Spiritual Practice and Refugees
Suzann Mollner, Beirut and Beyond Executive Director, is back in the Middle East, in Beirut, and I’ve had the privilege of getting almost daily updates. I’ve never felt so connected to her work as I do through Marco Polo, a silly app that allows Suzann to send recorded snippets of her day. The video she sends, combined with her (extremely entertaining) commentary, has made Beirut come to life to me in new ways. I’ve met the amazing people and felt like I’ve tasted the shawarma and toom and ridiculously fresh cherries. More importantly, I've witnessed Suzann's tears and felt her pain as she reports how things have worsened so significantly for the Palestinian refugees living in Beirut in just 10 months’ time. Cuts in UNRWA funding from the United States have squeezed the already strapped, struggling, traumatized people who call Palestinian refugee camps their homes. They rely on UNRWA for basic survival. The cuts feel enormous and impossible to remedy. Additionally, the influx of Syrian refugees has forced the very limited resources that are available to be spread even thinner. I’m often left wondering, is there anything I can do?
Meanwhile, the news at my border, between the United States and Mexico, has sent me reeling, literally down on my knees, asking God, ”how long? How long, will this atrocity last?” And I recognize that I sit in a comfortable chair, with my dog on my lap, in an air conditioned home, with an almost crammed refrigerator full of (mostly) healthy food. I feel guilty, knowing I’m totally comfortable in my physical world. I cry as I consider the children removed from their parents, and listen online to their cries of anguish. Indeed, as my tears fell this morning, my sweet puppy leapt into my lap and slept there for a long (needed) time. As I sat being nurtured by her, I engaged a spiritual practice, a form of prayer, to imagine Jesus with those children, comforting them, wiping their tears, calming them with his words, “I’m here, with you.”
Regardless of your faith or belief system, there are times when the overwhelming needs and complex problems of the world, or the atrocities being carried out by corrupt people with power cause us to pause, or crumble in a heap unable to move, or leave us asking too many questions: What can I do? Can’t somebody stop this? Who can I support on the ground providing legitimate help? How do they/we keep
going in the face of so much despair and trauma? When will this end? I think questions like these are helpful and connect us to wells of compassion. We need to ask the hard questions, sit with them, and allow them to fuel the sadness, anger, and focus to move forward looking for hope, looking for some relief and some legitimate help.
You may be aware of the just-released Mr. Rogers movie, and his famous line, “look for the helpers.” All of us who follow and support Beirut and Beyond know we’ve found a helper in Suzann Mollner. She is truly a helper of Palestinian refugees, and as they’ve told her, she has a Palestinian heart beating inside of her. She loves them, she knows them, and she’s done what Eugene Peterson said about Jesus in John 1 – she’s “moved into the neighborhood.” She personally knows the groups and people on the ground providing the help. She walks through life with them, and gives leadership and organizational support to them. She’s not under any illusion that she’s saving them; she would say they’re saving her, and (God help her) there’s no more good and beautiful and true thing she could do with her life on this earth.
So how can we who, like me, sit in relative comfort, do something legitimate to help refugees? Your dollars help as they lift up people who figuratively start each day with $5 when a day requires $10, and you and I start with $50. You can pray. Visualize God giving comfort to people. He is gracious and hears the cries of the suffering. You can ask questions and let the questions lead you to some form of engagement -- visit your local mosque or synagogue, ethnic grocery store or restaurant and ask questions; cultivate curiosity. If Suzann or others with personal knowledge and experience of being oppressed are near you, seek them out and learn from them. Listen; follow their advice and don’t presume to know what they need. You can look for the helper like Suzann, and be part of their work. Their eyes are on the people and their hearts beat for the people they love. And, You can seek out and build relationship with people different from you; different skin color, different religion, different incomes, different sexual identities, different cultural backgrounds. Every step we take towards understanding and relationship increases compassion, and while the relationships will inevitably lead to increased pain as we share others’ pain, I believe the shared pain is worth knowing and understanding, even the hope, desperation, and trauma of refugees.
I’ll leave you with this: how have you walked in the felt experience of being a refugee? Have you been ostracized? Have you felt total desperation? Have you felt stuck to the point of feeling imprisoned? Have you been in overwhelming fear for the well-being of your children? Have you been in despair of ever coming up with money for something your family desperately needs? Have you felt people in power are against you and care nothing for your well-being? Have you wondered if there really are good people out there who will rise up to fight against ill-treatment? Have you wondered if you’ll ever feel “home” again?
My hope and prayer is for all refugees to find home and safety and a place to rise and thrive.
Julie Mihevc lives in Littleton, CO with her two dogs, two kids, and one husband. She works to make affordable housing accessible to struggling families. She lives to play in the mountains as well as recognize and reveal beauty in the world around her.