Before the Crisis, There was a Crisis

South Lebanon January 2016 working with Syrian Refugees

Afghanistan. The land that has mystified and defeated would-be colonizers and conquerers for centuries, now on every social media account known to our current world. Suddenly, everyone has a friend in Afghanistan. It’s uncanny and a bit unnerving. They join others who have a friend of a friend of a friend in Afghanistan, creating an outraged public calling for compassion, open borders, and funding. Memes slap us in the face with their “Let all who want to leave, leave!” “Make room for all!” One does not need to ponder long the impossibility of that idea, yet I’ve not seen many challenge publicly the impossibility of it.

I’d like to spend a bit of time getting a perspective on all of this. Please hear at the outset that I am deeply sad and angry about the current situation in Afghanistan. From friendships with Afghans and those who have spent years living and working with Afghans (yes- I too am guilty of mentioning this…) to memories of vacations and school trips, Afghanistan has long been on my heart. After 20 years, one could argue that we should have known it was always going to be a messy leave taking. The question then becomes: “Did it have to be this messy?” But discussing our complicated foreign policy in Afghanistan is not my area of expertise. In addition, writing about the messiness feels singulary disrespectful to those remarkable people who have risked and lost their lives, and the many who have worked tirelessly to bring people to safety. For them alone I daren’t comment publicly. They are true heroes and know a courage of which I have little understanding. What I want to do is to give some perspective, something I work toward every day, so that is my desire here.

Perspective

There has been an Afghan refugee crisis for many years with little attention paid to the problem, and even less accomplished in finding sustainable solutions. There is also a Venezuelan refugee crisis, a Syrian refugee crisis, and a Myanmar Crisis. Before the crisis, there was a crisis, and before that crisis, there was a crisis. It brings to mind the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains, there are mountains.” This applies to Haiti and Afghanistan equally well, both nations crippled in crisis after crisis, both desperately needing stability and peace. This does not mean we should not pay attention – we should. And we should also recognize that this makes an already difficult crisis even worse.

As of June of this year, over 82.4 million people in the world had to flee their homes because of conflict and violence. Of those 82.4 million, 26.4 are refugees. Half of them are under 18 years old. In addition, there are millions of stateless people with no nationality, no border security, and no rights. When I say no rights, I mean no freedom to move, no access to healthcare or education, and no legal employment.

1 out of every 95 people has had to flee their home.

68% of refugees orginate from five countries: Syria – 6.7 million; Venezuela – 4 million; Afghanistan – 2.6 million; South Sudan – 2.2 million; Myanmar – 1.1 million. There are five countries who have been the major hosts of refugees: Turkey, Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda, and Germany. Geographically this makes sense – these are bordering countries and borders become more porous during major conflicts and disruptions. The majority of the world’s refugees (86%) are hosted in developing countries. Only 14% are hosted in developed countries. It really makes one question the words developing and developed, doesn’t it? If developed means decreased hospitality, inflated sense of self, and living out of scarcity instead of abundance, no wonder so many of us find the developing world so attractive.

So what of all this? Prior to all of this, those who work with refugees and displaced people were already working hard to serve and care for people. Resources have been limited for a long time and sustainable solutions were already difficult to come by. This current crisis will soon die down for most of us and a new season of outrage will be upon us, begging us to do our our part in performing for the crowd. But there are many who do this work year in and out, with limited funds and a lot of heart.

There are a couple thoughts I have on what we can do:

