by Kate Kooyman
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:13-14)
Today, a child who was born a refugee taught my son to tie his shoes.
My seven-year old has a lazy mom (hello, velcro) and a lot of interest in what’s happening in our country right now. It might be because he’s been shoving aside protest signs each time he crawls into his booster seat, or because he’s been logging extra hours on Minecraft because of all my recent conference calls. He overhears me asking questions about the next expected Executive Order, strategizing about ways to respond to yet another immigrant life devastated by our President’s onslaught of promises-turned-policies.
I spend my days watching Facebook like it’s a car accident. I can’t stand to watch, and I can’t stand to look away. I feel victimized by the ignorance, by the belligerence, by the heartlessness of Christians. I feel like we are in crisis. I am stunned that this view is not commonplace.
I got a phone call from an angry church member last week. She was put off by the partisanship she perceived in an email that my office had sent denouncing the Executive Order; she did not agree that we should encourage Christian advocates to demand that Congress move to save refugee resettlement. She did not believe that refugees were vetted well. She did not think they even wanted to come to a country so different from their own — that it was perhaps unfair to force them to do so. She certainly did not think it was OK for her safety to be sacrificed because of another country’s inability to keep its people safe. I took a deep breath, and I asked her, “Have you ever met a refugee from the Middle East?” She insisted that she had. But she couldn’t remember their name, nor their country of origin, and I gather hadn’t considered running these views by that first-hand source. I confess, I wasn’t my best self with her. This is a normal part of my job, and these last few weeks have knocked me off-kilter. I don’t have instincts for this new standard of suffering met with this level of heartless ignorance from the church.
When I got home from work that day, I made my kid a snack. “I’m glad he moved here before President Trump was elected,” my son said about his friend, who also likes to play checkers. Who has a funny, high-pitched laugh when he’s joking with his brothers in their native language on the playground. My son isn’t sure yet exactly what it is that makes his friend laugh, but he’s pretty sure he’ll figure it out soon. His friend’s getting better at English every day.
My kid has met a refugee. Has helped and been helped by a refugee. Sees a refugee as a human — three-dimensional, complex, interesting, shoe-tying. My kid doesn’t consider his friend as someone to be saved or someone to be feared. My kid doesn’t care about the “issue of refugees.” My kid has a friend who is a refugee.
And maybe that’s significant. It seems crazy to my son that anyone — especially the President — would work to do anything except welcome his friend. It makes no sense to him that there are people who would object that our tax dollars pay for his own education as well as his friend’s. My son would find it shocking to hear someone insist that his friend’s life is less precious than his own.
Christians: if you do not know a refugee, I beg you. Clarify your facts before you harden your heart and congratulate your President. Learn the stories of those who have been barred entry. Find out what is really going to happen to those who were in the pipeline to come, whose clearances will expire, whose spots in camps have been filled, whose prayers seemed answered and are once again left hopeless. Ask the social worker who spent her day making phone call after devastating phone call to inform parents that they would not, after all, see their child again after a decade apart. Pray for the person who has a life-threatening medical condition for whom a 120-day hold is a death sentence.
Consider how your opinions might sound if they were voiced to a seven-year old — one who believes that you’re talking about real people. One who believes you’re talking about his friend.