Tag Archives: refugees

Reading the Bible as a Refugee


Because we are enculturated people, we always read Scripture from a particular vantage point. Sometimes it can be helpful to consider the lens we use and to try reading the Bible from the vantage point of others. I’d like to suggest that you take a tour of the Bible through the eyes of a refugee–a displaced person. Some 60 million people in the world today live displaced from their homes due to human and natural caused disasters. They have lost most if not all of their comforts (language, home, family, land, food, community, protection, job, etc).

Does the bible have anything to say about their experiences?

Right off, we see Adam and Eve, forcibly displaced from their lovely home, barred by an angel with a flaming sword, never to return. We often think about their culpability. It was their own sin that caused this trouble. Set aside that fact. Imagine what it was like for them to be removed from the best place ever to live for over 900 years in exile where nothing could compare to what was lost.

At the other end of the Bible we have John writing Revelation from…wait for it…exile on Patmos. In between these bookends, we have Abraham as sojourner. Israel moves to Egypt to escape a famine only to be enslaved for 400 years. Generations later David in on the run from Saul. Still later, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are sent off to exile with only a small remnant able to return after 70 years. Displacement doesn’t stop at the end of the Old Testament. Jesus’ first life experience is on the run from King Herod. Later, after Pentecost, Christians flee Jerusalem to avoid Jewish and Roman persecution.

But there is much more to see in the Bible than examples of displacement. Consider these biblical themes that relate to refugee experiences:Refugees from Syria

  1. God pursues displaced peoples. God chases down Adam and Eve after their sin. During the time of the Judges, God becomes impatient with Israel’s misery (10:16)
  2. God protects even within trouble. When Cain is exiled for murdering Abel, God marks Cain in order to protect him. Israel grows while enslaved. Exiles in Babylon rise to leadership.
  3. God sees our troubles and his moved by it. Notice God’s special kindness to Hagar.
  4. God wants to hear our complaints. With 1/3 of the Psalms in the form of laments, it is clear God desires our complaints and groaning.
  5. God invites us to share in his life by willingly displacing himself to share in ours. The incarnation reveals a God who willingly leaves perfection in relationship and community and lowers himself into a world of war and brokenness. His work enables us to enter in with those who have been displaced, “for such a time as this.”
  6. God prepares a place where we will one day be at home again. One day, we will all be at home in our true country with bodies that work as they were originally designed.

These truths do not remove the pain of displacement now. God’s protection in this world is not one that keeps us from all harm. In fact, our relationship with him promises that sharing in his death and resurrection we will face sorrow upon sorrow. However, knowing that God pursues us, sits with us, listening to our complaints, and provides blessings in the midst of hardship gives us hope for the day with all will be made right.

So, the next time you hear about the political and social challenges due to illegal immigration in the United States or the crisis in the Middle East and Europe, let that be a reminder to go to your Bible and read as if you are yourself displaced. Surely, we all need to work together to find solutions to these problems we face today. I suspect, however, we will be more prepared when we have the mind of Christ regarding displaced peoples. See how that perspective shapes how you live your life today and how you decide to respond to those in greater need than yourself.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Immigrant or refugee? 


Most Americans can tell the story of how their forefathers and mothers came to this country to settle as new Americans. They came for opportunity. They came to be with other family already arrived. But not everyone comes here out of desire to leave their own country. Some come only because home became “the mouth of a shark” (first heard this poem in a presentation by Diane Langberg this Spring).

To this point, you might find this Fresh Air podcast aired today with listening to. The Pulitzer Prize winning author frequently refers to his identity as a refugee, one who is in the US due to US waged war in Vietnam. Does he look like a refugee? As a professor and someone who appears to be well off, he appears as American as anyone else. And yet, his experience is one of being a refugee.

What is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee? Not quality of life but it seems free choice. And I would add the component of time. His heirs will likely feel proud of their heritage but feel they are less refugee and more American. I do suspect, however, that it was easier for Irish and other Europeans to quickly integrate into the American persona than it is for most non-Caucasians.

