

Wipe the tears of mothers who parent children without a home.

Feed those who are hungry; keep safe those who are in danger.

Give strength to the helpers and the healers; to those who work tirelessly for justice.

Give us the spirit of courage and not fear that we might welcome the stranger in our midst.

Root out lazy prejudice that would block us from receiving those in need.

Give us ears to hear the voices that cry out in desperation, making impossible choices for their families.

Consume the conscience of lawmakers and policy enforcers with the holy fire of compassion, that they may open their hearts and their borders to those desperate for shelter.

Remind us that your prophets spoke words many years ago that are still true today; remind us that you have always cared for the oppressed, have always urged your people to care for the displaced and exiled.

Oh God hear my prayer for the displaced and the exile.

“Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”*


All week my heart has been aching for those displaced. This morning my brother Dan sent me an article that the United States is on track to admit less refugees than it has since the beginning of the refugee program in 1980. There is simply no excuse. With the resources we have and the crisis being what it is, there is no excuse.

*Daniel 9:19

Immigrant Families – A New Report

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Photo Credit: http://www.fhcw.org/en/Home

In the last two years, the immigration debate has become louder and arguably less civil. Political platforms and decisions based on fear have dominated the conversation, but behind the conversation are approximately 23 million people. The number includes those lawfully present as well as those who are undocumented. It includes around 12 million children who are legal citizens born in the United States, but whose parents are non-citizens.

How does the current climate affect the health and daily lives of these millions of people?

Kaiser Family Foundation wanted to find out more, and so began work with a research company to interview families in 8 cities in 4 states. They also interviewed pediatricians who work closely with immigrant families in these cities.

Their findings are significant and troubling. Among those findings are these:

  • Fears of deportation and overall uncertainty have increased in the last year. These fears extend to those who are here lawfully.

“I feel unsettled. Even though we already have the green card, if we do not apply for citizenship, I don’t think we can be at ease.” –Korean Parent, Chicago, Illinois

“Uncomfortable and unstable; we feel that in any moment a new rule could be issued leading to expelling us and sending us back.” –Arabic-speaking Parent, Anaheim, California

“There’s no stability. [The President] could write a tweet on Twitter tomorrow and turn things upside down.” –Arabic-speaking Parent, Anaheim, California

  • Children are facing increased fear that their parents will be deported and/or that they will end up having to uproot their lives and go to their parent’s countries.

“My children would come home from school and say that at school they were saying that all parents would be deported…” –Portuguese-speaking Parent, Chicago, Illinois

“All the children, even if they were born here, are fearful. They fear that anytime they’ll come back from school and won’t find their parents there.” –Latino Parent, Chicago, Illinois

“In Brownsville we have about 1,700 homeless children in the schools. Many of those children are homeless because of a parent that was deported or placed in detention.” –Pediatrician, Texas

  • Pediatricians and participants said that bullying and discrimination at work and at school has increased in the past year.

“They get bullied…told things like, ‘now you and your family will have to leave.’….And so, even though those kids don’t actually have to worry about their immigration status, I think obviously a child, they don’t know the details of how the system works.” –Pediatrician, Pennsylvania

“I work in landscaping, and we’re working and they see you working…and they just start yelling stuff at you…” –Latino Parent, Fresno, California

  • Families are making changes in their daily lives and routines base on fear.

 

“I am also concerned because if anything happens to us on the street, if we get assaulted or something, we won’t even be able to call the police because they will see we are immigrants.”      –Latino Parent, Boston, Massachusetts

“…but now around six or seven in the evening you won’t find anyone in [the neighborhood]… due to the fear we all feel about what is going to happen.” –Latino Parent, Chicago, Illinois

  • Increased fear in kids is resulting in behavioral issues, mental health problems, and psychosomatic symptoms.

“The kids who come in with concerns that you can kind of trace back to anxiety are usually the upper elementary age students, like the 3rd, 4th graders, to middle school students… 7th and 8th grade, who have nonspecific complaints like abnormal pain or headaches or decreased appetites… And then, in kids that are in the junior high to high school age range, it’s a little more overt: sadness, decreased appetite, not wanting to engage in usual activities, decreased in-school performance, those sorts of things.” –Pediatrician, Arkansas

  • Across the board, pediatricians are concerned with the long-term consequences of this environment.

“I think that we are going to have a generation of kids, who, especially in our immigrant homes, who are going to have more adverse childhood experiences than they would have. So, I think that we’re just setting up this generation of kids to have higher incidence of chronic disease, higher incidence of poor mental health, higher incidence of addiction…” –Pediatrician, California

“I think a huge worry is that children who have problems that are minor and fixable now… that, if those children go untreated, those could end up being bigger problems in the future that are going to be harder to treat and are really going to impact the child’s quality of life.” –Pediatrician, Pennsylvania


The health and well-being of immigrant and refugee communities is something I care deeply about. Yes, it is my daily work as a public health nurse, but it is more than that. It is something that is deeply embedded into who I am as a person. I have only benefitted from the many in my life who are immigrants and refugees, and it is troubling to me that there is documented fear and anxiety that is affecting the daily lives of those I care about.

What might we do to change this? What might we do to help those whose anxiety is affecting their health and the health of their families? The answer is bigger than any one of us, but some of the things that can help are these:

  • Know the law* and be able to point people to the law. Some of the fear is based on rumor. It is important to squash rumors and to point people to laws.
  • Sensitive locations. Both ICE (Immigration and customs enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) consider hospitals and other health care facilities to be “sensitive locations.” Both agencies have issued memoranda that say that immigration enforcement actions are to be avoided at sensitive locations, including at hospitals and other health care facilities, unless urgent circumstances exist or the officers conducting the actions have prior approval from certain officials within the enforcement agencies.
  • Right to remain silent. While immigration enforcement at health care facilities is limited by the “sensitive locations” guidance, immigration agents may enter a public area of a health care facility without a warrant or the facility’s consent and may question any person present, but those people have the right to remain silent.
  • Reassure your patients. Educate and reassure patients that their health care information is protected by federal and state laws.

An appeal to those of us who are Christians:

Caution and compassion are not incompatible; instead it is reasonable to assume that they work well together.  The state is not the master of the church. If you are part of a faith community, none of this prohibits you and your faith community from reaching out to those who may be affected. They do not prohibit you from reaching out, in love, to refugees and immigrants in your midst. It is a lot easier to wear a sign and yell than it is to make a hot meal and take it to strangers, to check in with sick neighbors, to pray for those who are anxious and fearful. We must be willing to do more than react emotionally. We must be willing to put our loudly voiced news feeds into real action.

