Category Archives: Current Events

Dakota Access Pipeline

I’d say this isn’t inherently political, but even if it were, I don’t know if that would be a bad thing. After all, Scripture proves over and over again just how much God cares about legislation. However, I don’t want this particular space to be political because that sort of rhetoric often becomes divisive. I’m not here to judge who you did or did not vote for, whether you affirm or reject the current administration, or even your particular, nuanced views on certain issues. We’re allowed to hold opinions and even disagree, while upholding a mutual love and respect for one another. We may have forgotten just how to dialogue with any sort of civility, but that’s always been allowed. Perhaps liken this to my posts on things I’ve learned from refugees and about refugees. This is less about a political leaning and more about giving a voice to people who have been stripped of that for centuries.

DaPL-Sacred-Water-PosterYou’re allowed to have your own opinion about how we should and should not go about controversial issues like this. We’re allowed to disagree about what is best for the world, based on utilitarian and deontological arguments. We are all called to think deeply and come to humble, yet well-reasoned opinions.

But here’s what we aren’t allowed to do: we aren’t allowed to be ignorant or live into our blindspots. That is, we cannot be content in the places where we may not realize marginalization is happening simply because it doesn’t affect us.

Do you know about the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines? Not just in a “I read a news article earlier this morning” sort of way, but in a deeply felt, impactful sort of way. The kind of way that compels us to care because regardless of where we stand politically, this is an issue that affects real people with real emotions, identity, communities, families, hopes, and dreams. It affects a people who have been historically and illegally oppressed, impoverished, and seen as “other.” That’s not political emotionalism; it’s cause for deep lament. It’s not propaganda; it’s true. Up there with scars in our nation’s history like the Dred Scott decision, we can trace the sort of prejudice against Native Americans back to the 15th century Doctrine of Discovery. The doctrine allowed colonialist settlers to take possession of any land they discovered, regardless of who was already there – the epitome of “finders keepers,” despite the fact that someone else had technically already “found” it first. This thing has roots in the church, folks. That’s to say nothing of the revocation of the 1865 treaty of Fort Laramie or that the Indian Citizenship Act wasn’t implemented until 1924. I haven’t even mentioned something like the Trail of Tears. It highlights just how deep seated the prejudice and systemic injustice lie. That’s not to say that people are even consciously living into racist patterns, but often that people just don’t know. The prerequisite for caring is always understanding.

So, it’s time to understand.

In case you don’t know what the DAPL even is, here’s some background: this week, the Dakota Access pipeline ripped through the Native reservation, Standing Rock (home to the Lakota nation), after months of delay and protests. The controversial pipeline will carry tons of crude oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois by the Energy Transfer Partners Company in Texas. The project, originally scheduled to run outside of the capital city of Bismark, was later redirected through the Standing Rock reservation in the name of minimizing casualties if the pipe were to leak (which is more common and life threatening than you might think). That, and it’s a lot easier to force Native Americans off the reservation than it is to fight billion-dollar cooperations in court. More than just a threat to water, the pipeline has ripped up Native land, destroying sacred burial sites and defacing the very thing that gives the Lakota Indians identity (and the one thing they’ve been promised autonomy over by the government) – their land.

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photo from ecowatch.com

We should care because these people are made in the image of God. These people have inherent value because the image of God is stamped upon them (Genesis 1:27). This means their bodies, their 60% water-filled bodies, have value. The incarnation of Jesus speaks to their dignity and worth, regardless of any political agenda or hidden racism we have harbored (myself included). They deserve to be heard and seen because they bear the very beauty of our Creator.

We should care because Native spirituality (both Christian and otherwise) understands things about our faith that we often miss. This point deserves much more than a few sentences of  summary and people like Steven Charleston articulate this much better than I can (and from the perspective of Native Christians, which automatically makes it more authoritative). It’s the idea that these people understand the significance of God promising land, vowing to redeem the Israelite’s land, and promising blessing when the people had no land better than we do. They understand the significance of a God who hovers above the waters (Gen. 1:2), who the winds obey (Matt. 8:27), and who is described as being akin to a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24). People who’ve never fallen into the sin of gnosticism because the very fabric of their culture is rooted in a deep sense of embodiment and worship. We need them to help us understand who the Great Spirit, the I Am that I Am, is and how He works in the world.

