Yesterday, in church, a woman from Ethiopia stood up to share that a relative of hers had just crossed the sea from Libya to Italy in one of those dangerous migrant boats. She asked us to pray for this family member who now finds herself in a camp in Italy. Even though I have first-hand experience with migrants and refugees in both Kenya and Egypt, I was jolted by her prayer request. The enormous numbers of displaced people around the world - these numbers that get thrown around like popcorn - can feel meaningless to me. Yet here was a human being in my church, telling us about a dearly loved family member who represents one of the millions making dangerous journeys out of desperate hope for a better future. Worshipping and praying alongside immigrants, refugees, and asylees has changed my understanding of God as the great consoler to those who suffer.
Once upon a time (ahem, 10 years ago) I lived in Egypt and studied global migration for a year-long graduate program, trying to make sense of the internship I had completed a year earlier with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kakuma refugee camp, as well as my experience working in refugee resettlement in Chicago. It was such a privilege to live in Egypt - to receive a stellar education, to experience life as a minority, to brush up against a culture I knew very little about. There is nothing like being an outsider - racially, religiously, and otherwise - to build empathy for others who live in that reality.
I wrote this month for the Public Justice Review about what I have learned about refugees, specifically about the journey a refugee takes from displacement to resettlement. If you are curious about how a refugee gets from life in Somalia or Syria to being resettled in Minneapolis, MN or Omaha, NE, you might find this article illuminating. I hope you'll read it and that it will inspire you to push back against the misinformation and fear mongering out there about refugees.
It starts like this:
"Once I had a job where I asked people to tell me, in great detail, about the most traumatic experiences of their life. In 2005, I was an intern with the United Nations in Kakuma refugee camp located in northwestern Kenya, and my role was to screen individuals for refugee resettlement. The majority of my caseload were people from the Oromo ethnic group who, despite being the majority in their home country of Ethiopia, experienced systematic oppression by the ruling government. Many of the people I interviewed were torture survivors, student protesters, and victims of sexual violence."