“The ability to love refugees well doesn’t require a certain party affiliation. It doesn’t require you to vote a certain way. But it does require us to show up, to step across “enemy” lines, and to choose love over fear.” from Preemptive Love


*See this document for more information.

Note: Communicating Across Boundaries has never been, and never will be, a political blog, but I see this not as a political issue, but as a human health care issue. The brief is much longer and more detailed than this blog post. This post is simply to raise awareness of the issues that result from an environment of fear and anxiety.

Lewiston, Maine – It’s a Good Story

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“The way they play together, the way they get along, that’s the future of our cultures together…” – Coach Mike McGgraw

The story of Lewiston, Maine is a good story. It’s a story of integration and resilience and how a group of refugees and immigrants can revitalize a dying community.

It all began in the late 1990s when Lewiston was a dying city. Historically a mill town, Lewiston had long seen an economic downturn and jobs had vanished like the leaves off a tree in late fall. In 2001 that changed.

An extended family of Somali refugees found Lewiston. They decided it was cheap to live and may be a good place to begin their lives anew, far from the refugee camps that had been their homes for many years. It was a secondary migration from where they had originally been settled. They told other Somalis about the city, stating it was a place with low crime, cheap housing, and decent education. Soon more refugees and immigrants began to arrive from Somalia, Congo, Kenya and more.

It wasn’t all easy. At one point soon after the arrival of the initial group, the mayor wrote a letter to community leaders asking that they discourage others from coming. There was a public outcry to the letter, with community members and supporters rallying around the community and pointing out the gift that they were and could continue to be to a city that badly needed a new face and spirit.

That was around 16 years ago. Today, Lewiston is a picture of what can happen in a community when refugees and immigrants are welcomed and invited to flourish.

By all accounts, most credit the influx of Somalis, Sudanese, Congolese and other immigrants to Lewiston’s successful comeback. Businesses have sprung up, adult education classes are booming, but nothing represents this community more than their champion soccer team.

The change to the team began when a group of teenagers from the community approached the coach and asked about the soccer team. They assured him that they could play, and that they would play and make the team good. In 2015 the soccer team won the state championship and were ranked as high as 17th in the entire nation.

The story of the soccer team has been filmed and is a poignant picture of a group of kids coming together, playing above the fray of national politics and national and local prejudice. It is a good story to remember during a year when good stories are difficult to find.

Changing demographics and communities makes for hard work. It is hard on the newcomers, and it is hard on the old timers. It requires far more than mere tolerance; instead it requires first identifying, and then challenging our own cultural assumptions. It asks that we look at our own values and beliefs, and commit to communicating across those boundaries. It has taken a lot of time, but Lewiston, Maine can teach us much about what this change looks like, and how to continue the hard work of communicating across boundaries in order to make our communities stronger.

When asked about the team, one of the coaches said that though his own background is far from the refugee camps of East Africa, it doesn’t matter. The players bring something to the field that transcends geography.


On Thursday night, I will have the privilege of speaking at a conference in Lewiston and I am honored. I’ll be writing more about this, but for right now take a look at this short film.

#Onlythegood – Volume One

 

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#Onlythegood – On Tuesday, I felt particularly low about our world, but at dusk I took a walk on the river with our two youngest children. The river, the view, the adult kids – all of it converged to make me sigh and say “This is Good.”

Readers, in light of the overabundance of tragic news from around the world, I am beginning a new project. Every Thursday I will be posting links to things that have happened in our world that are good; activities and people who bring humor, light, and justice to our world. I would love for you to participate.

Each week I hope to bring your attention to one picture and five different articles, essays, or events that speak to that which is good.

If you see something during the week that stood out to you, that made you smile and say “this is good!” then please send it on! I will feature it and attribute the content to you.

#Onlythegood 

New Citizens Hold Their Heads High, 102 Floors Above New York:

On Tuesday, high above the city on the 102nd floor of the One World Trade Center, 30 immigrants were sworn in as citizens of the United States. A judge who is the son of a refugee from Nazi Germany presided over the ceremony, the first ever to be held at this observatory.

“How fortunate we are to have you here, contributing your hopes, your aspirations, your skills, your heritages, your music, your culture, your literature, your food to the tapestry of this nation…The American story is your story.” Judge Katzmann, chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

PSG’s Neymar becomes Ambassador for Handicap International

Football (Soccer for Americans) star, Neymar, who made a huge move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, is using his fame to promote Handicap International’s work giving dignity and empowering those who live with disabilities. Neymar will be acting as ambassador for Handicap International.

Neymar, wearing a T-shirt with “repair lives” written on the front, appeared in Switzerland on Tuesday, standing on top of a 39-foot wooden sculpture entitled “Broken Chair,” which the organisation said was “erected 20 years ago by Handicap International in front of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva to call for a ban on antipersonnel landmines.”

“I would like to begin by thanking you all for what you do for the least visible in the world, so they become more visible. I have to say that I am very pleased to be here and to be the new ambassador.”

“I Love Pakistan’s People More than it’s Mountains”

It’s not surprise how much I love my adopted country, so I read this article about a British mountaineer with a smile. Vanessa O’Brien is a 52-year-old American-British mountaineer who recently scaled K-2, one of the highest mountains in the Himalayan range and a mountain that is more difficult to climb than Mount Everest. Only 400 people have made the climb, and Vanessa is the 20th woman to successfully reach the summit. She carried both Pakistani and America flags to the top. On Tuesday, she said that the warmth and love she received in Pakistan was matchless.

O’Brien told media in a news conference at a local hotel here that she had found Pakistani people loving and caring. “I love Pakistan, its people and will like to travel it again,”

Blogger’s note: If you would like to see some beautiful pictures of some of the mountains in Pakistan, take a look here.

Malala Yousafzai, Shot by the Taliban, Is Going to Oxford

I still remember writing the story in 2012 about Malala called 14-Year-Old Courage. As most of you know, Malala was only 14 when she was shot in the head and neck while leaving her school in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. And today the news comes that she is going to Oxford! It is an amazing accomplishment by an amazing young woman.

“Amid the rush of joy, disappointment or dashed expectations for the thousands of students across Britain receiving their A-level results, Ms. Yousafzai’s news carried special weight on social media. The author Emma Kennedy wrote simply, ‘Take that, Taliban.'” 

