My proclamation a few weeks before Lent began – that I was giving up grumbling for the six weeks – was probably a relief for the people who live in my house. While everyone else was depriving themselves of chocolate and soda, I was going to simply stop whining and groaning about every little winter thing that had been crawling under my skin for the past three months. Cold weather is becoming my cranky catalyst, and it had gotten so bad that even I was tired of listening to myself.
Having settled the question of what would be given up, I was ready for Ash Wednesday. Then, the Sunday before Lent began I ended up at a venue in Oklahoma City with a group of passionate advocates who had gathered to talk about the immigration and refugee crisis. I was tagging along with my husband who was interested in how his law degree could be put to good use on behalf of this particular population. I was happy to take a short road trip on a Sunday afternoon. It would be fun. We’d drive and talk, and after it was over we would find a quaint coffeeshop.
For six years, I’ve had my head, heart, and sometimes my body in Ghana, working to help provide income sustainability and education to marginalized women and children in tiny rural villages spread across the West African country. The issue of immigrants entering and living in our country, and the global refugee crisis was something I had only seen out of the corner of my eye. I began to pay closer attention to it during the presidential campaign as the rhetoric increased, culminating in the president’s travel ban in February, 2017. But still, I was too distracted to realize that something was building.
At the event, we heard from refugees, DACA recipients, advocates, immigrants, and those who were helping to resettle and serve people newly arrived to our country. I was given some facts and statistics, along with a few harsh realities. I got angry and sad. And then, when I realized how little I knew about an issue that was swirling in front of me, I got motivated.
Also, I won a book. This is significant because this never happens to me. I don’t win stuff. Ever. I’m the one who drops her name into the bucket and it’s never drawn and I’m never surprised. This time my name was called, and I was handed a tote bag with the words “Daring Hope” and a book with the title, Seeking Refuge. I took it as a sign. If I had been lucky enough to win this book, then I had better read it. I flew through it in less than 48 hours, but I needed to know more. I decided that for the Lenten season, I should do more than just give up grumbling. Instead, the six weeks would be spent doing a deep dive into the immigration and refugee crisis.
I immediately began building my own syllabus. It would include books, articles, Google alerts, documentaries, TED talks, historical documents and podcasts. In addition, I would observe ESL classes, meet immigrants and refugees, and listen to their stories. I signed up to receive the UNHCR Morning Brief by email, and researched the countries where conflict was driving people from their homes and into camps along with other forms of displacement. I discovered the Pew Research Center and spent time studying charts, graphs, numbers and statistics.
The Catholic activist Dorothy Day said, “our greatest danger is not our sins, but our indifference,” to which I humbly offer the possibility that our indifference is the sin. This Lenten season I discovered that moving from indifference to informed can be a spiritual experience, and for me it is the prerequisite for any calling that involves doing the work of justice. So is prayer, lament, and meditating, which became more necessary as I read the stories of what people are enduring in conflict areas and refugee camps, and what they are facing daily in our own communities.
At the beginning of Lent, I was given a bookmark with forty verses from the Bible. These verses center around God’s love for immigrants and refugees, and include clear commands on how the Israelites were to treat the “stranger.” Those outsiders who found themselves in the midst of a chosen people were to be treated as if they, too, had been chosen, because they had. Beyond the commands, this is what always moves me toward action: that all people have been been created with dignity and purpose, and all deserve to be treated as such. All are chosen. After six weeks of deep-diving into the issue, I’ve been heartbroken to discover that the radical inclusion that God desires isn’t playing out so well right now. There are fearful, angry voices and harsh action at work. And there is plenty of indifference. But there are other voices speaking up as well, and these are the welcoming, inclusive ones. I’m joining those voices.
My work in Ghana continues as Rising Village provides resources so people can rise up and out of the margins. But I am also paying attention to what is happening in front of us – in our own community. My Lenten deep dive has moved me to join the courageous voices here, and then, in the spirit of my favorite African proverb, look for ways to “move my feet”.
In case you are curious about the Lenten Deep Dive syllabus I followed, I’m posting it below, acknowledging that it is not a definitive list of resources, or even the best. It did allow me to hear from a wide range of voices and see the issue from varying angles. All are trusted sources and I found them to be incredibly informative. I’m continuing to learn, so if you have resources to suggest, feel free to post them in the comments.
Seeking Refuge by Matthew Soerens
The Middle of Everywhere by Mary Pipher
City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence
Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli
The Human Flow (Amazon Prime)
Dadaab: The Documentary (YouTube)
Historical and Reference Resources:
Pew Research Center (search immigration/refugee)
The Refugee Brief from UNHCR (weekday morning news brief)
worldrelief.org (World Relief)
www.rescue.org (International Rescue Committee)
wewelcomerefugees.com (We Welcome Refugees)
Living in the Upside Down Kingdom: dlmayfield.com
The Redeemed Intersectionalist: mekdeisha.org
Loving the Stranger: lovingthestrangerblog.com