A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: poverty (page 1 of 2)

What comes to mind when you think “refugee”?

For key thoughts on this important topic, make sure to check out this post on ways and reasons to welcome refugees.

“Teacha!” He loped across the pavement to me where I stood shaded beneath the tailgate of my high-clearance minivan.

At 6’5” and change, he couldn’t fit. In fact, the two of us are a caricature of opposites. His skin is the stuff of 80% cacao chocolate. Parts of mine are Cinderella-white (though Africa worked hard to darken me permanently with sun spots). Like his Sudanese ancestors, he’s built like a marionette; still, when he throws that rangy arm over my shoulder, he dwarfs my genetically Swiss shoulders and barrel chest.

But we’re friends. And I’m immensely proud of him. On scholarship to Bible school, he recently completed his first term, working hard in his second language of English. He aims to be a pastor for his people.

It’s hard for me to reconcile my friend with the stereotypical image of a refugee. It’s even more befuddling, admittedly, as I think about the controversy surrounding people like him. He’s never seen a day of his life where his nation’s at peace—and yet he is a man of peace, who wants to lead his people in peace.

Honestly, when I think of refugees—it’s not necessarily someone wrapped in a hijab (though they’ve been friends, too); it’s not even a child stretching his thin arm out of a dinghy. It’s people like “Sarah” who come to mind, my student who’s trained in Human Resources. Or “George”, who’s a civil engineer, and has taught at a local grammar school since he relocated to his new nation—though his parents are still in a refugee camp. Or the three other pastors in my class who’d stay after, asking questions and cracking jokes.

“A Narrative of Fear”

My kids frequently tussled about who got to come with me to the refugee center. A part of me was tickled pink by my blond sons reluctantly/happily swallowed up in the arms of towering, adoring refugee women.

So when my kids ask me to explain why their home nation is making laws against refugees, it’s challenging for me to explain.

I ask them to remember all the videos we watched together from 9/11, when tears rolled down my cheeks and onto the collars of their shirts at the elaborate deceit and wickedness to maximize iconic loss of life. I try to explain how smaller attacks around our country and around the world are causing people to feel so afraid for what our world is becoming. Islam—and most refugees—are an easy target as we wrestle to feel safe at school; in a mall; on a plane. (Christianity Today addresses here the narrative of fear surrounding the refugee crisis.)

But then I tell them of a professor of mine, who speaks Arabic for his archaeological digs. Soon after 9/11 at an IHOP, my professor noticed a cashier with an Arabic accent and oddly pale skin. When my professor greeted him quietly in Arabic, a single tear rolled down his cheek—revealing that the man, fearful for his safety, was wearing makeup to disguise his skin tone.

There’s fear on both “sides.”

Yet Ed Stezter of Christianity Today explains startlingly,

There is a 1 in 3.64 billion per year chance that you will be killed by a refugee-turned-terrorist in a given year. If those odds concern you, please do not get in a bathtub, car, or even go outside. And, for contrast, there were 762 tragic murders in Chicago alone last year compared to 0 people who were killed last year (or ever since the mid-70s) by a refugee-perpetrated terrorist attack. (emphasis added)

(Um, for perspective–cows kill 20 people per year.) To further this point: USA Today states that 78% of Syrian refugees allowed into the United States were women, or children under the age of 12–the estimated 18,000 by the end of last year still a tragically small amount of the 5 million left homeless. (I also found these statistics eye-opening about committed Christians’ response to the refugee crisis.)

Unfortunately, some of the most grave, horrific decisions in our history have hinged on this powerful emotion of fear–particularly of those culturally or racially different. We stop seeing people in the context of their stories and flatten them into a label on which to cast our fears.

An Unlikely Immigrant

I was recently moved by these words:

Our Savior came into the world dependent on hospitality, from the moment he was born in a borrowed manger until he was buried in a donated tomb. What is more, Jesus longs to meet us face to face in the disguise of the stranger, the guest at our door….

Laws don’t dictate how we are to treat immigrants, but Scripture does.[1]

Now clearly, we are still called to respect the governments God’s put in place (see Romans 13). But I still find salient the point that we take our cues on the foreigner from Scripture: not our fears (think of Ananias welcoming what he thought was a murderous Saul). Not the government. We take our cues from our own status as refugees: Those of us who are Gentiles were foreigners to God’s people…and God took us in, clothed us, and became our true home.

