November 11, 2018 § Leave a comment
When it’s time to paint your front door, choosing a color can be a big decision. Do you go with traditional or bold or trendy? Do you stick with white or black or make a statement with bright blue or red or teal?
My wife and I were at the house of some friends not long ago, talking about remodeling, previous and planned. We brought up some projects that we’d completed at our house, including painting our front door. After a lot of Pinterest searches we’d settled on a deep, dark blue-green that the paint company called “obsidian.”
Our friends’ front door is yellow. But it isn’t just any old yellow. It’s yellow with a story. Our friend told us that the door was that color when they bought the house and they’d decided to leave it that way. “Do you know the poem ‘The New Colossus’?” she asked. While the title sounded vaguely familiar, I had to say “No.”
She went to the door and took a framed print off the wall, and there it was—the sonnet written by Emma Lazarus as a tribute to the Statue of Liberty. Oh, yeah, that “New Colossus.” Cast in bronze and hanging inside the statue’s pedestal, it ends with
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Our friends have worked overseas and now minister here to refugees, some from the part of the world where they used to serve. Gold is their statement color. They want visitors from all over to know that they are welcome in their home.
In February of last year I wrote about the global refugee crisis in “Why I Don’t Pray for the Syrian Refugees.” Since then, the number of people worldwide forced from their homes has grown even larger, in part due to the tragic civil war in Yemen. At the end of 2015, as reported by UNHCR, there were 65.3 million people displaced by war or persecution. At the close of 2017, that number had risen to a record high of 68.5. That includes
- 40 million displaced inside their home countries
- 25.4 million refugees, and
- 3.1 million seeking asylum
I guess here’s where I could ask a challenging question, such as “What color is your door?” But my asking might be a little hypocritical, what with my door being obsidian and all.
Instead, I’ll just let the question in this song be the challenge, for you . . . and for me.
“Figures at a Glance,” The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), June 19, 2018)
February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
I want my daughters to tell people how we ended up here, whether it’s in a book, in a film, or just an answer to “What’s wrong?” That’s all I want.
—a Syrian refugee in Greece, in Refuge
As I’ve read, and watched, more about the Syrian refugee crises, I came across two powerful videos. I decided not to include them in my post last week, because they’re on the longer side (around 20 minutes each), and I wanted to bring more attention to them in a post of their own.
The first one, Refuge: Human Stories from the Refugee Crisis, lets a number of Syrian refugees speak to the camera. In Making Refuge: Behind the Scenes of the Refuge Project, the film’s director, Matthew K. Firpo, tells why he and his crew made the trip to meet the Syrians in Greece:
We wanted to focus on the simple, important fact that every refugee is a human being, with hopes and losses and families just like each of us. And in sharing their stories, we wanted audiences to understand what it means to leave behind everything you know, to finally have faces to put to headlines.
In the next video, The Island of All Together, Syrians who have arrived on Lesvos (Lesbos) as refugees sit down to talk with Europeans who have come to the Greek island as vacationers. What a wonderful idea.
They pairs converse on a range of topics, some profound, some mundane, all poignant in their simplicity and touching openness. In one conversation, Otis asks the Syrian Rashad what he would do with a million Euros.
Rashad: A million Euros? I would help all of the people who have not been able to flee Syria.
Otis: That’s beautiful.
Rashad: And what would you do with a million?
Otis: I would buy a nice car, pay for my education, and give the rest to charities.
Rashad: I hope that God gives you a beautiful car. . . . I had to sell my car in Syria to get the money to come here.
Otis: What kind of car did you have?
Rashad: I had a Kia Morning.
Otis: I now have a Citroen Saxo.
February 11, 2017 § 2 Comments
Since the start of Syria’s civil war, 12.5 million Syrians have been displaced, including 4.8 million living as refugees in other countries, with the rest forced out of their homes but still living in Syria. According to the Pew Research Center, this total number represents 60% of the country’s population of 2011, before the conflict began. The center calls the situation of Syrian displacement “unprecedented in recent history for a single country,” part of a global crisis that has nearly 1 out of 100 people worldwide forcibly displaced—the highest percentage since UNHCR began collecting those numbers in 1951.
In the face of this, a survey from World Vision and Ipsos Public Affairs shows that currently only 14% of Americans “pray for refugees and the conflict in Syria.” This is down from 22% in 2015. Of those surveyed who self-identify as “committed Christians,” 41% say that they are willing to pray, but only 19% actually do so. These numbers, too, are lower than a year ago, when 51% said they were willing to pray, with 30% praying.
If I had been contacted for the survey when it was held in September of last year, I would have described myself as a committed Christian. I also would have told them that I don’t pray for the Syrians. Here’s why:
- I’m pretty busy, and it’s hard to find time to pray at all, even for my family and for personal issues.
