Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday Favorites: What If Their Story Were My Story?

In March 2016, members of the General Auxiliary Presidencies issued a call to LDS women around the world to reach out in loving ways to the 60 million refugees, half of whom are children, who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. My favorite talk was by Linda Burton when she asked the poignant question, What if their story were my story?

I have written about refugees on my blog a lot. It's a cause I really care about, even though I have never had to flee my home to keep my family alive. I do know a little of what it is like to go to a foreign place where you don't know anyone, cannot speak the language, and are very much the outsider. However, my privilege, with its opportunities and security, has never placed me in an identical situation as one millions of refugee mothers are facing as they try desperately to find peace and security.

This American Life recently sent a team of journalists to the refugee camps in Greece and have already aired two episodes about the people living in the camps and their experiences. I have only listened to the first episode, "Are We There Yet?"   The second episode, "Don't Have to Live Like a Refugee", promises to be just as poignant and powerful as the first.

In the first episode, journalists spoke with Syrian and Afghan families who fled the violence and war of their home countries. They had hoped to pass through Greece and end up in different parts of Europe. However, they find themselves stuck in camps, unable to move forward as they cope with the difficult and complex bureaucracy to apply for refugee status. Greece, a country struggling to survive economically, has been living with austerity measures for 6 years, has been incredibly generous to the refugees, considering their own pitiful economic status.

I was particularly struck by the story of a family with six children. The mother has tried so hard to keep her family together. Her husband has been almost shattered by the violence and fear and so she is left to lead their family as best as she can given the circumstances. She worries about her young son who is clearly suffering from PTSD and has stopped developing emotionally and behaviorally. Her eldest son is desperate to return to school and develop his abilities and skills. Instead, he builds amazing things in the camp, trying to keep busy. It doesn't always work and more often than not, he gets into trouble.

The people in these camps have few outlets for education or doing meaningful work. While they are safe, they must deal with the emotional fallout of their horrific experiences while coping with overwhelming boredom. Its a hard situation.

After listening, I was so impressed with the Greek government and the Greek people in the way they have tried to handle this challenging situation. I feel so much compassion for the refugees who have lost so much and are trying desperately to rebuild their lives.

Sometimes I wonder how my family would cope in those circumstances. It's so scary to contemplate, and yet 60 million people around the world are dealing with this on a daily basis--relying on the kindness of strangers to survive. We could do better than we are doing, and yet fear are holding so many people and countries back from doing the right thing.

The whole thing just makes me feel horribly sad.

As a Mormon, I can't help but think of a powerful story in the Book of Mormon. The sons of Mosiah went to the Lamanites, their people's mortal enemies, to teach the gospel. They converted a great many Lamanites to the gospel. This caused a huge schizm among the Lamanite people. There was so much contention that an army of Lamanites attacked the Lamanites that had converted. The converts chose to submit to the attack rather than fight. Thousands died that day--they just bowed their heads in submission. This had a powerful effect on the people and many more Lamanites joined the church after that. Still, the position of these converts was tenuous at best, and the sons of Mosiah eventually reached out to the Nephite government for help. The Nephites, who had been at war with the Lamanites intermittently for 5 centuries, offered a refuge for these convert Lamanites. They gave them land and offered protection to these refugees. See, the refugees, knowing their past, had made a covenant or a pact to never take up the sword to fight again. Because of this, they were vulnerable. Rather than insist they break their pact, the Nephites offered them protection and help. In a time of enormous conflict, this decision led to the saving grace of the Nephite people. Years later, finding themselves in a war with the Lamanites that was literally tearing apart the country-both externally and internally--the Lamanite converts sent a group of their young sons as soldiers. They also provided food to the Nephite soldiers. This little band of young men who were Lamanite converts ended up providing a huge service to the Nephites.

What if the Nephites had refused to offer shelter and protection to the Lamanite converts--a people they rightly feared because of the war and conflict that had characterized their relationship for centuries? I think the story would have been totally different. But their compassion and generosity led to their salvation. Pretty thought-provoking, isn't it?


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