5 Tips To Reduce Stress Using Humor, Your Best Weapon

We laugh in our family. A Lot. Nothing is beyond humor, there is little that is so sacred or sad that we can’t see a lighter side. In fact, I believe that laughter is a holy gift and I often wonder what it would be like to sit with Jesus and enjoy laughter – not at someone else’s expense, but just to laugh at the whimsy of life.

“The signs of stress are all too familiar: the quickening heartbeat, tense muscles and explosive reaction to something small. Avoiding situations that test your patience may be impossible, but it is possible to reduce stress accompanying these unpleasant events. The secret, say the experts, lies in one crucial art: finding the humor….Humor and laughter are not the same, explains Dr. Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Berkeley. ‘Humor is something that triggers laughter. Laughter is a physical response.’ Although research has found that laughter can lessen the effects of depression and reduce stress levels, focusing on humor is the best starting point. Looking for the humor in a moment, says Sultanoff, changes how we think, feel and process difficult situations.”

Lastly, I want end with a beautiful poem that speaks to our great need for healing.

A Prayer for a Torn Nation

by Kaitlin Curtice

Somewhere between the “us” and “them”

you’re holding together the least of these.

Somewhere completely outside of all of this,

you are ushering in a kingdom not of this world,

one that rights all wrongs and rules in love.

***

Unite in full grace all that is divided.

Mend in full love all that is torn.

Resurrect us, we pray.


What is your #Onlythe good thing to share? I would love to hear it through the comments!

Who are the Immigrants in Your Life?

Immigrant meme


The meme above was shared widely on social media a couple of years ago. The other day as I was thinking about immigrants and immigration reform, I remembered it. While the meme is about things, I began to think about all the people in my life who are immigrants. As I made the list, I started to laugh. It’s unlikely I could function without them.

My doctor is from Jamaica, my surgeon is from Greece, my hairdresser is from Albania.

I occasionally get my nails done by a woman from Vietnam; I buy fruit from a man from Albania.

The advisory board members on a project that I am responsible for at work are from Syria, Iran, Algeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, and the Azores. A consultant who also works with the project is from Somalia.

My colleagues are from Portugal, the Azores, Brazil, Haiti, and Malawi – and that’s only a few of them.

Daily I say hello to hotel employees from Guatemala, Haiti, and Egypt. The restaurant next to my work that sells excellent falafel and shwarma is owned by Iraqis.

My friends at church are from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Lebanon.

Other regular friends in my life are from Pakistan, Israel, and Iran.

What’s more, my maternal grandfather who died many years ago is from Poland….

Everyone of these people contribute positively to their communities and to the workforce, a fact that validates what studies have shown – that immigration has a positive effect on both economic growth and productivity.

In 2004, a satirical film was released called A Day Without a Mexican. In the film, the state of California wakes up one day to a thick fog and no ability to communicate beyond its borders. They soon find out that one third of the state’s population is missing. What follows is a comedic look at how the California dream is only made possible by the Mexicans who serve in every capacity – from entertainment to politics to service industry. As California ceases to function effectively, those left have to face some hard questions.

While the film was produced over 13 years ago, its message is just as relevant today, perhaps more so.

Any nation has a right to have laws in place around immigration and resettlement, but border arrests and hardline approaches by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are not helping. We are desperate for comprehensive immigration reform and these impulsive and poorly thought out actions are keeping us from pushing for a bipartisan approach that is wise and doable.

Worldwide, we are in a time of unprecedented displacement and crisis from war, famine, and political instability. It is more important than ever that our policies and borders reflect this and that our responses lean toward mercy. It is critical that our conversations are reasoned and based on fact. 

“CIR (Comprehensive Immigration Reform) is caught between the politics of justice and the ethics of mercy.”

Dr. Ruth Melkonian Hoover

There is far more to think about and write about when it comes to immigration reform, and I am not the one to write comprehensively about it. But I do want to offer this challenge – think of the immigrants you know and how they contribute to your daily life. Then, write your own meme.

Because sometimes we need to open our eyes to what and who is around us. 


Refugee Quotes

 

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“Unless the world finds compassion for this new communality, learns to make sense of one another’s voices, its humanity will perish.”*

I have been a stranger in many places around the world. In those places, I slowly found a place and a home. It hasn’t always been easy, but there are many times and many ways that I have been welcomed as a stranger and given food and comfort.

It is a gift to be welcomed into places where you are different from those who surround you. It is a gift that you never forget; a gift that you want to pass on.

Wherever they go, the refugee arrives as a stranger with a story. These stories encompass all that it means to be human. They speak of fear and courage; of despair and hope. They help us to see beyond our comfortable lives, and give us a heart to help. If we are willing to listen.

Today I am asking you to listen to the voices of refugees and for refugees. As you read through these quotes, remember this: We cannot sit back, comfortable in our security, because someday it will be us.

_______________________

“No one puts their children in a boat, unless the water is safer than the land.” excerpt from “Home” by Warsan Shire

This is a century of dislocation not merely of body and home, but also of empathy, dignity, compassion.”-From Refugees Don’t Need Your Pity

“They have no idea what it is like to lose home at the risk of never finding home again, have your entire life split between two lands and become the bridge between two countries.”
— Rupi Kaur, Milk & Honey

To be called a refugee is the opposite of an insult; it is a badge of strength, courage, and victory.” Tennessee Office for Refugees

“If we lived in a just world, all nations would protect their citizens’ human rights. But that’s not our world. Refugees are just one result of injustice. Crucially, they didn’t cause their plight; rather, they are victims of profound injustice. Because their home nation cannot or will not protect even their basic human rights, they must migrate in search of protection. They are entitled to this protection, as all of us are, simply by virtue of being human.” Patti Tamara Lenard, “Who should pay for the refugees? Here are five possible answers.” Washington Post, February 8, 2016

…If the world measures a refugee according to the worst story, we will always excuse human suffering, saying it is not yet as bad as someone else’s.” Victoria Armour-Hileman

The way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.- Tony Behn “Living Like a Refugee: New York Must Do More to Help Its Homeless”, The Observer, September 9, 2015

So often the world sits idly by, watching ethnic conflicts flare up, as if these were mere entertainment rather than human beings whose lives are being destroyed. Shouldn’t the existence of even one single refugee be a cause for alarm throughout the world?” Urkhan Alakbarov

“While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.” Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

*From Refugees Don’t Need Your Pity

Remember! Purchase Passages Through Pakistan and royalties will go to refugees in the Middle East. 