What would make you feel more like an immigrant and less like a refugee? Or vice versa?

Leave a comment

Filed under News and politics, Uncategorized

Conference on Refugees and Trauma, March 15-17


If you are in the Philadelphia area, I want to give a final shout out for an important conference put on by the American Bible Society’s Mission: Trauma Healing. This will be our 5th (I think) Community of Practice conferences where trauma recovery practitioners meet to learn and encourage each other in the work of trauma healing. If you have never been before but want to hang out with folks doing trench work around the world, this is the place to be. Missionaries, mental health experts, ethnologists, linguists, pastors, humanitarians, and everything in between are the common attendees. This tends to be a rather intimate conference where you get plenty of time to talk around tables with folks doing what they talk about.

This year our conference theme is We are Sojourners: Refugees and Trauma (conference information and registration link).  What makes me excited this year is the diversity of presenters. We have well-known psychiatrist Curt Thompson presenting on attachment injuries related to trauma. We have presentations and a documentary unveiling about African Americans in the US (yes! Refugees can live in a land for generations and not be fully “home”). There will be presentations by Diane Langberg as well as presentations by experts on the current refugee crisis from the Middle East.

In addition, there will be this activity on Tuesday night which includes musician Michael O’Brien at historic Christ Church.

Those who have attended before should realize that this is now held in Center City Philadelphia at the office of the American Bible Society and not at the Mother Boniface Spirituality Center in the North East.

If you are interested in the wide world and burdened about trauma and refugees, come and meet your family!

5 Comments

Filed under "phil monroe", conferences, Counselors, Diane Langberg, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Training, trauma

Treating a whole population with suspicion always ends badly


I’m currently reading Spectacle, the telling of the story of Ota Benga, a Congolese man held captive in 1906 at the Bronx Zoo and placed on display in the zoo’s monkey house. This tragic story reveals our ugly history where Americans, by-in-large, believed in the superiority of the White races. But in chapter five, the author talks about another incident, The Brownsville Affair, during that same year. It is this affair that I wish to highlight.

The Brownsville Affair

In late July of that year, there was an altercation between a black member of the infantry division and a white man. The white man was killed. A mob ensued and when it was over, three more lay dead. Fast forward a few weeks into August and suddenly a bartender (white) is killed. The suspicion is instantly laid on the infantry, despite their white officers reporting that every infantry member was in his bed at the time. Evidence was planted to try to incriminate the men. When the men were interrogated, they denied any involvement and of course could not say who had killed the bartender.

But the people of Brownsville continued to accuse the men. And the decision was made to castigate them all for a so-called “conspiracy of silence.” The decision went all the way to President Theodore Roosevelt who signed the order having 167 men dishonorably discharged as punishment for a crime they did not and could not have committed. Here Pamela Newkirk recount Roosevelt’s comments

Despite pleas from black leaders, including Booker T. Washington, Roosevelt would sign the order denying the men–who had been deprived of legal counsel or a hearing–back pay, pensions, and eligibility to serve in the future. Roosevelt, considered a racial moderate for his time, unapologetically defamed the innocent men, saying, “Some of the men were bloody butchers; they ought to be hung.”

Not until Nixon, did this injustice be made right (and then the “justice” did not include any form of restitution.

The Trajectory When We Dehumanize others

Notice the trajectory:

  • One person of a group (a minority group) does something wrong.
  • Later, another ambiguous thing happens and blame is laid at the feed of an entire population.
  • Facts are not sought out but evidence is created and “justice” delivered because “these people” are butchers.

