We are in the midst of the 12 days of Christmas, the Christmas Season. Whilst the world around us will quickly move on, rushing relentlessly forward to the next party or celebration or distraction, there will also be the unbearable struggle that characterises the lives of so many people for diverse and varied reasons. Within Australia there will be the ongoing pain and implications of bushfire and drought that continue to ravage so many communities. We have been confronted with this grim reality but unless you are in the midst, the true extent of the task before these many communities, families and individuals remains bewilderingly difficult and uncertain. The apocalyptic conditions that have beset our state has drawn our attention more deeply into this dreadful crisis. At the same time, life in all of its diverse expressions of joy and pain continues with relentless abandon across the world. The extreme crises that hold people in unending struggle are unrelenting and intense. The crises facing our world are all compounded through war and oppressive regimes that use violence against people. Climate change is another factor in displacing many people as fragile habitats and communities experience extremes in weather patterns and life becomes unsustainable where they live. This factor will only grow in influence until the dominant nations listen and take real action, rather than play economic games and hide their heads in the sand of apathy, ignorance and entitlement.
A major crisis that continues to impact the lives of far too many people is displacement from their home. There is estimated to be over 70 million people who are displaced from home and community across the world! Around 40 million are internally displaced through many causes. Within our own local communities, the impact of bushfires has caused some degree of internal displacement. For others across the world the displacement is deeper and more serious for the long-term. People driven from homes through ethnic cleansing, warfare and other dangerous and violent causes has a serious impact upon their physical, psychological/emotional and spiritual well-being. There are around 30 million Refugees, driven from their homeland and seeking refuge in other, unfamiliar places. Many are Syrian refugees, suffering the impact of war and violence. Many have found temporary refuge in Lebanon and other surrounding nations. Finally, there are around 3.5 million asylum seekers, people who are in imminent danger within their homeland because of political, cultural, religious and other repression and rejection. They are subject to threats of violence, imprisonment… and seek asylum in safe places for their families.
Shafaq fled her home in Dera’a, Syria and is currently living with her family in Bekaa, Lebanon. She shared her story through the Middle East Children’s Alliance, which provides emergency support to newly arrived refugees in Lebanon. Shafaq is 14 years old.
“I used to have a peaceful life and live in my amazing home in Dera’a. I enjoyed the nature around my house and the food coming from the land. I woke up every morning to the sound of birds singing. The brutality of the civil war forced my family to leave this house and to start the journey to be refugees.
“Since the start of our journey, we moved a lot in Lebanon and I attended different schools. In the end my family decided to go close to the border with Syria. We came to this area because just we want to survive. My father is working as an electrician and this is the only income for our family. All of my family we are living in a tiny house with one bedroom, a small kitchen and a bathroom. We are considered illegal because we don’t have official documents.
“I am behind two years in school because of moving from one school to another. I am still doing very good in my school and I will continue to do that. I want to finish my education, to help my family, and to help other people they want to learn. I consider myself lucky to have Al Jalil Center. I got a lot of educational, emotional, and psychological support. I am also really sad because of the unknown future waiting for me. Every day I wonder where I will be tomorrow. Yes, it’s an unknown future.”
Alia fled her home in Aleppo, Syria and is currently living in Damour, Lebanon. She shared her story through Gruppo Aleimar, an Italian NGO which provides free nutritious meals to refugees in the Damour area. Alia is 7 years old.
“The last thing I remember of Syria, before we left, was when my mother was taking me from our place to our grandparents. The roads were full of dead corpses. I saw dead people with no heads or no hands or legs. I was so shocked I couldn’t stop crying. To calm me down, my grandfather told me they were mean people, but I still prayed for them, because even if some considered them mean, they were still dead human beings. Back at home, I left a friend in Syria, her name was Rou’a. I miss her a lot and I miss going to school with her. I used to play with her with my Atari but I couldn’t bring it with me. I also used to have pigeons, one of them had eggs, I would feed them and care for them. I’m worried about them, I really pray someone is still caring for them. But here I have a small kitten that I really love! I miss my home a lot. I hope one day we’ll be back and things will be just like before.”
Perhaps you are wondering why all this talk on refugees and displaced people in this reflection during the Christmas season? Surely there are more uplifting and ‘nice’ messages and stories to tell – and there probably are, except…
Except that this week’s Gospel story (Matthew 2:13-23) speaks of the holy family encountering the evil violence of a jealous, malevolent king! In this story King Herod realises he has been outwitted by the Magi (‘wise men’) and he doesn’t know where the young king whom he believes may be a threat to his reign, resides. Herod has a reputation for readily disposing of anyone who threatens his power – friend, family or foe. Herod, in the image of the Pharaoh of the earlier story of Moses, has all the young males 2 years and under killed. Joseph receives a warning in a dream and takes Mary and the young Jesus (between 1-2 years old by now) off the Egypt for their safety. They are displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, running for their lives to remain safe from an evil, petulant, abusive power-broker. This is an ancient story that is very current for many people in our world. Power, violence and fear are the tools of powers and principalities now and through history. God’s vulnerable love revealed in Christ is the hope and peace we yearn for before such violence and hatred. Love is the only way to transform our world and bring peace!
I wonder what such love and grace means for those who seek asylum in our country?