  • We can give. Many of us have the ability to give, if even a small amount. I will list some organizations at the end of this post for you to check out. Remember to weigh all of them through Charity Navigator to ensure accountability. As wonderful as your friend’s gofundme may seem – it is likely not a sustainable solution. So give to the gofundme, but also find a place where you can give regularly to a program that is ongoing.
  • We can write our elected officials. America is quite simply not doing enough to help in the current crisis. Both the last administration and the current administration err on the side of doing too little, too late. Those of us who are lay people can make noise through an email or a letter. The time is perfect as every September the President sets the number of refugees that are allowed entrance for the next fiscal year. Click here to send an email or call your representative.
  • We can pray. This high form of empathy helps us to recognize that we are small, and God is big. Through prayer we can discern our part in an ongoing crisis.
  • We can volunteer. This is tricky during a pandemic that continues to stretch on. But check out the organizations I have listed as most of them can use volunteers.
  • We can educate ourselves. It is not helpful to pass on incorrect information. It is not helpful to make situations worse than they are for the sake of sensation. What is helpful is to find good sources and recognize that even good sources have their limits. What is helpful is to remain humble as we learn. The refugee crisis is ever changing and what is true today may have changed by tomorrow. There is no quick answer and there is no simple answer. Refugee and immigration issues are complicated. But there are sources and places where you can find out more. I’ve linked some at the end.
  • We can remove ourselves from outrage and ground ourselves in facts and truth. Outrage limits our ability to function. Outrage creates massive inner conflict. Outrage does not and cannot last. Grounding ourselves in facts and truth helps us discern the voices that reflect the same.
  • We can be part of the chain of goodness that makes a difference for all those around us.

As I have thought about all of this in the last few weeks, the words of the prophet Micah have often come to mind. Micah was one of the original and true social justice champions, a prophet who cared about oppression, who cared about injustice to the poor, who cared about women and children cast out of homes. His was not an activism of social media, but a true heart for those who were hurt by false righteousness. He had harsh words of judgment, but those harsh words were always followed by faith that was practical and down to earth, by faith that invoked the beauty of a God of mercy. The people and the world Micah wrote to and about are not so different from the one we face every day. It is Micah that writes words that are heard through the centuries:

He has shown you O Man, what is good, but what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

And that, my friends is perspective. May we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God – only then will we have the wisdom to respond to any crisis, be it a refugee crisis or another that comes our way. Amen and Amen.

To make it easier to see the magnitude of this problem, I’m including a series of photographs.

Note: Primary source for all statistics is as stated on photographs – UNHCR

Turn the Whole World Upside Down

Three years ago an eye doctor named Tom Little was killed in a massacre of 10 international aid workers in Nuristan province in the country of Afghanistan. The story made international headlines as  the largest massacre of aid workers at the time of the entire Afghan conflict, causing complete strangers to the country and the people massacred to pause and take an inventory of their lives.

Tom Little had been in Afghanistan for over 33 years. He was from Albany, New York, son of an eye doctor and he loved Afghanistan; loved the Afghan people. To say that Tom Little lived outside of any box is a serious understatement. A film called The Hard Places is being produced on the life of Tom Little. In an interview about the film, Dan Swinton, the producer, said that all the news stories of the massacre focused on the last 5 minutes of his life. He wanted to find out more about the other 33 years.

I’ve watched the trailer for the film The Hard Places five or six times — and every time I cry. The film challenges my comfort, my security, most of all challenges me to live life fully wherever I am called to go.

Now this is a hard call in my current situation. I make no secret of the fact that my government sponsored cubicle is often a hard place to be. I feel underused and unproductive. I often question whether I’m making a difference.

My government sponsored cubicle is not sexy. It is not a place where the type of headlines that mean something to eternity emerge. It is a place that tests my patience, challenges my creativity, and often defeats my spirit.

But it is currently my reality. It is where God has placed me. And the call to live fully is no less applicable to me as it is to those in far harder places, far more difficult situations. I am weak in this context – and God delights to make the weak strong.

In the trailer, Libby Little, Tom Little’s wife who was by his side throughout their years in Afghanistan, is heard reading a poem by Hannah Hurnard:

O blessed are the patient meek
Who quietly suffer wrong;
How glorious are the foolish weak
By God made greatly strong;
So strong they take the conqueror’s crown,
And turn the whole world upside down.

The world is not changed through one momentous event, it is changed through the often boring, simple acts of obedience that I am daily called to. Arguably, Tom Little’s life did not affect the Afghan people through his last 5 minutes of a martyr’s death, it affected the Afghan people in his daily choice to deliver excellent eye care to people in need.

It is in the strength of God as shown through the weakness of men that the world is turned upside down. So it is today that I am called to be obedient to what I know. No more and no less, trusting the outcome to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. 

What about you? Do you long to turn the whole world upside down but can’t even face a Monday morning? 