Is it any wonder that such minorities don’t feel particularly warm feelings when thinking about national pride. How could they? We’d like to think we are well beyond the years that we would place a human in a zoo to be gawked at. Indeed, we are. We’d also like to believe we are well beyond the years where we would demonize and be suspicious of an entire population of people. We are not there yet. There might be people who are butchers among the innocent. So, let’s ensure they don’t remain among us and accuse them of a conspiracy of silence for not pointing the guilty out. Let’s keep them all out just to be sure.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Civil Rights, Good Books, Historical events, Justice, News and politics, Race

What can we do about the refugee crisis?


If you have any connection to the outside world you know that the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe is undergoing a refugee crisis of massive proportions. Syrian and Iraqi refugees are finding their way to Europe to try to escape the violence, hunger, and lack of basic resources resulting from ongoing conflicts in both countries. For years, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey have borne most of the brunt of the burdan from the crisis, but now refugees are risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. What was a regional conflict is now a wider political and economic challenge. 

If you are like me you read the stories, see the pictures, dig into the complexities of the problem and end up feeling helpless or hopeless. Someone has to do something. But what? Is there anything you and I can do to help? We know we can pray and we know we can give money to aid organizations. However, I suspect we often fail to do either of these things because will my prayers or fifty dollars do anything, realluy? 

Can we do anything else? Here are a few things I think merit consideration as doing our part. They may not do anything at all in the big picture, but then again, they may help you take one more step, even if only helping you to pray more pointedly and persistently. 

  1. Choose to be continuously educated. It is easy to make sweeping generalizations about those who are fleeing violence, about those in host countries, about the various armed militias. Sometimes we are right but far too often we develop simplistic formulas for the problem and solutions. Read outside of your normal news sources. If you are in the U.S., check out the stories by BBC and Al Jazeera news corps. Especially look for news stories about the refugees, who they are and what they are looking for. Many journalists in this area tweet out their stories/blogs. Find them and read them. Don’t allow hopeless feelings keep you from bearing witness to the tragedies nor from calling on God to intervene.
  2. Study the Scriptures regarding the God who loves refugees, hears their cries (think Exodus) and his son who was himself a refugee (check out Matthew 2). What is God’s mind on caring for those who have nothing and who will cost us something if we do care for them? Too often we can become consumed with political and economic realities and forget that God’s word calls us to love immigrant and outsider among us. In doing so, challenge your common assumptions about how we should relate to Muslim outsiders. 
  3. Learn a lay-counselor trauma training model.  The American Bible Society has a program, Healing Wounds of Trauma. This program is Scripture-engaged, dialogical, lay-oriented, and cascade oriented. You can get trained by attending a low-cost equipping session (4-5 days) and then train others (hence the cascade effect). You do not need to be a counselor but plenty of counselors love this model because it is so easily transferrable. Translated and contextualized into many languages, you can teach in English and the participants can teach in their own communities in their own language. Wait, you migh think, I don’t know any refugees in my community. While there may not be any Syrian refugees (then again, there many well be!), immigrants and refugees are all around us. Find out who is serving them (e.g., Lutheran Social Services, World Relief, etc.) and see if you can use this materials with them. This particular program isn’t the only one out there but it is effective and budget friendly. 
  4. Of course, give and pray. Once you get connected to local refugee serving organizations, you will have a better sense of who is serving in your community and how your time, talent, and treasure could be used. 

Leave a comment

Filed under counseling, Justice, news, News and politics, Training, trauma, Violence

GTRI 2014: Day 12 Kigeme Refugee Camp


July 12, 2014. Kigeme Refugee Camp to Kigali

For all who travelled with us, our visit to the refugee camp was moving in many ways. We saw deep poverty and yet deep resilien

Heather with her new friends

Heather with her new friends

ce. The following observations are from Heather Drew, a counselor and one of my GTRI students and who begins her tenure as Fieldwork Coordinator in my seminary department today! Please welcome Heather and check out her blog as she is a gifted communicator in her own right.

