Dear Refugees

Dear Refugees,

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If I lived near an international airport, you would have found me in the crowds last week, holding a “We Welcome Refugees” sign.

I've had the tiniest glimpse into the process of obtaining a visa and becoming a U.S. citizen.  I’ve felt a hint of those breath-held moments, shuffling through paperwork, handing over passports, and praying every piece is in place and there are no additional interrogations, searches, or requirements.

Just weeks ago, I overnighted two more envelopes of complicated documents to the USCIS. A college degree, a few years of getting familiar with government forms, and speaking English since birth didn’t save me from nail-biting over which numbers to enter and boxes to check. I would have made errors if it weren’t for the detailed help of friends who’d filed the forms already. This update alone cost over $700, and I waited nervously for a confirmation, knowing if they were deemed incorrect I would be out the money.

My experience is an anemic comparison to yours. My citizenship was secure; I had nationality, language, color, financing, and religion on my side. My two daughters, joining our family from east Africa, were tiny and couldn’t create a security concern if they’d tried.

Still, I well remember the “Welcome Home” sign that awaited us as we walked down the airport terminal toward a crowd of smiling faces.

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I remember the relief in a warm hug, the need to know that my immigrant daughters, our new family, would be welcomed and gladly woven into the rich and colorful fabric of the United States’ diverse society.                           

I’d do anything to give a piece of that warm welcome to you.

Some of you have tenaciously traveled through storms of weather and war, pressed through exhaustion and illness, endured prisons, camps, death threats, tedious interviews and endless paperwork, only to find yourselves denied.

Some of you were so close to the fresh start you could taste it. How harsh the disappointment of being turned away, sent back to face thousands of dollars lost, expiration dates encroaching on hard-earned paperwork, and despair of not being reunited with loved ones waiting for you here.

My friends, the strength and courage you carry within you is remarkable. I grieve with you for whatever hardships you’ve experienced to bring you to this place of needing to find refuge. I’m broken over the humiliation and despair you must feel as you see months and years’ worth of work dissipate before your eyes, feel the assumptions that you are bad or dangerous or somehow a lesser human because of the piece of the world you were born on.

I speak for myself and my family and a powerful number of compassionate Americans, when I say that you are truly, deeply, welcomed here.

If I could, I’d meet you at the airport and drive you to our farm this very night. I envision us pointing out things around the country side and trying to tell you what they are. We would laugh at our pitiful attempts to speak the words of your language, and admire your tenacity in learning how to speak ours.

We’d fill the grill with hamburgers, and stand around the stove tasting the flavors of your favorite dishes while you taught us your special recipes. We would smile to see the empty seats filled around our table.

When all the hungry stomachs were full, we would offer you beds with piles of extra blankets.

Then, If we could somehow explain and ensure through the language, culture and religious differences that we were not causing you to feel shamed or afraid, we would kneel and unlace your shoes. We’d take them, with their dust from another land, their soles bearing stories of walking for miles, of running in fear, of blood on the streets, of aching and shaking and sweating and shivering, set them aside, and wash your weary feet.

Not because we’re holy rollers, with super spiritual rituals we do every sundown or something. Not because we’re worried about dirt on our blankets. But because we are desperate for any way to fellowship with you in your sufferings, to esteem the immeasurable worth of your souls, to repent of prejudices and pride in our hearts and our nation, and to impress upon you that we are not governed by fear.

It’s not that we’re naïve, adamant no refugee could ever do us harm.  On the contrary, we know every human is capable of rancorous wrong. But a greater force, a Light that blinds hate, a Love that casts out fear, has captured our souls. Grace wipes the windshield of our blurry vision and gives a glimpse into the depth of our deplorability, and then shows us a glimmer of the Imago Dei in every single soul. 

This is our fundamental mission: “In the same way I [Jesus] loved you [I fed the hungry, fellowshipped with outcasts, extended grace, forgiveness, a warm welcome into the family of God, and gave up my very life], you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples- when they see the love you have for each other.”

I don’t know your names, much as I wish I did. But I know someone who does, a Father who’s kept track of your every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered into his ledger, each ache written in his book.                              