Blogger’s note: I encourage you to watch this trailer – just be warned that it changes you. For more on the film or to support the project click here. 

Monday is always  better with Muffins! In Stacy’s words, todays muffins are “chalk full of nuts and flavor!” They are Browned Butter Pecan Muffins. Enjoy!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wrapping Up the Week 3.9.13

Boston’s unexpected foot of snow has now been replaced with bright sunshine. It’s remarkable really – for three days we braved treacherous roads, high wind, and blowing snow – and today? The sun is bright and it’s expected to reach the mid forties. It is so much like other areas of life, where stress and worry blow in and take over, covering everything around — you think it will never end. And then it does. And you shake your head with a bit of a smile as the tension leaves your back and your face and, holding yourself straighter, you walk forward.

On to the week wrap-up.

On online criticism: Our online behavior when it comes to getting involved in issues we care about is nothing short than a mob mentality. We find those who think like we do and we join forces with loud opinions through 140 characters, with long blog posts, and short Facebook insults. While the article I’ve linked to is specific to one author and a new book that is being released, the advice in the article is excellent. In short he says and I paraphrase: Calm down, Read first, understand the other guy, cling to what is good. The entire article is excellent but my favorite line is this:

“Criticism Is Not Inherently Narrow-minded Oppression”

I would urge all to read and then share this article – it’s full of wisdom and sound advice. So Rob Bell Wrote Another Book – Some Thoughts Before Actually Reading It – Take a look and let us know what you think!

On Poetry and Women: Mirman Baheer is a woman’s literary society in Kabul. It serves as a way for women to come together and recite poetry, often poetry that they have written, as well as talk about literature. The rural areas of Afghanistan are far stricter when it comes to women and poetry, in fact, women risk their lives to call in to Mirman Baheer and recite their poetry so it can be transcribed. The article here is a long one but will take you to the rural areas of Afghanistan where young women are taken out of school and find writing poetry to be their only form of education. You will be introduced  to some brave artist poets who risk their lives for the love of poetry. Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry was published this week in the NY Times. Along with that comes an article on the power of poetry from Christianity Today. The author compares this love and commitment to poetry to our apathy of poetry. “We seem, sadly, to have lost an understanding of poetry’s beauty and power.” she says in Have we forgotten the power of poetry? I would love to hear what you think – do you like poetry? Understand it? Read it? Would you risk your life for poetry?

IMG_5065On International Women’s Day: Yesterday held news from Around the world for International Women’s Day. While I’m glad we have a day set aside, I feel a bit skeptical as I see all this news, and know that a day later much will be forgotten. I do want to highlight two articles – One is an article of hope that takes a look at the difference mothers can make in the nutrition of their children. Mother’s Rewriting the Future will take you to Kenya and give you a glimpse of one woman’s life. The other is from Djibouti Jones where the author Rachel encourages us to think about this every day – not just one day a year. She gives us 5 Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day. Rachel is also doing a series on Hijab that you don’t want to miss. I’ll be linking to more on that series next week.

Also on International Women’s Day – have you yet read about My Favorite Feminist? Take a look at this remarkable woman!

On my bedside stand: I’ve almost finished Beyond the Beautiful Forevers – a hard, beautiful read. There is no doubt that the author is skilled with words – but I actually want Robynn to read it and do the review – as someone who has lived in India for a long time and been intimately involved in the lives of many, I think she is the one to respond. Of course – this is the first she’s heard of this …..! I’ve also begun a small book by Frederica Matthewes-Green called The Jesus Prayer. This is a simple prayer that was passed on through the ages by the desert fathers “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me”. It was passed on as a way to practice being continually in prayer. Partly devotional, partly historical it is opening my eyes to the power of these words.

How about you? What are you reading? What has caught your eye through the week? 

************************

Wrapping Up the Week 2.16.13

The snow that wrapped up this city and left us a paralyzed package with a big frozen bow at the top is down to a mere pile and a slush. It’s amazing that one week ago we never thought we would dig out of our piles. Warmer temperatures hit the greater Boston area and we are basking in sunshine and mid 40’s. Other than the fact that the snow left on the ground is ugly brown and grey streaked, the warm weather is welcome!

On to the wrap-up.