 

Lenten Journey – “I was a Stranger”

stranger

What is our first reaction, our spontaneous response, when we meet the stranger? 

“Who let’s these people in here anyway?” asked the man. He was agitated, shaking his head in complete dismay. “I mean” he paused “The woman who served me coffee the other day was Moroccan!” His voice was raised in incredulity at the end of this declaration. The man was a casual friend of ours and he was speaking to my husband on a chance meeting at a convenience store nearby.

My husband took a second then responded calmly “Who let your people in here?”

Brilliant.

But our friend didn’t hesitate and was not to be silenced. “My people came on the Boat!” he said with authority and pride. He did not have to specify “which” boat. Depending where you live, this conversation is not uncommon. It is not nearly as rare as I would wish it to be.

The French philosopher Zvetan Tdorov puts this response well when he says that “our first spontaneous reaction in regards to the stranger is to imagine him as inferior, since he is different from us”.  If one could see the unfiltered version when any one of us confronts difference in the form of a stranger, they may see this response.

Daily in our world we encounter the stranger.

Some times the encounters are interesting, intriguing, fun, joyful. Other times encounters are troubling, assaulting us with faces, smells, clothes, and accents that exacerbate the differences we feel and make us uncomfortable. Sometimes those feelings of discomfort spill over into anger or judgment.

And now I speak to the Christian who is reading — the one who believes that the gospel message is for all people. Hear this: the way we confront difference, the way we treat the stranger, reflects what we believe. If we consider the stranger to be inferior because he or she is different then we’d best ask ourselves ‘why’, best examine our motivation and our heart.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”*

The stranger – that one who is foreign, not one of us, the unknown.  From Genesis to Hebrews to James we have clear instruction and wisdom on how to treat the stranger. The words of Jesus call us to feed the hungry, bring drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, come to the prisoner. The writer of Hebrews asks us to show ‘hospitality to strangers for by it some have entertained angels’. Hospitality holds a high premium in Middle Eastern culture, both now and in Old Testament times. The verse below is not ambiguous in its command:

‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’

We are told to “love” the stranger. Not just tolerate, not pass by, not ignore – but to love.

International students, immigrants, refugees – they all fall under the category of the ‘stranger’. The journeys that brought them to the United States are as varied as the tapestry of experiences that make up their lives.

Take international students as an example. Figures vary, but the United States has over 800,000 international students that arrive every fall for the academic year. Statistics on international students show that 80% of them never set foot in and American home. Never. Former world leaders who were international students at one time include Benazir Bhutto, Fidel Castro, and King Abdullah of Jordan. The state department maintains a list of current world leaders who at one time participated in American academic programs. The list includes almost 300 former or current leaders.

I have to ask myself – were they ever invited into the home of an American? Was hospitality extended to them during their tenure as students? Or did they come to this country and leave, without so much as a cup of coffee in the home of someone from the United States?

Who is the stranger in our midst? Who is the stranger in your midst? 

And how do we respond to that stranger?

Can we ask ourselves this question and be honest in our responses? What is our first spontaneous reaction in regard to a stranger? What is our response to difference?

Do we consider some worthy of our hospitality and others unworthy? Some superior because they are attractive, or white, or clean, or smart, or beautiful? Do we love only those with whom we agree, because we believe the same things on faith and God? Do we believe those who look like us are somehow more worthy of God’s love and of ours?  Do we love because of obligation or duty which is really no love at all? Do we believe we are more lovable because of who we are and how we live?

Or do we love because first we were loved?

Two weeks ago, I began my Lenten journey. Daily I am reminded of the journey to the cross, made possible by the love of God. If there was ever one to meet the stranger it was Jesus, the God-Man. Leaving all that was rightfully his, he came into our midst and encountered a world that didn’t know what to do with a Messiah. He engaged the stranger and found out their story, he entered into their story, and by entering their story – their lives were never the same. He lived, died, and rose again for the estranged and the stranger. Loving the stranger is not a philosophical idea, it is a spiritual command. 

Reflection Question: During this Lenten season, how will I better love and care for the stranger? 

Purchase Passages to Pakistan and give to refugees! A portion of every purchase goes toward refugee work in the Middle East.

*Matthew 25:35

Caution and Compassion: A False Choice

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On Saturday night, my husband and I sat in the small kitchen of an apartment in a nearby city. This apartment is now ‘home’ to seven refugees – all young men. The apartment is heated solely by electricity, an expensive option in our cold northeast winters. All of the appliances are also electric. The electricity was turned off four days before, so we sat, shivering, around a table. Today, the electricicity is still off and we are doing whatever we can to get it turned on. “Whatever we can” has turned out to be far more complicated than it should be.

This is a short story in a much bigger tale of displacement and resettlement. It is an easy story compared to much of what we have heard and seen, but it is still a difficult one.

Refugees have become pawns and scapegoats in a political game, instead of human beings, desperate for safety and refuge. This should not be a partisan issue, this should be a human issue.

Communicating Across Boundaries is not, and never will be, a political blog. It is a blog about communicating across our comfortable borders and boundaries and being willing to see the other side, to hear another’s point of view.

But I think when it comes to the recent refugee order, we are being played by master players. There is room for common ground on most issues, only it is hard to find that common ground when our emotions run high and we see the issue as black and white. Caution and compassion are not incompatible; instead it is reasonable to assume that they work well together.

“This is the awfulness of what has happened this weekend: Trump has exposed his authoritarian streak, and the left has exposed its inability to oppose such authoritarianism in a real, connecting, positive way. We have the theatre of Trump’s strongman act, and the hysteria of a radical take on the politics of fear. Between theatre and hysteria, there has got to be something else: reason, perhaps, and principle, and a true, fear-free moral case for liberty.” – Brendan O’Neill in Spiked*

In the interest of finding common ground on an issue I care deeply about, I have posed a few areas where I hope we can agree.

