Sunday, January 29, 2017

Raise Your Voice for the Marginalized

Every Saturday my heart breaks a little bit. Yesterday it broke a little bit more, a little bit deeper. On Saturdays, I interact with twelve kids 10-13yrs old. These kids love McDonalds, pop music, their i-phones and soccer. The only difference between these 12 year old kids and others is that they are refugees. Upon reading the term 'refugees,' perhaps a plethora of assumptions and stereotypes came to your mind like they used to for me: women in headscarves, malnourished children living in refugee camps, children arriving wet and cold on beaches in Greece, people coming to the United Sates to take advantage of your tax dollars and threatening your security.

Almost every week four children get into my car and we have some form of political conversation. They express their fears of the new president. They look for some sort of acceptance and comfort living in this hostile environment that they haven't chosen. My car has turned into a therapy room. How do you comfort a child, regardless of their immigration status, who is afraid for their future and how to live in a country whose president blatantly opposes them? Looking into the eyes of an American 12-yr old is no different than the eyes of a 12-yr old Iraqi. They are the same: vulnerable and innocent.

The refugees that I know have fled war, terror, violence and loss unimaginable to the average American. The don't have anything and arrive in the United States immediately in debt to the U.S. government for their travel expenses. Adults are forced to find jobs in 3-6 months when they loose their financial support from the U.S.. government. It's either do or die. The jobs they find are washing the pots that made your dinner, packaging the chicken you buy in the grocery store or swiping your card at the gas station; jobs that are inadequate to support their families let alone pay off their debt to the government. Children are thrown into an education system that is not their own, learn English and face massive barriers of bullying and discrimination for speaking different, looking different, dressing different.

While you might be thinking they are lucky because they are in this country (the Unites States), they face daily struggles, barriers and dealing with past trauma beyond what any of us can imagine. Many of them are here because they have no other options. In order to obtain refugee status in the United States, you must prove that your life is in danger if you return to your home country. So the refugees who are here are individuals who will be persecuted, tortured or killed if they go home. When put in that context, debt, a minimum wage job, living in a sometimes hostile environment is more appealing than their alternative - death if they go home. I am not sure any of this makes a person 'lucky.'

Yesterday, Donald Trump placed a ban of refugees coming into the United States, and in particular, a Muslim ban. I don't think there has ever been a day in my life where I have been so angry at a person I have never met before. I can honestly say that I hate Donald Trump. The only thing he has done for me is helped me look into myself and realize that I am for everything that he is against. Yesterday, I also met a man from Syria for the first time. Within two minutes of exchanged greetings and introductions, he invited me to his home for tea. I can say that no American stranger has ever in my life extended such an immediate, genuine invitation to me as this refugee who arrived in the United States three months ago.

If you find yourself unsure about refugees, have questions or would like to know more, please ask me. If you rely on the government to ensure your personal and national security against whatever potential threat you think refugees might pose, I challenge you to get to know your neighbors and get involved with your local refugee community before you assume and endorse policies that say they are a threat to you. From what I know of refugees, they are people just like us who just want safety, security and opportunity for their children to lead happy, healthy lives.

Please stand up for the rights of the marginalized, widow and orphaned - refugees. If you have not been forced to flee, face fear of returning home, have trauma from war and violence, you are extremely blessed and have the unique opportunity to share that with others who have faced such harrowing circumstances.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Intersection

"God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them." ~Bono

It has been ten years, ten year's since I went to the continent of Africa for the first time. The first day I arrived in the village of Lupalilo, the place I would call 'home' for the next eight month's, gave me a stark awakening to the reality of life. Outside of my comfortable bubble, I was taken from the most euphoric high (me being in a new country for the first time in my life) to the depths of hell in a matter of minutes. 

We had been told that there were two women in the village suspected of HIV. They had requested consultation, which led to testing. The first woman we met was a beautiful mother of several children all huddled around her, none of them prepared for her fate. She had flawless dark skin and a kind face. She had recently lost a baby, they said to TB. At the time if a child died of TB shortly after birth, it was an indication of a much more deadly killer. 