Miami Herald, Afghan Women March Against ViolenceOn Afghanistan and Women: On Valentine’s Day in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, activists held a march protesting violence against women. Afghan men and women are speaking out, openly and loudly, to call for an end to violence and abuse. Read about the march in the article “Afghan Women March Against Violence” published in the Miami Herald. It’s a great reminder that lasting change happens from within.

On Street Kids in Karachi: Pakistan has one of the world’s largest populations of street kids. It’s throat catching tragic – but like so many things, there are whispers of redemption in the middle of horrible situations. This whisper of redemption is through a Street Kids World Cup soccer match. It’s an amazing endeavor and I’m so glad to know about it. Take a look at this article “Saving Karachi’s Street Children One Goal at a Time”. It is inspirational and educational.

“Finally, there was an arena that provided a clean slate for these children, where their worth was not dependent on what was in their pockets or whether they sold their bodies” ~ from the article.

On White Privilege: I don’t usually get into this topic – it’s too big, too complicated, too defeating. But having our oldest daughter with us for a couple of months is challenging me to look harder at some of the things I just brush off and don’t think about. My challenge this week came through an article that looks at the movie The Impossible. I am sure that this movie is amazing, and Naomi Watts has proven herself once more by being nominated for an Oscar for her role in this film. But – and this is a big but – isn’t it troubling that the film emerging about the Tsunami in 2004 that took thousands of lives, many of them children, most of them Asian, focuses on the survival of a white family? And the original family was Hispanic….! I know I’m posing a controversial opinion but I’d love for you to read this article called “Notes from the Margins: White People Problems” and see what you think. Weigh in through the comments or through the comments on the article itself.

On Making a Difference: Oh you will LOVE this website. Freerice.com is an organization that donates rice through World Food Programme to those in areas where hunger is rampant. But there’s a fun twist to their donation – they have you go into the site and answer questions – for every question you get correct, they donate 10 grains of rice. It doesn’t sound like much but through clicking through and answering questions correctly yesterday I ended up donating 660 grains of rice. It’s FUN! Try it today – if enough of you try it we can set up a Communicating Across Boundaries team.

On the Blog: Every day I’m reminded how amazing you all are – your comments are thoughtful, challenging, affirming and daily encourage. More and more comments have come on the post “‘Saudade’ – A Word for the Third Culture Kid.” If you get a chance – take a look. It’s amazing the responses that speak to belonging, memories, and loss.

On my Bedside Table: I took a break this week and did fun! I reread Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – that quintessential mystery, romance novel that many of us read in high school. I was not disappointed.’

Where ever you are – whether Istanbul, Yemen, Cairo, the UK or anywhere else – have a great day! As always – thanks for reading.

It’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be!

“It’s not the way it’s supposed to be” – the cry of the mother whose child has been shot in a kindergarten class on a seemingly normal Friday in December, presents already purchased, hidden in a closet in anticipation of a Christmas morning. The “hurry up! we’re going to be late” already a memory of the day. The “make sure you tie your shoe laces, don’t forget your lunch, honey you can’t wear that shirt, it’s dirty” now poignant reminders of a life that was, that is no longer.

It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

The cry of the husband burying his wife and little one – deaths from a complicated childbirth; the cry of the husband who buried his 28-year old wife, dead from a brain tumor; the cry of the young woman who watched her husband die on their honeymoon; the cry of the mother of a soldier – killed during the war on terror; the cry of thousands of mothers in Afghanistan and Syria – all of whom have watched a child die.

It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

And the cries echo toward the Heavens, in agony, in fear, in anger, in the deepest grief imaginable to man. And the throat catches, and the grief is wordless and boundless and rips the soul, the Whys and the Hows echoing all around. Hearts broken with grief, words of “how can we go one? how will we heal?” whispered through sleepless nights.

And on this third Sunday in Advent I look up and shout toward Heaven “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” And in the quiet, still of the morning, He whispers in my heart “I know child, I know.”

And so “I lay my ‘whys’ before your cross — In worship kneeling. My mind too numb for thought. My heart beyond all feeling. And worshiping realize that I – in knowing You, don’t need a ‘why’. “*

poem by Ruth Bell Graham, wife of Billy Graham.