  1. We can agree that there is a crisis. The number of refugees has become a humanitarian crisis. This is why the United States increased their capacity last year – because UNHCR and other humanitarian aid organizations begged for countries to help. “An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.”
  2. We can agree that governments are tasked with protecting their citizens. Every country has the right to make laws and rules. Every country has a right to vetting policies that take into consideration safety and security.
  3. We can agree that immigration policies have been in crisis for a long time. The immigration policies in the United States have been failing the country for many years. This is not new and it is a travesty that this has not been resolved by law makers. President Obama was known by immigration groups as the “Deporter in Chief.” “Between 2009 and 2015 his administration has removed more than 2.5 million people through immigration orders, which doesn’t include the number of people who “self-deported” or were turned away and/or returned to their home country at the border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).” [Source: ABC News] Real people suffer under poor policies. As an independent voter, I am disturbed that lawmakers spent time and money on bathroom bills, all the while ignoring immigration reform which laid the ground work for what we are experiencing today.
  4. We can agree that good policy must be a compromise. Good policy rarely comes out of reactionary hyperbole. Good policy comes when people sit down and look at facts: risk versus value. Good policy comes when both sides of an issue are heard and both sides are willing to compromise.
  5. Finally, we can agree that the state is not the master of the church. If you are part of a faith community the recent orders do not prohibit you and your faith community from reaching out to those who may be affected. They do not prohibit you from reaching out, in love, to refugees in your midst. It is a lot easier to wear a sign and yell “Let them in!” than it is to make a hot meal and take it to strangers. We must be willing to do more than react emotionally. We must be willing to put our loudly voiced newsfeeds into real action.

I have so much more to say – but I fear that I will join the echo chamber if I keep on talking. Thank you for listening. 

I end with this quote: “The ability to love refugees well doesn’t require a certain party affiliation. It doesn’t require you to vote a certain way. But it does require us to show up, to step across “enemy” lines, and to choose love over fear.”

I have included this quote from an excellent article from Preemptive Love: President Trump’s Refugee Order: 5 Things to Know

Vetting and compassion are not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes we get locked into strident, polarizing positions, as if our only choice is between opening our border completely in the name of love, or locking everyone out in the name of security.  

Let us be clear: this is a false choice.

You can care about refugees and care about securing our borders. This is not a “liberal vs. conservative” issue. It’s not a “Republican vs. Democrat” issue. It’s not all black-and-white. There are shades of gray.

There are entirely legitimate reasons to insist on a careful, thorough screening process for those coming into the United States. Insisting on adequate security does not make you a “cold-hearted conservative.” Nor does insisting on compassion for refugees make someone a “bleeding-heart liberal.”  

More importantly, we need to see beyond the dualistic, mutually exclusive categories of “us vs. them.” Our security versus their well-being.

What if, in reality, our well-being is tied up in theirs? What if our security is connected to theirs?

If that is the case, then we must find ways to pursue our mutual well being. And sometimes, that requires taking risks. See the entire article here

[*Source: Brendan O’Neill]

An Appeal to Choose Fact over Fear 

“Including those murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the chance of an American perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by a foreigner over the 41-year period studied here is 1 in 3.6 million per year. The hazard posed by foreigners who entered on different visa categories varies considerably. For instance, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year. Any government response to terrorism must take account of the wide range of hazards posed by foreign-born terrorists who entered under various visa categories.” From Cato Institute Terrorism and Immigration, A Risk Analysis.

It is three o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s all the excitement of turning the good age of Heinz 57 sauce, maybe it’s the excitement of a birthday where I heard from people around the world – I’m not sure, but it seemed as good a time as any to write.

If you ask people about the refugee crisis, they will generally think of Syria. Images of Aleppo have haunted our media and us. We see before and after pictures and cringe at the destruction and death that shadow once thriving markets and neighborhoods.

The horror in Syria is real and it is right that we pay attention, but not at the expense of forgetting the refugee situation in the Horn of Africa. In its third decade, the Somali refugee situation is the most prolonged in the world. Donor and compassion fatigue add to the hopelessness that many of these refugees feel. Babies are born in exile while grandparents die in exile. And it is unconscionable to forget Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries with massive internal and external displacement, something that the West must take partial responsibility for due to our involvement since 2001 and 2003.

It is this humanitarian crisis, considered the worst in recent history, that will be affected by the order temporarily banning refugees into the United States.

For 6 years I have been writing about refugees in the United States and around the world. This group of people has had my heart for years; not just because it has suddenly become popular.

This past 24 hours we have watched a wealthy, western country bow to an idol of safety that headlines fear instead of fact.

I am not a scholar, but there are scholars and researchers that study this issue with carefully collected statistics and low margins of error. Here is what an institute that studies immigration points out:*

  • For 30 of the 41 years studied (1975-2015) no Americans were killed on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks caused by foreigners or immigrants.
  • For every 7.38 million nonterrorist person who entered the country in studied visa categories, one foreign-born terrorist entered. Important note: This does not mean that the terrorist was successful in killing people. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, they were unsuccessful.
  • Of the 3,252,493 refugees admitted from 1975 to the end of 2015, only three of refugee status killed anyone. That was in the 1970s and they were Cuban. The Tsarnaev brothers of the Boston Marathon bombing came to the U.S. on tourist visas and later applied for asylum.
  • The vast majority of foreigners who committed terrorist attacks did so on tourist visas. 99.7 percent of the murders committed by terrorists on tourist visas occurred on 9/11 by 18 men.
  • A sensible terrorism screening policy must do more good than harm to justify its existence, meaning that the cost of the damage the policy prevents should at least equal the cost it imposes.

The article is a clear, non-emotional appeal to reason. The conclusion is that the United States should continue to devote resources to screening immigrants  and refugees, but that a moratorium would impose “far greater risks than benefits”. 

I will now appeal on an emotional level. 

To those of you who are concerned, can I challenge you to learn more about refugees? I encourage you to listen to some personal stories and ask refugees questions about their journeys. Get to know the people inside the statistics.

Here are some questions I would pose:

  1. What is your personal experience with refugees and immigrants? This includes your own family history. How does this experience affect your view of refugees and immigrants?
  2. What is your greatest fear about refugees? When did you begin feeling this way?
  3. If you are part of a faith tradition, what does your faith teach about strangers? Aliens? Those who are not the same as you are? 

As humans, many factors go into our deeply held beliefs. It is easy to turn our backs on issues, unwilling to be challenged.  It is also dehumanizing to see people just as an “issue”. We must see people as people, as image-bearers, not issues.

It is far more difficult to turn our backs when we see real people, when we know people by name. To turn away those in such desperate need is to deny our own humanity.

So I beg you, study current policies. Read the report I’ve cited. Fight the fear. Stand for justice. Seek the welfare of the cities where you live, and that means working for the displaced and the homeless; for the refugee and the poor.