I appreciated the words of Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief, quoted in Christianity Today: “World Relief does not believe compassion and security have to be mutually exclusive. While it is wise to always work to increase effectiveness, a lengthy and complete ban is not necessary to meet our commitment to security, transparency and compassion” (emphasis added). It’s critical for us to be wise; to continue to intensively vet those coming into our country (see the process here).

Yet what if helping refugees…revitalized us? What if–as my family’s experienced–opening our own doors to refugees detaches us from our fear, propels us toward compassion for other mothers and children and fathers, illuminates our perspectives, requires us to share, and help us know more of God?

Is [the fast I, God, have chosen for you] not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst…The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong…

And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

I wonder. If the story of the Good Samaritan were retold today, is it possible it would be our own political enemies who might do the rescuing?

In our own homes and in the greater community of our nation–may we move forward not in fear, but in compassionate, informed wisdom and faith.

If you’re interested, consider signing We Welcome Refugees’ solidarity statement.

 

 

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3 Reasons I Welcome Refugees (and 3 Ways You Can Help, Too)

Thanksgiving Memos from a Bunch of Refugees

Living Sent: An Updated Job Description

An Open House

 

 

 

 

[1] Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

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Guest Post: A Fast for Your House: The Surprising Treasures of Simplicity

I always learn something from my friend Monica.

She learned to read and write in the last decade or so, when she moved to Kampala from her village in northern Uganda. But despite my college education, she has a lot to teach me.

When I visited her shared compound on Saturday, she couldn’t wait to show me inside her house. I had to comply looking into the toothy ivory grin parting that smooth, ebony face. And when I entered, I understood why.

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Gifts that Remain: Life Lessons for Keeps from Africa

I view the items in my home differently now. Everything is slid into a category in my mind: Pack it. Sell it. Give it. Just as we did five and a half years ago in Little Rock, we’re packing up our lives here in Africa. But of course the person who packed up then isn’t the same person who’s packing now.

And thankfully, those intangibles are things I can keep.

They don’t take up precious luggage space; I won’t need to sell them for pennies on the dollar with which I bought them. They’re Africa’s gifts to me.

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For the Day When You Feel Powerless, Part II

Missed the first post? Grab it here.

Last Thursday was one of those days that encapsulated so much of what I love and what drives me bananas about living in Uganda. I veered through jaw-clenching traffic on the 45-minute drive home, assembling all the clutter of my day into the appropriate mental file folders. This is quite a task to begin with–considering both a) my mind and b) at least four sudden oncoming governmental convoys. (Let’s just say mental “papers” kept being upended from their file folders by real life.)

As I do every week, I’d taught Bible at the refugee center. Even after three years, it’s a bit of a rabbit hole for me. There are so many cross-cultural experiences to make sense of at once that I’m flying by the seat of my skirt.

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 10 Practical Ways to Teach Simplicity (…and just in time for your crazy holiday!)

One of my favorite aspects of my African lifestyle is a lean muscularity of simplicity. Forget keeping up with the Joneses. You are the Joneses, when your kids are going to play with kids whose families (who may or may not be literate or have lost a child) live in one room, which may or may not have electricity and running water.

So people expect my light fixtures to, say, look like I swiped them from my church in the eighties. They anticipate that when I serve lemonade, it will cascade from an ugly plastic pitcher.

Perspective is everything.

Randy Alcorn explains in his (highly-recommended) The Treasure Principle, “The more things we own—the greater their total mass, the more they grip us, setting us in orbit around them.”

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Throwbackpost: Thanksgiving memos from a bunch of refugees

Author’s note: This post, originally posted around last year’s American Thanksgiving, is not at all intended to be a political statement regarding the recent controversy over refugees (see this article for a Christian point of view on the tension between security and compassion). It’s simply a memo to myself as I look at Thanksgiving any time of year, in light of what I’ve learned from the crazy-fun group of refugees I teach on a weekly basis in Uganda.

Sometimes I’m as much a student of them as they are of me, as they sprawl in their chairs there in the sticky heat or the lazy afternoon sun.

refugees 1Sometimes when they stand next to me, I have nothing to do but laugh out loud at the picture we must make: me with my German build and American clothing, my skin that best stay out of the sun after fifteen minutes, sky-colored eyes—and them, some even built like ebony marionettes, towering above me at six feet-two or –four, their toothy ivory grins and an arm around my shoulder, their tribal language to a friend resounding like African drums.