- I don’t understand what’s going on in Syria well enough to know how to pray intelligently. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? The situation seems so complex—politically, culturally, and religiously—and it seems to change constantly.
- Whatever outcome that we can hope for will be a very long time coming. It’s taken so many years to get to this place, and there are no quick solutions. I can’t commit to praying indefinitely.
- It seems as if one tragedy after another is happening in our world today, and I’ve stopped trying to keep up. Which one should I pray for? Which one is the most tragic? It’s all so numbing. And the news outlets jump around so much in their coverage. They’re easily distracted and so am I.
- I don’t personally know any Syrians, so theirs is not a problem that I can relate to.
- Since I’m not giving money or taking any other action, it would be hypocritical for me only to pray.
To me it’s about knowing, understanding, caring, and acting—and back in September, concerning the Syrian crisis, I was lacking in all these areas. But since I started writing this post, things have been changing. I now know more, I understand more, I care more . . . and I’ve started praying.
If the surveyors called me today, I’m still not sure I could say, “I pray for refugees and the conflict in Syria.” I have prayed. And I plan to pray. But I’ve got a ways to go before I can say with confidence I do pray.
How about you?
To better understand the situation, you can read “Syria: The Story of the Conflict,” from BBC News, or watch this video:
If you need help caring, if you need faces and stories to go with the numbers . . .
If you don’t know how to pray, then you can go to World Vision’s prayer guide, and listen to this prayer from a Syrian Christian:
And if you’d like to help financially, here are two options for giving funds to help alleviate this great need:
I have started praying, and I hope that in the future, if I get a call for a survey, I’ll be able to say I’m praying still.
(Philip Connor and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “About Six-in-Ten Syrians Are Now Displaced,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, June 13, 2016; Connor and Krogstad, “Key Facts about the World’s Refugees,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, October 5, 2016; “Survey: While Aleppo and Mosul Burn, American Christians Less Likely to Pray for, Help Refugees than a Year Ago,” World Vision)
December 26, 2014 § 2 Comments
When we lived overseas, we were encouraged to make lists of items we would need to grab in case of an evacuation. First there was the list for what to collect if we had only fifteen minutes to leave. Then there were lists for an evacuation in an hour, in 24 hours, and so on.
While a swift departure from our apartment in Taipei was a possibility, it didn’t loom over our heads as it does for many in other countries . . . so we never made a formal list. Rather, we had a cluster of absolutely-most-important-things kept in the same room: my laptop, our passports, extra credit cards, a printout of important contact information, a first-aid kit.
We never tackled listing the irreplaceable items, those with sentimental value. Like writing a will, it was hard to think about and too easy to put off.
If you had to leave your home in a hurry, what would you take? What if you had to escape your country, as well? And what if you knew it would probably be nearly 20 years before you were able to create a new home?
Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, knows a lot about people who flee their homes and about what they lose and what they take with them. She knows a lot because she meets refugees and talks with them.
In her TED Talk, “Let’s Help Refugees Thrive, Not Just Survive,” she tells her motivation for what she does:
So I started working with refugees because I wanted to make a difference, and making a difference starts with telling their stories. So when I meet refugees, I always ask them questions. Who bombed your house? Who killed your son? Did the rest of your family make it out alive? How are you coping in your life in exile? But there’s one question that always seems to me to be most revealing, and that is: What did you take? What was that most important thing that you had to take with you when the bombs were exploding in your town, and the armed gangs were approaching your house?
She then shares the story of Hany, a young Syrian refugee who knew exactly what he would take when his family was forced to flee to Lebanon. “I took my high school diploma,” he said, “because my life depended on it.” He had risked his life in war-torn Syria to earn it, and he saw his education as his hope for the future.
Fleming goes on to tell more stories of refugees and to recount some sobering statistics, including these (I’ve added some additional numbers from “UNHCR: Facts and Figures about Refugees“):
- The approximately 50 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2013 is the highest number since World War II.
- Each day last year, an average of 32,000 more people were forced from their homes.
- 33 million of the displaced people remain in their own country. 16.7 million flee to other countries, making them refugees.
- 86% of the world’s refugees are living in the developing world.
- On average, a refugee will be displaced for 17 years.
- The war in Syria has produced 6.5 million displaced people, about half its population. More than 3 million of them have entered neighboring countries.
- Lebanon, a country of 4 million, is home to 1 million Syrian refugees.
- Half of the Syrian refugees are children, and only 20% of those in Lebanon are in school.
Below is Fleming’s full TED Talk, followed by a video message from Hany, produced by the UNCHR.
The last video is “Lebanon: Through the Eyes of a Refugee,” featuring Hany’s photographs from his participation in the UNHCR workshop Do You See What I See? The two-week class on photography and writing was led by photojournalist Brendan Bannon.