On November 26, 2015, while many people here in America were preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving, I started my morning by joining an interfaith rally that called for hospitality, generosity, and peace on behalf of Syrian refugees.
When I received the invitation, I wondered what could I possibly say that would speak to the experience of people fleeing their country because of persecution, war, or violence. People who possess a well-founded fear of opposition due to their ethnicity, religion, political affiliations, or membership in a particular social group.
What could I, a woman who is free in her country, who has never had to flee from my home or be separated from my family because of war, a woman who for all intents and purposes, doesn’t live in fear. Well, maybe I should, based on all the atrocities happening in America that impact the demographics that I represent, but I still don’t pretend to be enduring the same level of fear as a woman in Syria.
A woman who is a mother and terrified that her child won’t grow up or that her son would be forced to fight in a war that he may not understand. A woman who has run out of options to continue her daughter’s education, or to feed, clothe, and protect her children. What could I say?
The more I thought about the Syrian refugee, the woman, the child, the teenager, the more I thought, we are the same. She and I, we’re the same.
I’m an educator, a youth director at a local church, and founder of Marvelous University, where we remind young people they were born to be marvelous.
As I say this to young people across America, I believe it in my heart. I also believe it to be true about the young people of Syria. I don’t think Psalm 139:14 has a respect of person. When I look at the young people I work with, I see them just like the mother of Syria sees her teenager: marvelous.
What you believed when your child was born is no different than what that Syrian mother believed about her daughter. What your family believed about you when you were born… “Your workmanship is marvelous.”
But I wonder, do they still believe they’re marvelous? Do they still feel adored and loved? How are they holding up? What is she saying to her son? To her daughter? How is she reminding them they were born to be marvelous?
She tells them to take what they can hold in their bag and she takes them out of their village, out of the country, through guns, explosions, doubt, death…she flees.
To get a youth perspective, I asked my young cousins how they would feel is if they had to leave Dallas, leave America because of war, they couldn’t understand it. I asked my seventeen-year-old cousin how he would respond to the idea of leaving the place where he was born and raised but, it was no longer safe for him.
I even asked how he would feel forced to fight in a war. I said, “You can’t go to school. All this college prep that you’re doing stops. There is no college, there isn’t a ‘senior year.’ You’re afraid to leave your home. And even worse, your home was destroyed because of the explosions of nearby bombs.”
He sat in silence and kept shaking his head because it’s unimaginable. It’s unbelievable. It’s unthinkable but, it’s happening. Finally he said, “I would be scared. I mean, it would be a huge sacrifice. I mean, I know I shouldn’t be fearful, but wouldn’t that be normal?” As if asking me if it would be okay to be afraid.
I couldn’t help but wonder about the mother in Syria who made it to Turkey. The big sister who made it with her siblings to Jordan. The next door neighbor who made it all the way to Houston with several children from her village.
All because there are some people who believe war protects the future. They believe we must fight to protect the children. We do it for the future. There is even a song that opens with, “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”
I love the song but, I completely disagree that the children are our future. I believe our young people are the NOW! I believe young people take greater safe risk, dream bigger, imagine more and do more, until someone tells them not to and that someone is usually an adult.
If we keep looking at children as the future and don’t consider them as part of the now, we show we will not care. We will not care about the refugee children and how they’re at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused or exploited! We can’t keep saying children are our future and then be a people with no concern for OUR future. And contrary to what folks want us to believe, war does not support nor build futures.
When I worked at Sacred Heart Prep, I had the honor of learning about the RSCJ and Mother Janet Erskine Stuart. Mother Stuart said:
We must remember that each one of our children is destined for a mission in life. Neither we, nor they can know what it is, but we must know and make them believe that each one has a mission in life and that she is bound to find out what it is, that there is some special work for God, which will remain undone unless she does it, some place in life which no one else can fill.
The Syrian mother believes this about her child…that there is some special work for God, which will remain undone unless she does it. Which means we have to change the way we view our young people. If I start here, in my own city, my own state, my own country, then that will affect my thoughts of the young people in Syria, who are fleeing with their families, who are trying to get here, somewhere safe. Those young people’s parents are treating them as if they’re the now and so should we.