The moments between drawing blood and waiting for the results were agonizing at best. We tried to make small talk but no one was interested. She was positive. We practically issued her a death sentence. Next was testing the father, just to be sure. He was negative, and stormed off. The woman was left in lonely horror: her secret of infidelity let out and her own finite life measured before her. The children sat in confusion. In those moments, I didn't know who I felt bad for: the mother who was dying and leaving her family behind; her husband who was left with the responsibility to care for them all on his own plus his wife's betrayal; or the children whose parents were at odds as well as facing the expected death of one of them.

We packed up our things and left a family broken. As we walked away, I looked back at the house. I remember seeing the woman in the same spot we left her with a glazed look on her eyes unable to move. The children followed us, as if they were begging us not to leave them in so much unknown.

A short distance away we found another mother, a young widow. She was gaunt. We repeated the procedure: a brief consultation followed by an invitation to be tested for HIV. She too was positive. Her husband had died a few years prior, suspected also from HIV. She had a teenage son who was busy at school so she was alone in her grief. We prayed with her and left. 

Welcome to the rest of the world: death, children suffering, betrayal, loss, loneliness and pain all wrapped up into a few minutes. 

Periodically we would stop by the houses to see how each family was doing. We tried to provide critical necessities or transportation to the local hospital. A short time later, the young widow passed away. Her son was left in the care of a relative, now an orphan. A few months later, we were informed that the other mother who was tested positive went to visit her sister. She never returned. We were told that she didn't want her children to watch her die. Her husband wasn't with her either when that moment came. 

"...God is with us if we are with them;" it certainly didn't feel like it that day ten years ago. I was there but where was God? I was left with many heartbreaking questions. Now, several years later, I have never forgotten these two women. And as I sit behind my desk in comfort and ease, it all makes a bit more sense now than it did before. The majority of the world does not have what I have: a full-time job, savings, health insurance, three meals a day, luxuries, and a middle-class life. The majority of the world can't relate to me, and me to them from my vintage point. God feels very far away and so do they. And maybe this is the intersection where I will find God, solidarity with my neighbor. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

I couldn't agree more to this blog post. Click here!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

New Year's Falsehope

I have hit a wall, writers block. This has been a tough spring and with that has sucked a lot of energy. I recently listened to a speech about how when the New Year's comes, everyone has high hopes that this will be the best year of their life but reality can be very different a few months in. Life the other 364 days of the year might not be what you imagine at 12:01am on January 1st in your black sparkle dress holding a glass of bubbly. I think I have learned over the years that no one year is the best year of my life but rather specific moments within each year are the best of my life.

It has felt like a grey cloud has hung over us since February. With Haylee's accident, the passing of my husband's grandmother, lost green card, frustrating work situation, crappy apartment issues and a ridiculous political situation - every month there is a new turn of loss or frustration. The last two weeks has been non-stop rain and grey clouds, an accurate reflection of our spring. 

There are two things that came with the loss of Haylee: our one chosen obligation tying us down to some extent and also the harsh realization that something or someone can be there one minute and gone the next. These realizations have forced us to consider what we really want for our life as well as to (try to) enjoy each day because in a minute, an hour, or a day it might be completely different.  

The last four months, we have been lying low. Waiting. Life passes us by some days, another week or month gone. It has been a very introspective time. However with this season, we have experienced new growth such as the eight new babies that have/will come into our life this year; a spiritual re-awakening for both of us; and readjusting our expectations of this 'life' experience we each have been gifted. 

To be honest, 2016 hasn't been the best year of our life - it has actually been quite horrible at times, mediocre at others, and sprinkles of joy here and there. Most importantly I think is that we have lived life. We have felt pain and sorrow, loss and grief, joy and celebration, hope and despair. 2016 isn't over yet, there is still a chance to turn this around; but if it doesn't, I know that if nothing less, I will remember 2016 unlike others because this is the year I have felt life differently. In that, there is hope.