We’ve been in the same place for the last three weeks. That’s an accomplishment for us, given our track record these past four months. It feels good to sink our feet into the sand. To be out of suitcases. To find our normal and enjoy routine. To learn our grocery store and make friends at our corner café.
It’s been so sweet to return to Chicago. Things have changed, but a lot has stayed the same. This city is a playground of food, entertainment and adventure. The history is rich. The architecture is phenomenal. The people are diverse, holding within them stories of all kinds.
Coming from small town Nebraska, I knew same. I didn’t know diversity. There was one token Hispanic family near the town I grew up. And I didn’t expose myself to the happenings beyond a 200 mile radius of me. Then when I moved to Chicago for the first time (in 2007), I got educated. I was so intrigued by the assortment, by the mixture, by the lack of uniformity. New issues bubbled up, like racial reconciliation and poverty and gentrification. I learned the beauty of different, and the tension it brought with it.
I learned that because of ‘different’ the world is filled with strife. I learned that somehow people kill their own people, as they violently turn against each another. That women are weak and less than, as they’re routinely subjected and violated. That children aren’t precious, as they’re taken advantage of and stripped of their innocence. I learned that people are of little value, beneath political position, religious correctness, pigment of skin, power and money. This happens in small town Nebraska and in big cities like Chicago. It takes all shapes and forms and varies in level of intensity as we cross the globe.
Because of this harsh reality and these excessive injustices, people flee. They flee for their lives. They flee for their children’s lives. They flee for hope. Since arriving to Chicago last month, we’ve been getting to know these flee-ers. This group has a title that often carries with it a stigma. These people have wounds, both physical and emotional. They have seen, heard, and smelled in real life what we only experience in our nightmares and conjure up in our fears. These people are refugees.
A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution (race, religion, nationality, or political opinion), or human rights violence. Our country has chosen hospitality and welcomed some, more than any other country. But we’ve also turned thousands away.
You may have noticed the news headlines recently. Because of the Syrian civil war, droves of desperate flee-ers are coming. Supposedly this is the worst refugee crisis since WWII. According to the UNHCR, the Syrian Refugee Crisis is now one of the largest exoduses in human history, and it is only projected to escalate. We are faced with a seemingly incomprehensible humanitarian crisis with the significant influx of refugees into Europe. This whole situation is overwhelming. Like standing by the ocean, or drinking from a fire hydrant, or seeing your sister get raped or your parents get shot. The problem is far reaching and the solutions complex.
Since my husband took a job with World Relief last month, we’re learning so much about these people. We’re learning their names, we’re shaking their hands, we’re playing with their children, we’re helping them find jobs. They are more than statistics, more than stories in the news. They are real, fleeing people. Filled with fear and grieving. Overwhelmed to start over, but thankful to be alive. To have made it.
Our big cities aren’t the only places and people that need to know and practice hospitality to refugees. They’re being resettled in places like Des Moines, Kansas City, Omaha and Lincoln, too. So I want to leave you with a short list of helps. Ways you can learn and help others learn:
Understanding the Refugee Crisis in Europe, Syria and Around the World > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVV6_1Sef9M
-A brief and helpful overview
UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency > http://www.unhcr.org/
-They’re an international organization that’s in-over-their-heads involved safeguarding the rights and well-being of refugees.
World Relief > http://worldrelief.org/disaster-response/syria
-A helpful list of how we/you can respond to the crisis
We Welcome Refugees > http://wewelcomerefugees.com/
-The organization my husband works with formed a partnership with Ann Voskamp (the well-known blogger and author of 1,000 Gifts) to launch this website. It’s a call to action for the global church. Get real, get practical, don’t do it alone.
Pick up or download Mary Pipher’s book The Middle of Everywhere
-Where she connects us with the newest members of the American family—refugees. (She received her PhD at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln!
Download this song written by my friend Jacob Mau > https://jacobmau.bandcamp.
-He writes songs & stories telling the tales of refugees. During the month of September, all artist proceeds from this project will help provide household items for 75 refugees arriving through World Relief Chicago this month!