Usually your native country is your homeland. That’s where you belong, live in community, practice the traditions of your people, enjoy the natural beauty and resources of the land.
But for many people in some places of the world their familiar and beloved home place is violently disrupted. Racial, religious, and territorial conflicts arise; corrupt governments crumble or oppress; natural disasters occur; genocide comes down hard.
How would you describe such a country? These people call it “home.” They don’t want to leave their home. But the time came they had to flee for their lives.
For instance, we have published the stories of refugees from South Sudan and Darfur. Here are three of them.
This is Muna Maria and her family. She was a child in a south Sudan village. “When I was six or seven years old I was abducted by a man from north Sudan…. On the day I was taken, the government soldiers began shooting in our direction and the mango grove caught on fire. Homes and shops burned down. All the children ran in different directions. They didn’t know where to go—they saw no way out. That’s when a soldier grabbed me and took me away. It must have been chaos in our village—parents looking for their children and children who had run too far away and couldn’t find their way home. …”
This is Gabriel. He begins his story with: “During Sudan’s Civil War that began in 1983, government troops from the north attacked and bombed my village in the south. My family was separated—we all ran in different directions. Most were killed. At that point, I was still with my mother, but when I was eleven years old I separated from her and fled with other young boys to Ethiopia. Eventually I began wandering from place to place in East Africa. But wherever I went, I was an outsider, a refugee with no documents…” For some time he was put in a “terrible, terrible jail.” Gabriel’s youth was a saga too long to tell here.
This is Muna from Darfur. Her story is of horrendous suffering. Her husband and five of her six children were killed. She says, “Nothing remained in our town after the attack on that black day. It was the rainy season when it feels like heaven opens and pours buckets of water down to the earth. My son and I ran in the rain and in the darkness. No light anywhere. I tripped and fell in the mud. My house dress caught on the thorny bushes and trees. I lost all my clothes but had to keep running. Me, who always wore the beautiful, colorful dresses and scarves common to our tribe. We finally reached the forest and hid like wild animals.”
To read more of the stories of these and other refugees from Sudan, get the book A People Tall and Smooth by Judith Galblum Pex.
Let’s keep our minds and hearts and arms open to the desperately needy in our world no matter from what beloved homeland they have had to flee.
Think of the most polarizing social issues. Now think of your daily life, the people around you that you love, that you meet, that you pass at lunch on the street. If you didn’t watch the news and weren’t inundated by media, would you be full of animosity and vitriol towards any of them who hadn’t wronged you personally?
Your response to my question might rightfully be that people wouldn’t be aware of important issues and problems without so much media. Maybe. But I wonder whether media isn’t causing the problems to snowball and take on global lives of their own, instead of quietly and locally wasting away?
People might actually get along better as local individuals—and better recognize that perhaps they actually do get along pretty well with all kinds of people with all kinds of views—if they weren’t constantly hooked into the mind-feed. And I can guarantee that the issues wouldn’t be dominated by sound bites and catch-phrases promoting simple dichotomy of complex issues and crushing the possibility of honest dialogue.
And that’s where I should end the post; but I’m going to continue in a sort of wistful way to say that we can’t take away the press, even if it is often hired to promote special interests in their attacks of other interests. But we can take a break from the constant mind-feed and, instead, consider anew the real people around us, consider our own decisions and thoughts and actions and how we might do some good in the world.
Maybe that could be social justice. And maybe it would be quiet and strong and positive, acknowledging the imperfections—not only of the injustice-doers, but of the world generally, and especially ourselves. And there would still be crime, and there would still be poverty, and there would still be inequality, but maybe we could all be more loving, more content, more peaceful and thereby make our lives a little better and make the lives around us a little better.
Children can feel the tensions, prejudices, and injustices that can exist around them.
When my sister and I were about 6 and 7 Daddy pastored a church in a coastal town in Central California, where the parsonage was in a racially-mixed neighborhood. We thought nothing of the fact that we played with Black children. We went into each others’ homes and each others’ apron-clad mothers gave us drinks of water and fresh-baked cookies. I only remember feeling acceptance and friendliness.