We should care because the way the First Nations have been treated historically is wrong, unjust, and illegal. Do I need to elaborate? Read any of the aforementioned articles and treaties that have been used, abused, and breached over the centuries of colonialism and settlement. Whatever your feelings are towards the DAPL, these people deserve to be heard because they’ve spent centuries being silenced.

We should care because we should care about environmental issues and the wellbeing of the earth. I hear lots of poking fun and joking at the expense of “eco-friendly” people, but the truth is that they have something right when it comes to our mandate for caring for the earth. There are so many reasons that the sustainability of our planet matters: as a command from God, as a part of the eternal renewal of the “new earth,” as a generational legacy, and ability to sustain life. I may be enjoying the warmer days for February in Chicago, but that’s because melting ice caps doesn’t directly affect me. Just because it doesn’t directly affect me doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter.

We should care because we should care. At the end of the day, these are people who are being affected by something and that is cause enough for us to lend an ear and listen. We may not get it, understand, or agree but we don’t have to do anything other than listen and advocate on the very basis that these are people. People matter; people should always matter. Their feelings, their homes, their livelihood, their land – it matters because they matter. And we haven’t lived with a perspective that Native bodies matter in a very long time.

You no longer have an excuse for not caring because you can no longer claim that you didn’t know. To learn more, visit Stand with Standing Rock.

Things I’ve Learned From Refugees

“I think about the trees, the flowers, the brown grass in the fields.

They can all be patient, Certain that spring will return.

They don’t have to hope, They can be sure.

Hope is a thing made only for people,

A scrap to hold into

In darkness and in light” Home of the Brave, 246

I'm standing in "the cage," which is where we put together Good Neighbor Kits for newly arriving refugee family. I'm holding a welcome card made by a little girl.
Here, I’m standing in what we call “the cage,” which is where World Relief puts together Good Neighbor Kits for newly arriving refugee families. I’m holding a welcome card made by a little girl; welcome cards are included in every GNK that we leave in their apartments.

The other day, I wrote about things I’ve learned about refugees from my work at World Relief. There’s been a lot of new information circling regarding resettlement, refugees, and statistics regarding the growing displacement crisis. While facts are important, especially true ones and ones written from a personal connection, ultimately I wrote down things that you could find elsewhere on the internet.

At the end of the day, they’re still just the facts.

And these people are so much more than facts.

Interacting with people who have literally been forced to leave everything they know and arrive in a foreign land, often alone and not speaking the language, has done more than just teach me a few important tidbits about the refugee crisis. They have taught me about bravery, resilience, humility, hope, and hospitality. The people, not the facts, have chipped away at hardened pieces of my soul and shown me more of the grace and love of Christ.

They aren’t just numbers, pieces of the resettlement system, or the faces supporting the new refugee olympic team. They are some of the strongest, most courageous, most genuine people I’ve ever met. And here’s just a brief glimpse of some of the things they taught me this summer:

 

• Our presence is always communicating something – through our smile, our eyes, our body language, and the emotional state of our hearts. 

I couldn’t speak to most of the people I’ve picked up from the airport. I couldn’t tell them how to buckle their child in the carseat or that it’ll probably take an hour until we get to their new apartment. The point of translators is to help fill in those gaps and make the experience, at least on some level, a little less overwhelming. While it can be frustrating to have so much you want to say and find yourself unable to, especially as someone who likes using words to communicate, it has given me a new and profound appreciation for the presence we carry simply in our being.

Eye contact. Smiling. Nodding. Whether we like it or not, how we carry ourselves genuinely reflects our emotions. And when our emotions are overwhelming love and care for these people we’ve just met, it makes it easier to submit each encounter to the Lord and trust that His Spirit is saying more than you ever could. However, when emotions harbor a little more frustration, distraction, or selfishness, then spending ten minutes with the Lord before you step out of the car to greet a U.S. tie can be the most worthwhile thing you do all day. Because, like it or not, our very presence carries something with it – safety, welcome, warmth, compassion, annoyance, apathy. The question is, do we emanate the love of Christ, or something else? Because we’re always communicating something.

• There’s a resilience, bravery, and courage that we bear in our human spirit; it’s our choice to embrace it or not.