 

And so I think of them this year, even as I look online for the best recipes for our feast with family. Thanksgiving is a bit of a personal journal on the year for me. It seems like a good occasion to contemplate the year stretching behind me: What has God done? How do I remember Him being faithful? What must I be vigilant not to miss?

 

So my friends who have fled here from all over East Africa have reminded me, just from their own stories, the journal of their own lives. Don’t forget. Count every single one of your blessings.

 

Count, they would tell me, your ability to speak fluid English—the doors it opens for you, the jobs it gets, the ease it provides you in so many places around the world.

Teacher, count that you have been born in a time of relative peace in your country, not war. That justice is often done when you go to the police or in your courts; that people do not have to take the law into their own hands. Justice in your country also means most of your friends and/or relatives are still living; thriving, even.

And that because of all this, you have received an education—and not just any education. You went to a school that has books and lunch and can make photocopies and has less than thirty students per class!

Count that your basic education means you know basic first aid, means you have a certain degree of reasoning and logic skills. That you have a mass of essential knowledge that, even finding yourself in a place of sudden poverty (the developing-world kind), would not leave you there for long.

You can be thankful, Teacher, that your life expectancy is beyond 49.[1] That in your country, if someone steals, they keep both of their hands.[2]

My friend, count that your home has a floor, that you have a car and know how to drive it, that you have been to a dentist in your lifetime. Remember you can easily find doctors who know what they are doing; the money to pay them and not draw it from something else you need, like your child’s school fees.

Thank God, Teacher, that you got to choose your husband! And he is a good man, with a job, who has never laid an angry hand on you. That you got to choose your job. That you have driven on smooth, safe roads. That you don’t worry much about your children dying; that malaria is no longer in your country, or typhoid, or cholera, or ebola. You have clean water—in your own house, right from your own tap!

You might think these are simple things, Teacher. But to me, they are not. Thank your God for these things on Thursday. They are sweet things, Teacher. So sweet.

 

[1] This is life expectancy in the Congo. South Sudan is 54; Somalia is 55.

[2] See Sharia law.

 

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When Helping Hurts [You], Part III: When Aisha Died

helping hurts

The phone connection sounded a bit like Oliver, one of my closest Ugandan friends, was crushing newspapers on the other end; I held the phone an inch from my ear. But I didn’t miss what made my hand fly to my chest: “Aisha…she passed. It was just too late. Things were already too bad.”

Aisha. Perhaps you remember her from this photo, snapped from my phone two and a half months ago, outside a mud hut in the slums of Namuwongo. She’s the young mother of four kids. A twenty-something.

namuwongo family

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Victories of a different color: The Olympic Refugee Team

It’s a bold team, considering the climate of politics this year.
Well. It’s a bold team, considering the brash confrontation of reality required for these athletes to simply step onto the stadium’s spongy track there in Rio. After all, beneath whose flag would they walk? And who would fund their sportswear, their tickets? Something says their uniforms weren’t designed by Ralph Lauren.
No, this group is stitched together by something else entirely.
Perhaps it’s hope.

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Hope in the slums: Finding God in Namuwongo

Sometimes it’s hard for me to locate the goodness of God in poverty.

A project with a Ugandan friend of mine, completing her counseling internship, had trailed me into the slums after her. In some ways the dry season made it more tolerable than I’d anticipated. The unnaturally-colored, stagnant water clotted with trash would soon rise bearing cholera, typhoid, and worse.

My heart and my senses were constantly scuffed to a raw alertness. The ten women our project was seeking to assist earned about 1500 shillings per day; about 50 cents. We ducked in their darkened huts, my rudimentary Luganda tripping over my tongue like my tennis shoes over the jutting paths outside.

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3 Reasons I Welcome Refugees (and Three Ways You Can, Too)

It’s World Refugee Day! Today I want to honor the struggle, courage, and hard work of refugees around the world who have so much to offer.

  1. Refugees give back.I’ll be honest with you: Some of my students have never sat in a classroom prior to their seat at Refuge and Hope. Their nations have been in unrest for too long. If you’re trying to stay alive, you usually aren’t sitting in school.

Many of them are learning to read for the first time. They are adjusting to a new culture and so many new ways of doing things; at least one of our Western-style bathrooms has a printed poster: Please don’t stand on the seats. They’re all learning English, business skills like computers or sewing or baking, and health skills. They’re taking Bible. Check it out here:

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