We all have them thrust upon us.
The arbitrary meanings of these descriptors are also thrust upon us whether we like it or not.
Syrian. What if that was used to describe you? What preconceived notions would come with that label?
Tony Kriz, who spoke in chapel a while back, shared with us a personal experience when he was trying to welcome a Muslim family to his community. He wanted to build a relationship with them so that they would not feel so isolated and marginalized. He invited their family to go trick-or- treating with his family. The Muslim family agreed. Their kids dressed up in their costumes but the mother came along wearing her hijab. They approached the first house on their block and a woman answered the door. She looked at the mother in her hijab. She enthusiastically exclaimed, “Oh my word! I get it! You are a terrorist. Great costume!”
How uncomfortable. How hurtful.
Adjectives and the stereotypes that come with them can be so detrimental.
What if we truly got to know people instead of just making ignorant assumptions about them based on the adjectives that we have plastered on them as labels?
There are so many unfortunate and ignorant assumptions made about Syrian brothers and sisters. Just like they say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” How is it fair to judge unique individuals by their ethnic group? There is so much damage that can be done when we make ignorant assumptions about someone different than us and ultimately give him or her the most detrimental label, “other.”
While I was serving on the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, Inc board, I met an employee of theirs who has recently returned from Serbia and Croatia where he was raising awareness of the refugee crisis with a social media approach similar to ‘Humans of New York.’ One of his friends commented that people have “dehumanized these refugees and classified them as ‘other’. If you can humanize these people in the eyes of the people in the West, maybe you’ll convince a few more good people to do good things instead of just doing easy things.”
Another friend commented, “Some days I fear that we are seeing a replay of the beginnings of WWII, when apathy towards an “over there problem” cost so much to so many worldwide. But other days I fall into that apathetic trap because it feels like we can’t really make any difference – not on a grand scale. So at the moment, I am doing what I can to help those who ARE here, in hopes that they will see the love of Christ lived out through this very imperfect vessel and teach me how to be better.”
It is easy to keep a comfortable distance from social justice issues happening on the other side of the world. It is easy to feel helpless.
But what if the girl in the photo above was your little sister? What if it was your family we were talking about instead of those “others” so far away?
The following is the caption that my friend posted underneath the photo above, taken at Slavonski Brod Refugee Camp.
“So there was a family that came through. A mom, dad, grandma, little boy, and seven-year-old daughter. The daughter was the only one that spoke English, and so she took charge and became the voice for her family.
‘My grandma needs a coat,’ she begged, ‘These pants for dad, my brother really, really needs shoes… please.’
Our team fulfills her requests, and then look down and see HER OWN shoes are in pieces… yet, she’s completely disinterested in her own needs. Upon trying to find shoes for her, the camp appears to be out of her size, and the local police are pushing for them to leave.
‘That’s ok’ she bravely insists while being escorted away.
One of our team members ran to the storage tent, found shoes in the right size, and caught her right as she was getting on the train. The silent thankfulness that exuded from her eyes was all the thanks needed.
This is the needed strength these refugees must posses.”
This little girl is a human. She has a name. She has a story. She is more than a “Syrian refugee” and whatever meaning you thrust upon her based on those two words. She is not just an “other.”
So what can we do?
Be bold enough to get to know people for who they are, not just the adjectives thrust upon them. Engage in raw relationships and treat others with the dignity that they deserve but may have been deprived of because of degrading definitions of adjectives forced on them by others who are acting out of ignorance. My roommate, Laura Fosnaugh, who is working
with World Relief with refugee resettlement in Nashville, TN, says the church should be leaders in racial reconciliation and bridging the gap. Seek the refugees in your community and welcome them. Invite them into your life. Listen. Learn.
To help children and families in crisis, go to www.ncm.org/refugees. The Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Toolkit “How You Can Help Displaced People” gives tangible action steps like how to conduct a city orientation and make a services map, not to mention volunteering in countries where the church is currently serving refugees.
Give. “Local churches in Jordan and Lebanon have been ministering to refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries in many ways for more than four years. Nazarenes in Germany have been ministering to refugees for years – and are now gearing up to minister to the new influx coming in. Nazarenes in England are ministering to asylum seekers. You can support efforts to minister to refugee families by giving to the NCM Refugee Support Fund…”
Pray. “Pray for wisdom for church leaders in Europe and the Middle East as they minister to refugee families
in Jesus’ name. Pray for peace for children and adults who have been traumatized. Pray for health for families who are sleeping outside or in inadequate shelters in the cold and rain. Pray for the presence of God to be felt and a spirit of peace to reign in the midst of crisis.” (ncm.org)
Advocate. Verne Ward, Director
of Nazarene Missions International once told me “There are no voiceless people. Only people whose voices are not being heard.” Help their voices be heard. Proverbs 31:8 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for them- selves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Write your local legislator and encourage support for bill HR15- 68 Protecting Religious Minorities.
Educate yourself. Read World Relief’s FAQs on refugees
Again, what if it was your family?
–Katie Reed, contributing writer