Today was our last full day in Rwanda. We woke up in Butare, got one last cup of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted at a lovely coffee shop called Cafe Connexions, then rode our bus to a UN refugee camp in Kigeme. Around 20,000 Kinyarwandan speaking Congolese

Kigeme camp children

Kigeme camp children

refugees live in this camp, 12,000 of which are children, we were told. The abundance of children was immediately apparent to us as we were greeted by dozens of sweet smiles peering into our bus, waiting for us to climb out. Some of us took photos of/with the children and showed them the photo (they love that). Stan The children followed us around like we were pied pipers. The parents followed us with their eyes, and greeted us kindly. The camp was made up of rows upon rows of small mud houses with metal roofs – living spaces the size of a small American living room – containing 6-8 (or more) family members each. Our group wove through the narrow, red-dusty walkways between houses, climbing up slippery hills with the help of our small chaperones. They taught us some additional phrases in Kinyarwandan, showed us their beautifully-made and efficient water collection/filtration system, and held our hands. The EUG_7154children who could speak a few words in English were eager to do so. The ones who knew no English spoke to us without any words, showing us their homemade toys constructed with old bottles and broken pieces of things. It made me realize that the less a person has, the more resourceful and creative they become. This is a very prevalent characteristic throughout Rwanda.

At the base of the hill on which the camp sits is a meeting space where our team met with several leaders within the camp who lead trauma healing groups with fellow refugees. We were traveling with our friend Harriet Hill, one of the writers/developers of the Healing Wounds of Trauma material put out by American Bible Society, which this group has found so useful. (This book has been translated into several languages and is effectively used to facilitate around the world.) I had greatly anticipated this day, and in the moment the depth of it was not lost on me at all; here we were sitting in a room with about 50 Congolese refugees who use this book to lead healing groups in one of the most trauma-impacted areas of the world with Harriet Hill, the woman who had a dream over a decade ago to develop the material. It was extremely moving.

Leaders/facilitators gave testimonies about the groups and about personal healing, and presented questions they had. One person shared, “We are all traumatized…This material heals us and then we can help others heal.” Another shared, “During the genocide, so many of us – on both sides of the conflict – had hearts like animals. The Bible takes away our animal hearts.” Not all of these testimonies were ones of “arrival,” however. A few shared how they are still in the midst of the long healing process. The truthfulness of this impacted and inspired us.

After their testimony time Phil, Diane, Harriet, and their two leaders were invited to speak. Remarks were encouraging and thankful. Harriet Hill shared how much it meant to her that they have such bravery to share the comfort they themselves have received from Christ. She also shared Psalm 126, words that resonate with their stories. Finally, at the end of the meeting, we shared Fanta and

Zenko with Marianne Millen

Zenko with Marianne Millen

snacks together (a tradition of hospitality in Rwanda), then we said our goodbyes – even to Zenko, our dear new friend, which we were very sad about! – and boarded our bus for a 2 hour ride back to Kigali. I tried to focus on taking in the breathtaking beauty of the country as we made our last drive, because no photo can capture it.

Our final night was spent at East African Villas in Kigali. This was a hotel in Rwanda managed by a lovely Christian man called Ezekiel who was wearing a Georgia Bulldogs shirt when we arrived, which we enjoyed. We rested and enjoyed hot showers (a luxury I will no longer take for granted) during the few hours before dinner. Then we settled together in the dining room, ate our final Rwandan dinner feast, then Phil initiated our final team debriefing & sharing time.

We all shared 3 words that we each felt best expressed what we had learned in Rwanda. Among the things shared: new meaning of “celebrating the recovery of life” and also of “groans that words cannot express,” what it means to embrace Jesus’s invitation to “watch with Him,” the privilege of carrying people’s stories with them, how impactful people’s eyes and testimonies were, how much courage we saw, how much desperation we saw and how that was pointed at God in many cases. It was a much-needed time of sharing. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a dry eye among us.

We ended our night by taking a few group photos on the balcony.

GTRI 2014 Team

GTRI 2014 Team

1 Comment

Filed under christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Rwanda, Uncategorized