Then we moved to a valley town where 2/3 of the student body in our elementary school were Black and Mexican-American, many the children of transient farm workers. In this school in the 1950s, I first experienced racial tension. There I first heard the “N” word used. We were naive little girls, unprepared for the sights of gangs fighting on the playing fields, busloads of kids shaking their fists and yelling out the windows. As insults and epithets flew, I thought, “What is this?!” At the age of 9 I didn’t know anything about the civil rights movement taking place in our country.
I do remember Daddy driving us to a farm workers camp and the shock and sadness I felt when I saw how some of my classmates lived. No sidewalks, no trees, no grass. Just dirt and squalid shacks that couldn’t really be called buildings. No indoor plumbing, out by the cotton fields, with no respite from the hot sun.
Some of our little friends at school bragged about how they didn’t have to go to school during the cotton harvest. They were going to pick cotton with their family and make lots of money! Bev and I went home and told our parents we wanted to pick cotton and make money and not have to go to school! Mother shook her head. “Girls, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s back-breaking work. The cotton plants cut your hands and make them bleed. And the farm workers get paid very little. Those children’s parents need the extra money their children make just to help them subsist.” I had a hard time believing my mother. When we drove by fields of ripe cotton, the bursting heads looked white and soft as cotton balls.
We were learning about divides between people groups that couldn’t be crossed.
My second-grade sister had a more personal learning experience. She got into an argument with another little girl on the playground, probably over the rules of a four-square game or something. It just happened that the other girl was Black. As the girls hurled insults at each other, the worst thing my sister could think to say was, “You’re nothing but a big chocolate sundae.” Understandably, the girl took offense. She could have yelled back: “Well, you’re just plain vanilla ice cream.” Instead she hit my sister pretty hard and by the time I showed up on the scene, there was my sister on the ground, crying. I got scared and ran home (we lived across the street from the school) to tell our parents Bev was hurt. Daddy came to the school, found that only Bev’s pride was wounded, and made her apologize to the girl.
Well, that was really hard for Bev to do. But later, she and the little Black girl became friends. When Bev had her 8th birthday party, she invited this girl. The picture above shows the two of them with me (age 9) in the middle.
If only reconciliation were always that simple.
Or maybe it is that simple: Wise and caring authority figures who bring us together, don’t hide from suffering, help us face the truth about ourselves and each other, encourage asking for and receiving forgiveness, then give us opportunities to celebrate our common humanity.
I’m starting a series of guest posts from authors. Today we hear from John Buzzard, whose first book,Storm Tossed, is a war memoir (of more than one kind of warfare).
As John shows here, we humans have a tendency to embrace “us and them” attitudes. We point fingers and condemn, when Jesus says to love and pray. Especially in these days of polarizing politics and issues, even Christians can find themselves in the position of using our energies protecting “our group” while, in essence, wishing that God would destroy the “other group.” John tells about a time he found himself in such a situation:
I moved to Alameda, California, and got a job with a security company guarding the former Naval Air Station. Going from a police officer to a security guard was humbling, but I took it on faith God had something better in mind for me. My wife and the kids and I moved into a small, expensive apartment and started attending a local church.
I drove a white pickup truck around the base from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. When I got tired I’d park on the tarmac, pour myself a cup of coffee, listen to the radio and gaze at the lights of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. I was shocked to hear radio talkers mocking God in the name of tolerance, promoting perverted lifestyles, and encouraging hatred towards Christians.
“Oh Lord, why do You allow that wicked city to mock You and fester in sin? Why not destroy it?” I prayed.
Immediately I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Your prayer is like that of Jonah. Just like the people of Nineveh, I do not wish for these people to perish, but to repent. What if I had pronounced judgment on the world when you were still in sin? Pray for the salvation of the city, rather than its destruction.”
My attitude changed. Instead of despising many of the people of San Francisco, I felt sorry for those enslaved to the power of Satan. My prayers changed. The radio stations I listened to also changed. I found a couple of good Christian stations that provided solid teaching. At the end of my eight-hour shift I’d feel invigorated.
Over time, I also felt the Lord was telling me not to be ashamed of my own past, because there are so many people trapped by sexual sin. If they only knew my story, they could see there is hope.