Until I can seat you at my table, call you by name, and share my abundance of blankets and food and acres (the inequity of which is a constant throb) with you, I give you my earnest word: you are not forgotten. There are so many here committed to standing in the gap for you. While it may seem as if our nation is playing “She love’s them, she loves them not” with you, we will not relent in seeking solutions, in praying, in caring for your family and friends already dwelling within our cities, in actively engaging in compassion and pursuing justice for you and yours.

Until then,

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you;

May he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;

May he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you;

May he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.

~Peter Sutcliffe, Common Prayer      

Dear Friends: Do Black Lives Matter?

There are a hundred paths through the world that are easier than loving. But, who wants easier?
— Mary Oliver

Dear friends,

It’s been a long one, the last week, yes? It’s been conversations with family and friends, responding to texts, reading countless articles and social media threads, asking questions and having questions asked of me.

I’ve cried on Dave’s shoulder as fear and queasiness threatened to churn my stomach again and again.

Maybe you feel it too.

It has been the source of no small alarm in my heart to watch conversations unfold, specifically among Christians, that are filled with abrasive words, harsh criticism, refusal to listen, and a gaping hole where should be tenderness and humility.

Maybe you’re asking it too, where is the love and unity?

This is my most pressing why: Why the avoidance and even outrage over saying Black lives matter?  Is there something fearful about the phrase? Some aren’t into hashtags. Some aren’t keen to endorse the Black Lives Matter Movement based on thorough research. I respect that.

But when it comes to resisting the sentiment itself, I’m so confused.

Maybe you’re puzzled too.

I compare this scene to fighting disease. Specifically, Ebola. Ebola left agony and death by the thousands in its wake. Remember the hashtags and raised funds and desperate prayers for relief? As Ebola was destroying villages and families, folks were still dying of malaria, of yellow fever, of cancer. The desire for those diseases to be eradicated was no less. But for the moment, there was an outbreak before us, and we wanted to do all we could to cure, to prevent, to alleviate the rampant suffering.

When someone urged, “Ebola matters! Let’s raise awareness, let’s passionately search for a solution! We must, for the sake of the suffering and dying!” We didn’t toss back, “all diseases matter.” It’s true, but completely irrelevant.

My analogy is weak, my knowledge is limited, my encounters are sheltered. But others more eloquent and experienced than I have unpacked these subjects, especially the Christian discrepancies surrounding Black Lives Matter.

Maybe their words will be helpful to you too.

 

This is one of most well-written articles I’ve read explaining why All Lives Matter is not a fitting response to Black Lives Matter. The Problem With Saying ALL LIVES MATTER by Tyler Huckabee

 

Crystal Michelle shares an eye-opening analogy in this Facebook post: I have been told how dangerous being in the sun is by my white friends…

 

Stephen Mattson offers these words in his article Social Justice Is a Christian Tradition- Not a Liberal Agenda :

Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Gentile lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Jewish lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Women’s lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Lepers’ lives matter.”
Even though Jesus loves everyone, even to the point of dying for their sins, he went out of his way to intentionally help specific groups of people — the alienated, mistreated, and those facing injustice.
 

Shannon Martin (aka Flower Patch Farmgirl) published this tender guest post yesterday by her friend Jess:

Dear Christian Women,
I know it's my privilege to serve a savior that is near to the broken hearted.  But I want to walk alongside a community of believers that are near to me as well.  Sadly...that's just not the case. For every #AltonSterling and #TamirRice, I notice an overwhelming silence from my white Christian sisters.  It’s deafening. ...Within the post is a link to 10 Reasons I Don’t Want to be Your White Ally. Read it too, if you feel paralyzed about what to say or do when it comes to standing with your Black sisters and brothers.

David Murray writes Weep, Love, and Pray: A Christian Response to Dallas, Castille, and Sterling.

My friend passed along this poem written in 1932 by Sterling Brown which, in her words, "made my blood run cold in how accurately it portrays society's typical progression of thinking."

If you’re looking for more honest and loving voices who are speaking from their lived experiences, I greatly admire and am learning so much from the words of Deidra Riggs and Latasha Morrison.