Choose to walk away from fear. Choose to love as you are loved; choose to offer your heart and your resources to those in need.

It’s no longer the time to sit back and wonder what you think. It’s time to think and act.

It’s time to stand for all that is true and good and holy and just. 

Articles: 

Here are ways to help:

  • Find out more about the resettlement process from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. You can also find ways to help here:
  • Give to Heart for Lebanon – This is an amazing organization that works with refugees around Lebanon focusing on food distribution and education. The organization is based on developing relationships with refugees. I can’t speak highly enough about this organization.
  • Make health/hygiene kits. I reached out to this group and they responded with this: Thank you so much for your email – and your support for our mission. We will gladly accept shipments at our Tigard Oregon Distribution Center – 14150 SW Milton Court, Tigard OR 97224. Again, thank you for your interest in our project – We are so touched by the kindness and compassion from people around the U.S.”

*Cato Institute – Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis 

The Travelers


“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.
I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer

The picture of the sculpture is so remarkable I think that it cannot be real. It must be a photograph, digitally altered by a master.

But it is real. The sculpture is just one of several in a display called “Les Voyageurs” by a man named Bruno Catalano. They are sculptures that show men and women travelers. Each has some sort of bag or suitcase with them and it is clear they are on a journey. More significantly, each of them has a prominent piece missing from the center of their bodies. As though they are leaving a part of themselves behind or as though they are leaving to search for the part of their bodies that is incomplete.

They are works of art, sculptures that resonate with the modern-day soul. These sculptures tell the story of the nomad, the pilgrim, the traveler, the refugee, the immigrant.

As I searched to find out a bit more about the artist I discovered Catalano is a third culture kid, a global nomad. He was born in Casablanca but moved to France at 12 years old, settling in Marseille. He went on to become a sailor, and it was both of these things that inspired his sculptures.

“I have traveled a lot and I left Morocco when I was 12 years old. I felt that a part of me was gone and will never come back.

From years of being a sailor, I was always leaving different countries and places each time and it’s a process that we all go through. I feel like this occurs several times during life and of course everyone has missing pieces in his or her life that he won’t find again. So the meaning can be different for everyone, but to me the sculptures represent a world citizen.”*

Our world is full of people who journey with important pieces of their lives missing. The pieces are places, people, and communities.

Many people have a catalogue of pieces missing, and so when they grieve, they are never quite sure exactly what they are grieving for.

Are they grieving for the pieces of their life that disappeared a year ago, or does their grief come from places and people they left long ago in their childhood. These pieces can accumulate and, like the sculptures, leave visible and invisible gaps in our hearts and souls. Cute sayings that abound on social media leave out the hard parts of travel and of moving. These memes rarely mention the gaps that are a part of the journey.

Even those who never travel or move are travelers in a life journey that includes a million small losses and several large ones. The deaths of those we love is part of the human journey and we will all face it sooner or later. We are all like these sculptures:Travelers with pieces missing, somehow glued together.

Often we see these missing pieces as flaws or as wounds that cannot be healed. But as I look at the sculptures, I see them as extraordinary pieces of art. They are beautifully crafted, broken yet whole.

At a deep spiritual level I believe that what Catalano does with these sculptures, God longs to do with us as living, breathing beings. He wants to take us, human travelers with our missing parts, and put them together so that though we have missing pieces, we are still strong, still intact. He wants to take the broken, lost pieces of our souls, and put them together, welded stronger than steel. He wants to make of us not sculptures, but living, breathing beings that are broken but whole. 

Note-this post was adapted from a post originally written in May of 2014.

The Simple Pin

Since November 8th, the day that shall live on in infamy, people have started wearing little safety pins. I was unaware of this until my friend Jill explained their significance and gave me one to wear.

To wear a safety pin is to make a statement. Where this began is a little uncertain. There are stories from World War II of Dutch resistance members wearing the safety pin in loyalty to Queen Wilhelmina. More recently, after the Brexit vote in the UK, there was reportedly a woman, who used the twitter handle @cheeahs, who wanted to demonstrate publicly that she stood in solidarity with the immigrant community. Immigrants were treated with suspicion in the UK. The Brexit vote seemed to open up a door for hatred, threat, and violence. Hatred had a voice. What about a voice for safety? So this woman wanted members of the immigrant community to know she was a safe person. She wanted to stand with them. Here in the US people are wearing the safety pin to similarly align themselves with people of color, women, members of the LGBT community, and immigrants.

On Thursday, following the election, our youngest daughter came home and reported a story about her Muslim friend. His mom was nervous to go out of the house wearing her hijab. The world now felt like an unsafe place for her. I know of another young woman, this one white, who is a victim of sexual abuse. Fear and a renewed sense of her vulnerability left her paralyzed for several days after the election. I wish with all my heart that these two women would know that I and so many many others are safe spaces in this new atmosphere.

While the safety pin has been a meaningful symbol to many it’s also been met with eye rolls and it’s share of sighs and “Oh brother!”s. The Internet is full of sarcastic posts and tweets and articles that disclaim it. Perhaps it’s another meaningless attempt by white people to band aid up a fatal wound.

I’m not naïve enough to think that wearing a safety pin is all that we have to do. But surely we have to do something even to communicate hope to those suddenly a feared? Maybe the safety pin is a good place to start.

Perhaps the pin serves as more of a statement to myself. I will do something. I will respond. Maybe it emboldens me to reach across community divide, to smile at a stranger who looks differently than I do, to make conversation with someone I don’t know at the grocery store, on the bus, at the library. Maybe it reminds me that there is always something I can do—something small, something a little bigger, something bold.

My friend Jill is a perfect example. Jill is a gregarious extrovert. She loves people without restraint. This election cycle has been hard for her too. She sees the ostracized further marginalized and it’s hurt her. She hears the racial slurs, the negative stereotyping and she sees what it’s doing to her country, her community, her family.

A week ago, Jill donned a silver safety pin. She wore it to the airport, through security, to the departure gate. In the departure lounge she looked around to see who might need someone to connect with. She approached a black man across the way and commented casually about his t-shirt. He was wearing the team mascot from the same high school where her freshman son attends. They struck up a conversation about teenage sons and sports.

Fully aware of the pin on her lapel, she crossed the lounge again and sat next to an elderly black woman. Jill struck up a conversation. Before long the two women discovered they had Albuquerque in common, and interesting family systems and a love of cookies. After they boarded the plane and were en route to Dallas, Jill escaped her seatbelt and sought out her new friend. She handed her a card with her phone number and address on it. She told Ms. Johnson she would be bringing her cookies. “No you won’t!” Ms. Johnson responded in disbelief. “Oh yes I will,” Jill laughed!