A Late Night Response

I have just finished watching hours of commentary on the Middle East as I put final touches on a health presentation I am doing tomorrow. And I feel compelled to write.

An ambassador and other public service officers have been killed. It is a tragedy, and a condemned act of violence.

The last time an American ambassador was killed was in Kabul in 1978 — and I was in Kabul. As a senior in high school I had gone to Afghanistan on a school trip to participate in a Fine Arts festival at the American International School of Kabul. While there, the famous military coup transpired, paving the way for the Russian invasion in 1979. As an adult I now understand the diplomatic nightmare at play; not only did the foreign service personnel have to worry about their staff in Afghanistan, they had hundreds of added students and staff from international schools throughout Pakistan as well as from Delhi, India. It was an emergency, much like the current situation in Libya

And with this recent event there are a lot of voices, and so much opinion. Even as those in public service are mourned, politicians are using the grief for gain.

The stereotypes on both sides of the globe are reinforced. Over and over we see images of fires, riots, and demonstrations in Egypt,Yemen, and Libya. With Friday prayers, the worry is that violence will spread farther in the region.

And on this side of the globe the cries arise: “Jihadists” “Islamists” “Fanatics”. “They hate us” many say, fueling an already blazing fire of misunderstanding.

Yet, even as I am burdened and frustrated by an amateur film maker who, in making what sounds like a sub par film, has incited rage throughout the Muslim world, I support his right to do so.

Was it wise? No.

Was it correct? Probably not.

Was it his choice to do so? Absolutely.

That’s what we preach, that’s what we boast – that we live in a democracy that allows freedom of speech.

Over a year ago I wrote a post called “Protected Privilege, Awesome Responsibility”. And right now at 11pm, while watching CNN in a hotel bedroom in Lincoln, Nebraska thinking of my daughter, living just blocks from the American Embassy in Cairo, I looked back at what I wrote. I have posted an excerpt below. To understand the full context I have linked the post but even without that context the words below express my viewpoint.

Freedom of Speech. It is a privileged protection and an awesome responsibility. Only days before our neighborhood became the target for these messages, my husband and I had been at a lecture on the apostasy law in Pakistan. As I passed the signs I couldn’t help but think that the messengers have no clue what a privilege it is to live in a country that allows freedom of speech.  It was fully their right to be there and broadcast what I consider to be messages that are at best unwise and at worst vitriolic and hateful. No one would think to arrest them or charge them for breaking a law and this gift is not enjoyed world-wide.

And though I desperately want to rip the signs down shouting “You have no right to present God in this way” and let those around me know that this message is one of extremism and that the God I love walks among us, knows our hearts, and loves with a love that is deeper than deep, I respect freedom of speech. I know that the privileged protection of speech used on vans with venom also protects me. It protects outwardly through the law of the land, and it protects inwardly by challenging me to carefully weigh words and meaning so that I may not abuse this protection.  Freedom of speech is a gift to be used carefully and protected continually.

The incidents of the last few days are a compelling challenge to all of us who value our freedom of speech, and recognize its power and gifts, to use these gifts for building bridges; to commit to communicating across boundaries and being agents to heal the great divide.

Guest Post – Analyzing the Current Approach to Change in Afghanistan

One of the benefits of being a third culture kid is enjoying the wide network of people who come into our lives. For many of us who grew up in Pakistan, the network spans generations, countries, occupations and more. We have one thing in common and that is growing up in Pakistan and attending Murree Christian School, but that one thing has too many subplots to count. The wealth of experience and knowledge among this group of third culture kids is nothing less than amazing. Ambassadors, chiefs of party for NGO’s, scholars and more all bring their unique background into their work, providing much needed perspective in a world that tries to find easy answers and oversimplify complex issues.

A week ago, Samuel Lammi, a fellow third culture kid gave me permission to re-post a note he had written on Facebook. It is a thoughtful piece about Afghanistan. Samuel recently held an internship as Assistant to Officer of Political Affairs in the Embassy of Afghanistan. Take a look at the piece and see what you think. Add to the conversation in the comment section!