 

Here we are, friends, with precious lives around us being disrespected, mistreated, threatened, and stolen. To commit to the task of mending the gaping wound of power and honor and equality and trust we currently have between us? Is to commit to seeking justice, to loving mercy, to walking in humility with our Creator and our brothers and sisters.

BLACK LIVES MATTER TO ME. Do they matter to you too? Yeah, so let’s find ways to say it. We could ask someone how they’re holding up, and listen carefully. Send an email or a card. Pay for the coffee order behind us and remind someone that love will win. Speak up and say that justice for their lives matters to us, whether it be on social media, by thoughtfully pointing out prejudice in family conversations, or by taking action in social reform.

Can we make this our mission? While allies may not agree on all things, they esteem each other highly. They listen carefully. They are always aware that they’re working together, on the same team, for the same cause: justice, reconciliation, and love.

One friend, processing these tragic events over the phone and noting how her life has been so removed from such disparity said, “I don’t want to remain clueless and say they don’t affect me, because they do.” And I wrote it down on my desk so I would remember. Remember that conversations are happening, friends are listening, awareness is growing, love is moving. Remember that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (MLKJ).

Let's keep choosing love, who wants easy anyway?

 

~Carrie

 

We Are Human

This morning my room smells like rain. The air is cool coming in the open window, and I’ve traded Pandora for the tree frog songs coming from the pasture and the Red-Winged Black bird singing in the lilac bush. There’s a red squirrel running laps around the big maple tree. The grey squirrels, so common in the city, are rarely seen in the country. Instead we have the red ones, twice and big and half as tame as their city relatives.

 

I’ve watched a pair of wild turkeys march around the property several times the last few weeks. Coyotes frequent the field behind the bedroom, taunting my dog to a game of survival-of-the-fittest. A doe was enjoying the fresh green grass in the waterway nearest the house at sunset one evening this week, and I’m eyeing their favorite pasture area for my first sighting of fawns. Saturday when Jazz and I went for our walk, she startled a coon from his fishing in the creek, and he clamored up a tree and seated himself in the crook of a branch, then unabashedly gawked at us, his little masked face leaning side to side to observe Jazz’s every move. The blue herons have been busy doing whatever it is blue herons do in the spring, and Jazz will not have these giant-winged creatures invading our air space, so she takes off barking like a literal mad dog every time they fly over. We spotted a pair of mallard ducks paddling upstream in our creek a few nights ago, and I’m hoping some ducklings are in their/our near future.

 

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Meanwhile, this morning flags fly half mast across the country of Ethiopia, as the villages of Gambella reel from a brutal massacre of more than 200 people, and mothers and fathers left alive weep for over 100 children abducted by the vicious raiders. In Ecuador there is already smoke curling from cemeteries as families began the process of burning the bodies of hundreds upon hundreds killed in an earthquake. In Libya there are bodies washing up onto beaches, the friends and relatives of which were rescued from the sea and taken to prisons, where they now may be sharing a room with50 others, sharing a toilet with 200. They are one of countless thousands exchanging one hellish experience for another because, in the words of a refugee, “everyone under the sun wants a prosperous life”. Desperate for freedom, they are dying for peace. Sierra Leonean farmers are planting their crops, watching the seeds in their grain room dwindle without a reserve since last harvest they spent their days in their houses, hiding from the Ebola ravaging their nation, while their crops were left to rot in the fields. In Ellensburg, WA, the city where my sister lives, a family is sitting with news that their son/daughter and spouse are missing, with all evidence pointing towards murder. Those are just the headlines.

 

Across our property a thousand leaves are unfolding on waving branches, and purple wild violets make the ground look like fancy carpet. Across our world a thousand thousand voices cry out for mercy. For some fully unknown reason, I’m here in a quiet room listening to raindrops and a scolding robin, while much of the world groans in pain.