As part of my internship, I wrote weekly reflection papers. Week 4, I picked up two large families from the airport, accompanied only by a U.S. Tie. It was my first solo airport pick-up and the size alone was a little daunting. I agreed, but my mind was not without hesitation. Are we sure I was capable of getting these families to their new homes and making sure they would be safe for the night? What if something went wrong? Despite preemptive fears, the pick-up was incredible. After I got home, I wrote the following:

“Not only did I navigate the whole evening successfully and alone – getting everyone safety to their respective locations, including their luggage and food – but I had the humbling privilege of hearing pieces of their story through the U.S. Tie. Knowing that his wife came to the US alone, as a refugee, empowered me in some small way. Watching the older couple try to figure out seatbelts, knowing they couldn’t understand anything I was saying, as I helped pull the band across their bodies, I saw a bravery and resilience in their eyes. Everyone that World Relief resettles knows they are coming into a place that is literally worlds different than what they’ve known. Yet, they chose to do it  – for safety, for a better life, for a future, for protection, for hope. If my motivation is the love of Christ, literally the Hope of the world, what fear could hold me back from choosing all the plans He has for me, no matter how different, distant, or daunting?”

Because of the a lot of the built-in comforts of our American life, and our innate desire to run from situations that are uncomfortable or uproot deep seated fears of loss, loneliness, or failure, it’s easy to forget that there is strength available to us. Comfort doesn’t breed growth; challenge does. The thing about challenge is that while it may feel like it’s killing us, most of the time, it’s not. We have strength in who we are as human beings – we were created to be resilient, for bravery and the ability to grow. As Christians, we also have a strength that is inbred into our relationship with the King of Kings. It’s no wonder He continually reminds: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Do we tap into that power and resilience on a daily basis?

• Don’t underestimate the small things and the need for flexibility when it comes to hospitality.

The more I think about it, the more I think that hospitality isn’t the kind of thing that makes up best-selling biographies. No one really wants to read about people washing dishes, sending emails, or spending extra time to pick out matching blankets for a family. Acts of hospitality typically aren’t the documentary-worthy moments of serving others. Hospitality often looks more like Jesus washing feet or the woman on the side of the road wiping Christ’s brow. It’s small, insignificant, things that put you in a place of submission and humility as you choose others over yourself. The moments that don’t gain accolades, or may not even be noticed or remembered, but plant the seeds of love and care upon every place you tread.

Because, at the end of the day, people may not remember you and they may not remember the little things you did for them, but they’ll remember the feeling of being loved, served, and cared for. Isn’t that ultimately what Jesus did. To serve with humility; to love without pretense?

Things like welcome cards made by elementary school classes, picking out matching blankets for a family, or being willing to cut your lunch break short to drop a DVD player off for a family, so they can watch ESL videos with a volunteer. These are the things of hospitality. These are the things that make life a little more beautiful for someone else and when done with a heart of humility and love, ultimately please the Father’s heart.

8 Things I’ve Learned About Refugees

This summer I have the privilege of interning at World Relief, in DuPage/Aurora, Illinois. I’m working with the new arrivals and volunteer coordinators to get a closer look into what the refugee resettlement process looks like and how World Relief is doing it as a Christian non-profit.

Suffice to say, the experience is doing more than building my resumé or further solidifying my desire to work cross-culturally. It’s changing my heart.

Despite having traveled to over twenty different countries and being passionate about serving overseas, I didn’t know a lot about refugees before this summer. I thought I’d share some of the deeply impactful and often eye-opening things I’ve learned in my time working with refugees.

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1.) There are 65.3 million people displaced worldwide; 21.3 million refugees. The UNHCR, or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has a myriad of terms to describe and identify the different situations of fleeing people around the globe. The UNHCR was only created in 1950, to help the millions of displaced Europeans after World War II. For someone to apply for refugee status, they have to flee from their home country due to a “well-founded fear of persecution” and life-threatening “war or violence” (USA for UNHCR).

2.) There’s a difference between a country that is hosting refugees and resettling refugees. Unlike internally displaced person (IDPs) who flee his or her home but stays within their home country’s border, a refugee crosses international lines in search of asylum. In countries where there is persecution and conflict, refugees often flee to neighboring countries. Turkey is currently hosting 2.5 million refugees, Pakistan has 1.6 million, and Lebanon has 1.1 million. There are 90 countries where refugees are seeking asylum; there are only 30 countries that resettle (RefWorld). Countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden, and Britain resettle refugees, meaning the refugees go through a process to permanently move to a third country and pursue citizenship there.