When the plane reached Dallas and Jill was deboarding, the flight attendant made eye contact with Jill’s safety pin and then with Jill. Tears filled her eyes and she reached out and hugged Jill.

Jill sent me this text message: I think the safety pin has meant more to me as a reminder to be bold and seek out others. I was not afraid to look for those who might need a smile. Honestly I have not worn my cross necklaces lately-even before election. It just has too many negatives. But the safety pin felt right-be an ally, just be there, show that you care and are not judging. 

White people wear your safety pins! Don’t pretend to think that this enough…but understand fully that this is a beginning. You’re making a statement even to yourself. We have work to do…. We are going to need all the courage we can get and if a pin can poke our consciences and wakes us up to do something it’s worth it!

I just got another text message from Jill. “I just took my new friend, Ms. Johnson, cookies! It was very special.” Wow! Maybe the safety pin can also serve the same function as strings tied around our fingers, reminders to actually act on our best intentions.

 

You can read more about the pin:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-poignant-reason-people-are-wearing-safety-pins-after-brexit_us_5773da43e4b0352fed3e8368

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/11/11/safety-pins-brexit-donald-trump-election/93639074/

https://www.bustle.com/articles/195044-wearing-a-safety-pin-isnt-enough-here-are-8-concrete-ways-to-be-an-ally

 

The Loneliness of Immigration

old-books empathy quote

My husband and I repatriated to this country many years ago. We came from the city of Cairo, Egypt and arrived at Dulles Airport with five children, 26 suitcases, and an Egyptian Siamese cat. It was the sum total of everything we owned.

The first two years were excruciating. We didn’t know anything about living as a family in the United States. From school to church, everything was new, everything was different.  We didn’t know how or where to shop, get licenses, set up utilities, or find doctors.

Loneliness would creep up on me at unexpected times and places, it’s vice-like grip clutching my heart so that it felt difficult to breathe. I would find my solace in a couple of close friendships and in finding my safe spots – the odd coffee shop where I could retreat with a book and hot drink while the kids were in school; a space in our living room where the sun would shine in the afternoon, bathing the room with light.

The move was many years ago, yet every time I sit with an immigrant or refugee, I still remember the time as though it was yesterday. I still remember the loneliness and isolation I felt; the disconnect of coming from a relational society and moving to one that was based on the individual.

There is a body of research that points to the disenchanted immigrant as susceptible to becoming radicalized. More and more governments are paying attention to this and strategizing on what to do and how to change this trajectory.

The marathon bombing is a an excellent example. Tsarnaev was a part of the community in Cambridge — where we have made our home for the past 8 years. Tsarnaev was at the same high school as my daughter and they had many friends in common. He was a student in a school that deeply cares about tolerance and diversity. Yet, once Tsarnaev was no longer a part of that community, he was lost. Everything I have read or heard points to a fundamental loneliness and isolation that can be a part of the immigrant experience — the loneliness of being ‘other’, parents in Russia, hasn’t spoken to his uncle for years, and living anonymously in a big city. This does not excuse or justify his behavior. His actions killed and wounded people and those wounds have left scars to last a lifetime. Many people feel lonely and estranged and they don’t build bombs and kill people.

I don’t want to tackle the radicalization piece of this – it is too complicated and multi faceted. But the loneliness and isolation is important to address. How can those of us who understand what it is to be ‘other’, to be new to a place, extend friendship to those who are missing so much?

As I think about that question, I can’t help but think about my husband. Through the years he has befriended hundreds of people who are immigrants or visitors in this country. He approaches them with genuine interest and understanding. He is not afraid to enter the story of a stranger. Our lives are so much richer because of the people that he has met.

The seats around our table at Thanksgiving are filled with immigrants, most of them present because of a conversation with my husband. Years ago, he memorized the capital cities of every country in the world and he knows several phrases in more than a dozen languages. All of this has brought our family rich friendships. From pictures to silver bowls to pungent spices, the items in our home are a witness to these friendships.

Loving the one who is ‘other’ is in the fabric of his being and all of us benefit.

We are living in a time of fear and mistrust of immigrants and refugees. This is not new or unique to the United States, nor is it new to other countries. But it is still troubling. As long as we remain isolated in comfortable cul-de-sacs and enclaves, this fear and mistrust will continue and get worse. The only way to escape this problem is to take a deep breath and extend a hand of friendship. If you don’t believe me, just ask my husband.

 

And Lady Liberty Weeps….

 

statue-of-liberty-v3

“Give me your tired, your poor,” she says.

Ah, but first we must verify income and employability; we must make sure these people fit with “our way of life.” We must make sure these creatures are not leeches who steal jobs from those who really belong.

“Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,”

Make sure the huddled masses have clear lungs and negative TB tests, their HIV status is negative, and that no communicable diseases will be passed on to our current healthy, chronic-disease-free citizens.

“The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

But first, these wretches must fill out forms in triplicate or learn to swim. UNHCR, Homeland security and the Office of Refugee Resettlement must approve said forms. I heard that one lucky wretch has an interview before 2022.

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,”

Wait. What’s that you say? They’re Muslim? Muslims need not apply. And are they really that destitute? Come on! They have cell phones!

“I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Which door? Ah! That one – the one that says ‘Trump Towers.’

And so the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning for freedom, the wretched refuse, the homeless and displaced, the refugee turn away, eyes vacant and heads shaking, trying desperately to find another door.

And Lady Liberty bows her head and weeps.

“Letting Them In”

So many beautiful colors of people at the Red Sox game! #NationofImmigrants #Diversity 


Two times a year, I facilitate a patient navigator/community health worker course. It is a core training that helps to prepare this workforce for working in clinic and community settings in the United States. The course is a hybrid of both in-person and online modules and runs for around 16 weeks.

At the end of the course, we have a ‘graduation’ of sorts; a time where we celebrate the success of the students.

Passing out the certificates is always exciting and emotional. It’s not easy to carry on your daily workload of working with patients while completing a course that demands your time, focus, and energy.

But it’s so much more than that. The truth is, the majority of this workforce are immigrants or refugees. They were birthed, raised, and educated in another land. They are doctors and lawyers, engineers and pharmacists. They left all that behind, and now they navigate other members of their community through a complicated health system. These are people that the United States “Let in.” The irony is profound. They have done nothing but make their communities stronger. They have learned the rules and language. They have sacrificed and worked hard.