 

There is no need for distanced pity. No need for attempted explanations or weak platitudes. No place for heroic notions or savior complexes. The Lord knows we are all just as broken as the next. We in our sprawling properties or safe suburbias aren’t the blessed and special ones of the world, though we’re endlessly tempted to think so. This is simply a call to make space. To weep with those who weep this morning. If there is an action in front of you, however small it may seem, take it.  If there is a gift you can share, whatever it may be, share it. Because whatever we have is simply that; an unearned gift that’s been given to us. I don’t have a list of ways to donate or make a difference today. I just have the words of the refugees from the video above ringing in my ears, and I want to stop and sit with the ache of it:  “We are human.”

 

You are heard.

 

Your suffering is felt.

 

You are not forgotten.

 

Your name is known.

 

Your tears, your sweat, your blood, see? We’re not that different.

 

We are family.

 

We are human.

I Didn't Expect It--Raw Feelings and Photos from Sierra Leone

I  didn't expect it.  

I didn’t expect the air to burn so hot when it rolled across my face as I stepped off the plane and onto the dark tarmac.

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I didn’t expect the dirt roads to be so red against the gigantic sky.

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I didn’t expect the palms to wave so exotic and the bananas to hang so lush on trees above a ground so littered and scarred.

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I didn’t expect the smell of sweat in every inhale to be a scent that filled my nose not with repulsion but rather with humanity.

I didn’t expect to find unity in hot skin against skin, sweaty palm against palm, for sticky arms hugging shoulders to be our common ground.

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I didn’t expect to ingest so much dust, to thirst so deeply, to be so filthy every night, and yet feel so alive.

I didn’t expect the disparity of hospitality. To be treated as royalty, served chilled sodas and heaping plates of steaming rice and chicken, all while a dozen sets of little eyes gathered on the outskirts to quietly watch every motion of spoon to mouth.

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I didn’t expect the extravagant generosity, gifts given with pure joy from hands who knew hunger to hands who knew no physical need.

I didn’t expect my heart to throb again. I thought I was prepared for the cracked lips, the skinny arms, the protruding bellies, the sheer desperation for a bite of sugar.

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I didn’t expect to feel the helpless ache of love. I thought the years had scarred over and even calloused the cuts Ethiopia left. I thought I could visit and learn and embrace and then come home without the hurt this time. But the callouses are rubbed off and I feel raw again.

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I did’t expect to sit by John and feel at home.

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I didn’t expect to carry the mother-weight of worry, fear over the future of a boy I’ve only seen a total of 3 times, back with me across ocean and continents.

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I didn’t expect the juxtaposition; Ebola signs and barren school rooms and wells that run dry and naked children and so many scars on so many arms and legs, set against the loud singing and clapping and dancing and smiles that fill entire faces and hugs and hard work and hopes for a better tomorrow.

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I didn’t expect to come home so conflicted. To laugh or to cry? To stay present and ache, or to move on and mute the pain? To promise to return and feel it all again next year, even if my only offering is a few days of companionship? Or to spend my money supporting from afar, less dollars on 20 hours of plane travel and more for a college fund and bags of rice?

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I didn’t expect to be writing this from the dark of my closet because I am too restless. Because my house feels too big again, like it did after my last trip to Ethiopia when I couldn’t stand the sight of the two empty chairs at our kitchen table for weeks after my return.

  I didn’t expect to encounter such a tenacity of human sprit in Sierra Leone, to see such persistent optimism from people who’ve known suffering at its worst. Such dedication to their education and studies from students who have so little. John showed me his meticulous biology notes and diagrams, how he’d named every part of a microscope, the steps to preparing wet and dry mount slides, and the details of how an amoeba eats. He’s never even seen an actual microscope, let alone looked through the eyepiece.

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I did’t expect to feel such an urgency that I have to do all I can to change the story for one. A familiar notion, but it hit me with new fervor. One high school degree, one college education, one good lawyer or health care worker or pastor… maybe it could be the difference for a family, a village, a generation?

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I didn’t expect the hope that would fill me when I witnessed this strength of character, how the sum of all my fears about the looming obstacles in his path are still less than the total hopes I have for John's bright future.

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Choose to change the story for one. The impact on a child's life, and yours, will go beyond what you could ever expect!

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