A reflection by LSSNCA guest blogger, Candace Crawford
A few years ago, I began an annual Christmas tradition of purchasing an Advent calendar. Typically, an Advent calendar contains small numbered boxes. You open a box each day in December and find a little trinket, sample, or candy. Consumerism at its finest, I know. But before Advent turned into this opportunity to “get,” it was about waiting for the Messiah to come. Christians from an assortment of denominations take time each day leading up to Christmas to retell, celebrate, and reflect on the birth of Jesus. The tradition of setting aside time to reflect and celebrate spans faiths and cultures – Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Passover, Hanukkah – these are all connected to remembrance and meditation. Today is International Migrants’ Day. Today is a day for remembering, but it is also a day for imagining.
When we remember events and share stories, we often tell the fast-forward version – to get to the point and the result. One day, while working in a refugee camp on a Greek island, I asked a man about his day. He said, “You want to hear it is ‘good,’ but it is no good. I wait in line to get food, then I wait in line to get diapers. Every day, all I do is wait”. For the past 11 months, Nasser had been waiting in lines as a profession, it seemed. He had no way to fast-forward. In a camp with over 6,000 refugees (meant for 3,000), he stood in line for food, water, bathrooms, diapers, and information all-day every day. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Nasser is one of the 2.6 million people living in refugee camps. He is one of the 70.8 million forcibly displaced people around the world. Waiting.
During Advent, Christians adopted a posture of expectant waiting. This requires the believer to be confident that they already know the outcome. They lean into their faith in and belief of the birth of the Messiah and his eventual second coming. Unfortunately, most refugees cannot wait expectantly. Each step of the journey is fraught with worry and fear. They anxiously wait for the perfect time to flee, for the smuggler to arrive, for the boat to reach the shore, for immigration officials to hear their case, for approval or rejection. The only expectation many who flee have is that this decision will save their life. I often listen to people frame the journey of a refugee with words that imply ‘choice’; we must not forget that running from the fear of death and towards the hope of life is human nature and a human right. As the director of the International Organization for Migration has said, “We must allow people to choose to save themselves.” We must take time to consider the depth of this ‘choice’ over the litany of small decisions we make every day.
One small decision we can all make this holiday season is to take some time to think about the journey of a refugee – honestly. Advent and Ramadan spans 4 weeks because it leaves time for believers to immerse themselves in the story; they are encouraged to remember the good but also reflect on the bad. On a different day, I asked Nasser what he did while waiting. Sometimes he talked with the other men in line; sometimes, he got lost in thought. He would remember his family – most of them internally displaced in Syria – and the memories they shared. He would think about the events that led him to smuggle his pregnant wife out of the country and the journey they took. Nasser told me stories about his family and his thriving business, but he also told of the day a piece of shrapnel sliced his face. He shared the ultimatum a rebel faction leader gave him – ‘if you don’t fight with us, then you are against us, and we will kill you.’ But Nasser would also imagine life beyond the refugee camp as he stood waiting.
Some things that Nasser imagines are small victories that provide tiny pockets of joy, like my advent calendar treats – fresh vegetables, enough diapers for the week, and finding a place for his wife to take a shower safely. He also envisions life-changing moments like his status as a refugee being approved, the war in Syria ending, and the chance to move back home. Ultimately, moving home is what Nasser longs for the most. The home he remembers is the hope of his future. His is a story that we cannot understand if we press fast forward and ask him to skip to the ‘good parts’ or the exciting moments. His story is about waiting. Longing. Imagining. And for all of us, today is a reminder that we all should hold the families longing for freedom, justice, rest, and safety close to ours.
This holiday season you can support LSSNCA and our clients on their new journeys by becoming a volunteer and mentoring a family, welcoming a new family as a Good Neighbor Partner, donating to our general operating funds, or donating items from our Amazon Wish Lists for Hyattsville and Fairfax.