Last week,  we held our last class of the year. In that space we had the final learning session, but more importantly, we celebrated their achievement. The final exercise is a case study that they have to present to a small group. They all presented in English, even if their first language was not English. Despite the fact that I have studied three languages, I can’t even imagine doing a case study in anything other than English. I’m just not good enough – but they are.

We gave certificates and they walked away knowing that they accomplished something. But this is only a fraction of what they have accomplished. At a recent conference, I wrote this and I echo it today in this space:

Look around you for a moment. You are among an amazing group of people. You are in a room full of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. In this room are community health workers who bridge two worlds to serve their communities.  In this room there are navigators who were doctors in Syria and pharmacists in Iraq; there are people who didn’t know any English when they first arrived in this the country, but now interpret for those with no voice. In this room, you will see women who survived the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and now make sure Haitians in this country can navigate the health care system. You will eat lunch with Syrians who survived ISIS, Iraqis who survived sanctions, an invasion, and displacement. You will have conversations with men and women who have traveled the world, and now sit in this space, dedicated to helping others. In this room you will find people who have a past history that could have determined the rest of their life, but instead they have chosen to share their stories and help others. You will find doulas who work with women who are far from home, comforting them and helping them through the pain of labor and childbirth. Look all around, and you see those who educate and advocate, who listen and connect, who bridge healthcare gaps all over the country. Look next to you and you will see one whose heart is open to so many different people. Look around and you will see a group of people who are, above all, kind. You are in the company of amazing people.

Last night, I was at a Red Sox game in Boston. It was a beautiful night with perfect weather and the Sox won! But it was more than that. As I looked around, I saw people of every different color and ethnicity. All singing “Sweet Caroline” – the iconic Neil Diamond song of the Red Sox; all cheering; all eating the famous Fenway Franks. Every color, every ethnicity. I’m the first to criticize the United States, the first to take a step back and look at it critically, but as I looked around, I had a moment. In all the sadness that has been a part of this week, in the killing and horror of Orlando, it was a moment to be proud to be living here.

And above all, I don’t want that to be taken away. I don’t want our country to become one that gets more and more scared, that shuts borders and fears the one who is “other.” I don’t want the “we can’t let them in” rhetoric to dominate. 

Because all we do is “let them in.” They give us so much more in return. The trade is hardly fair. 


She Lived a Large Life


The best thing I did all week was attend the funeral of Chong Wright. Chong and her husband, Wilbur, attended our church. Wilbur, a once tall soldier in the US army is now slightly stooped, his shoulders humbly sloping toward the earth. His Korean bride of fifty-one years, Chong, was tiny. Her legs were slightly bowed. Her sweaters, hand knitted and pastel pink, always bunched up on her small frame. The two of them would hold hands and hobble along.

Whenever Chong saw me, her eyes would light up. We would greet each other and have a short little conversations. English wasn’t the language of her heart but she made such an effort, in tiny sound bites, to communicate. What she couldn’t speak with her mouth she shouted with her eyes. They were always bright and welcoming. She looked into you and you knew she was happy to see you.

On Monday morning I read the notice of her death and the announcement that a memorial service would be held that very afternoon at a funeral home just around the corner from us. I wanted to go to tell her husband and their one child, Mary, what a bright spot their loved one was. I wanted them to know she would be missed.

Maybe thirty people gathered in the funeral home’s chapel. The strains of a recorded piano playing, Edelweiss, wafted over the group as we waited quietly in the pews. There were several pictures of Chong on the front table framing a large bouquet of pink and white flowers. Chong and Wilbur—at their wedding, while stationed in Germany, with their daughter, with their grandsons.

During the service I learned more about Chong than I had ever known. Chong Wright was born in Sinuichu, Korea on December 26th, 1940. When she was still quite young both her parents died. She then went to live with her grandmother. At the start of the Korean War, when she was ten years old, they fled, as refugees from North Korea to the safer South. Her grandmother died when Chong was thirteen years old and she went to live with an uncle and his family. Three years later, when she was sixteen, she enrolled in beauty school. Using her own resources she trained to become a beautician.

On September 8, 1964 Chong and Wilbur were married. Not all of Chong’s family was supportive of her marrying an American soldier. One family member told her that if she married Mr Wright, she’d be so poor they wouldn’t even be able to afford toilet paper. This began a personal commitment to paper products! Chong’s daughter, Mary, said that they always had great stockpiles of toilet paper, paper towels, and paper napkins. Long after Mary had married and had children of her own, Chong continued to supply them with paper products!

Wilbur and Chong were stationed in many places before coming to Fort Riley, Kansas. That’s where they were stationed when Wilbur retired from the Army life.

Whatever Chong did she worked hard at it. She was frugal and managed to pay off two homes and two cars. She was generous and good hearted. She was a good mother and a devoted grandmother. Both grandsons spoke of her generosity to them. On Thursdays she gave them money. They played games with the boys. They attended every band concert, school play, choir concert, musical. If the boys were there, so were Wilbur and Chong.

Last December there was a band concert at the mall. The seating was insufficient. I had gone early to save seats for our family. Just in front of me I saw Chong and Wilbur saving seats for their family too. At one point Chong turned and saw me. Her entire face lit up in recognition. She bobbed her head in greeting, her eyes beaming.

Chong Wright’s circle was small. There weren’t a lot of people at the funeral and many that were there came because of love and friendship with her daughter, Mary and her family. It might be easy to dismiss the significance of a person like Chong Wright—unknown, an immigrant, she couldn’t speak English very well. But Chong made a difference in the lives she touched. Her life mattered. Her circle wasn’t large but it was deep. She lived with integrity. She loved well. She made an effort to connect in the ways she knew how—playing with a baby, greeting those she knew, giving to her family. She was loyal and faithful until the very end.

It was such a profound moment for me. I have this relentless longing for a larger world. I want to go places, meet people. I want to make a difference. I want to have a global impact. But here was Chong– Her world, at the end, might have been little and yet her impact was undeniable. She will leave a large hole in the stories of her grandsons, her daughter, her son-in-law, the few at church she smiled at. Her life mattered. The breadth of her experiences, the suffering she had endured, the places she had traveled–for being a person of small stature she lived a large life and then settled into a small space. And she did so with grace.

I would do well to live…and die…..like Chong Wright.