3.) Refugees can come from any background, socioeconomic status, family size, or situation. They can come with anything from a backpack to several large suitcases. Some have good English, while others can’t read or write in their own native tongue. A refugee could have been a doctor, a businessman, or a farmer in their country. Refugees are as different as the culture and context from which they come. The reasons refugees fled their homes, their living situation in a host country, and their feelings towards resettlement vary dramatically.

4.) The refugee resettlement process takes years. Think about it: it’s years of dealing with persecution or fleeing your home country. Then it’s years of settling into a refugee camp and being registered as a internationally recognized refugee. Then it’s years of paperwork to apply for resettlement – after deciding there is no possibility of returning home. It takes years for that paperwork to make it through the pipeline and be processed: by the UNHCR, by IOM (International Office of Migration), by the government of the resettlement country, and by the local resettlement organization. You don’t go from fleeing your home, to moving into a refugee camp, to seeing your new apartment in Aurora, Illinois within the year. It can take between 5-10 years for all of these steps to actualize for a refugee.

5.) After all of that, less than 1% of all people who can be classified as refugees end up being resettled. The United States has a cap on the number of refugees that can be resettled. The current ceiling is 85,000 – which includes refugees of all ages and nationalities. The highest ceiling has been 200,000, the lowest was 20,000 after September 11. The individual resettlement cases are handled by nine government sanctioned non-profits. World Relief is one of these non-profits (of the nine, five are faith-based).

6.) After years of waiting, the refugee still has to undergo tests, checks, and examinations before they can be resettled. There is a misconception, often perpetuated by images of refugees fleeing to hosting countries or miscommunications after terrorists attacks, that the U.S. is resettling potential terrorists. Not likely. When a refugee applies to be resettled, they don’t chose the country they will ultimately end up in. Even in situations where they have a U.S. tie, they are not guaranteed to end up in that country or in a particular state. Refugees undergo federal background checks, in addition to numerous security checks by the resettling non-profit. They face incredible scrutiny at every stage of the long, tedious process. In addition, refugees also must wait for medical paperwork, security documents, and, in some cases, an exit visa from the host country. It is incredibly difficult to get all of the ducks in a row, at exactly the same time (most of the documents have delays in mailing and short-term expiration dates). The refugee resettlement process is not for the faint of heart – nor is it for people who might be on a mission to harm a particular country where they may or may not eventually be resettled. It seems not only ridiculous but unjust deny thousands of good, hard-working, caring people and families hope for a safe future because politicians and social media have perpetuated a relatively irrational fear regarding refugees.

7.) Refugees are hard working – in fact, they start out their new life with debt. The U.S. provides a small stipend for each refugee, facilitated through their resettlement agency. This often covers the first few months of rent in an apartment and basic living necessities. However, the cost of traveling to the U.S. is provided by a travel loan through the IOM (International Office of Migration). The refugees are expected to pay this loan back, as part of becoming self-sufficient within the first few months of arrival. While this may seem unfair, it is actually a very important part of a refugee’s transition to the States. The travel loan allows countries to resettle more refugees because it reduces the financial impact on the government (and consequently, the people who are taxed). It also halts cycles of dependance and victimization, by allowing the refugee to take ownership of their own life and ability to provide for themselves. Celebrating the final payment of a travel loan is an incredible experience for a refugee. They paid their way here and have begun to built a life for themselves.

8.) Refugees are people. The numbers are helpful for seeing the big picture and are necessary when looking at how many cases World Relief is taking in a month, how many mattresses the donations coordinator needs to buy, or evaluating the efficiency of systems dealing with insurmountable numbers of displacement. They can also be helpful to see just how great the need is and how small the part we play actually looks in comparison. However, whenever you introduce numbers you run the risk of devaluing each and every person that owns one of those numbers. It’s not just another family that I compile household item donations for – they are parents, and women, and children who are going to gather around a strange table, in a new apartment, and retire to beds with blankets that they didn’t pick. They are real people with real stories and real emotions surrounding their transition here. That deserves our attention because people always deserve our attention.