A few ideas about the current approach to change in Afghanistan and it’s shortcomings by Samuel Lammi

I was raised in the most tumultuous time in Afghanistan’s modern history during brutal civil war of the 1990’s. My primary education happened largely during the Islamic regime of the Taliban in a small expat school. I had to attend a boarding school in neighbouring Pakistan – Murree Christian School – for my secondary schooling. As the result of a terrorist attack on our school, we relocated to Thailand for two years to recover. The last four years until my graduation, I was back in Pakistan – yet it was a completely different Pakistan to the one I had known in the 1990’s.

I believe I have a unique perspective into foreign intervention in Afghanistan as my personal experience in Afghanistan is balanced by “war years” of bitter and ravaging civil war to control the country (1990-2001) and the “coalition years” and the so-called “nation-building process.” (2001-2008). I grew up in the middle of the Afghan war as my parents and their co-workers assisted those in desperate need. We were not only learning about the people we were helping, but also assimilating with the Afghans as we too – though more secure – were victims. Subsequently, we are frequently referred to as “the ones who stayed;” as Afghans who could afford it and had the opportunity, fled the country.

This perspective enables me to see events in Afghanistan from different viewpoints. I see the views of various Afghan ethnic groups, and various foreign interest groups, such as governments, NGOs, and militaries.

About 60 years ago, Afghanistan “opened-up” to the world, and immediately it saw a dangerous influx of foreign influence penetrate this traditional and conservative society. After these years and a few generations later, the society is unchanged yet this warring and proud country is on its knees after 30 years of vicious war. This has resulted in the common belief that Afghanistan is just another “god-forsaken,” tribal, anti-democratic and terrorist failed-state. Contrary to this belief, there is a too-common pattern to be seen with voracious and hegemonic world powers. They simplistically assume they can ravage the natural resources or take advantage of the geopolitics of a country for their own benefit, all under the pretence of bringing “change” to the backward places of the earth making them democratic, egalitarian and educated.

The recurring themes of the recent history of Afghanistan are comparable to the modern history of the Middle-East (1830’s to 1950’s). The pattern starts with the secure Western powers seeing an opportunity to exploit something – natural resources, geography, people – or everything. Next – supposing they have limited opportunity – they enter the desired country rather hastily to seek opportunities. However, with no prior interaction with the country, there is no grassroots knowledge of the local culture and language. This ignorance only affirms “superiority thinking” where the newcomers start to assert themselves through bringing “higher values” to “modernise” the culture. At first, modernisation is welcome, but soon the pace of the transformation is so rapid that the locals start to resist the change. Subsequently the foreigners with their ideologies have lost their “innocence” and come under suspicion from the locals. Upset, the foreigners become slack and their ulterior motives emerge, inhibiting mutual distrust. If the last resort of using force is utilized, the inevitable clashes continue to scar future relations for generations.

In Afghanistan, the generic rhetoric of bringing education, democracy, jobs, economic and political reform – all under the umbrella of “nation-building” – hasn’t delivered on its promises.

Essentially the same problems continue to plague the common people: education is poor and unavailable, real jobs are scarce – even in the cities, and the money that was meant to bring roads, hospitals, schools and jobs has disappeared into the pockets of warlords and corrupt politicians. Most of the young population is grappling with the warlords, crime syndicates and insurgents offering more employment than government services and independent enterprises. In most of Afghanistan – apart from the introduction of mobile phone services – life has hardly changed from 20, 30 or even 50 years ago; from when the “modernisation” of Afghanistan started.

In terms of the present situation in Afghanistan, the “basics” of cultural interaction are not considered important until they are desperately needed. In the place of humility to understand others through knowledge of culture and language – which create sympathy and understanding – this grass-roots work has been outsourced with nearly all other aspects of the “nation-building.”

Development simply cannot be outsourced as it creates irreconcilable distance between the ones bringing “change” and the ones being “changed.” Instead, participatory dialogue is imperative. What has happened is that the dialogue has engaged the already corrupt systems, excluding the common people. This creates the “in-group” who decides, and it supports complacency with the status quo of corrupt warlords and institutions. Subsequently the people become objects of the change coming from outside, through the powerful private-interest groups who exploit age-old tensions and rivalries. Instead, the people must become active, participatory subjects of change which benefits mutual trust and cooperation.