My trouble is trouble enough. I don’t have space in my mind/heart/life for your troubles.
I’m guilty of this, as guilty as anyone else who is watching the Syrian refugee crisis unfold. I’m guilty of feeling paralyzed.
Next week I will be interviewing a Yemeni refugee who has come to Djibouti, in order to facilitate the telling of his story to the wider world.
The week after that I will meet with a Somali woman who is raising her ten children in a Djiboutian refugee camp.
I regularly read the work of, and relate with, a young Somali man who was one of the first to be born and to live his entire life inside Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya.
There are homeless people who wander my street. Some of them are wearing my children’s hand-me-down clothes.
There are naked children huddled under the shade across from my house. Sometimes they eat our leftovers or canned tuna and beans from my cupboard.
My husband and I have committed our lives to living and working in the developing world and this means every single day we encounter needs so overwhelming they are hard to even see.
But we have not taken in refugee families or orphans. We have not gone without food so that others can eat. We live in a three-bedroom house that has electricity and water (some of the time). Our children attend excellent schools. I just ate a meal that included three vegetables, watermelon, chicken, pasta, and ice cold water. The abundance in my life is stunning. Embarrassing.
I have not done enough.
I have all these excuses.
I tell myself I’ve done enough. I tell myself we are focused on development – economic and educational – so that people will have jobs and be able to do them well. I tell myself we can’t do everything, we can’t do aid and relief, we can’t do Djibouti and Syria and Yemen and Somalia and the United States. I tell myself my opinions are complicated and my experiences living overseas have changed me so much that I don’t know how to communicate. I tell myself that if I care deeply, to the point of tears and action, for all these problems, I will explode.
Jesus didn’t explode. Granted, Jesus had a little more power than I have, a little more, um, God-likeness. But he didn’t explode or implode. He touched suffering. He entered grief. He embraced the broken. And he died.
I tell myself to focus on the problems at my gate and to let others focus on the problems washing up on shore in the form of dead toddlers. I tell myself I’m at risk of developing compassion fatigue and what difference does it make anyway and, and, and…
And I don’t know what to do.
We can’t do it all.
But we have to do something.
I read Ann Voskamp’s post about 5 Ways to Stand Up and Be the Church and I say – yes, do that. Do those five things. And I had questions – is she going to take in a Syrian refugee family? Not just in theory but in reality? Is she advocating for a borderless world? I want to ask that because I’m asking myself these questions. And I wanted to ask if she really believes all Aylan ever knew was war? Did she see the photos of him laughing, playing? He knew love. He knew family. War and loss and grief are not the single story for refugees. I want to say that.
And then I feel terrible. Cynical. I call myself names. I’m so quick to judge. I lack empathy and perspective. I haven’t offered on my blog to take in a refugee family. I had a refugee sleep on my couch once and then I bought her the medicine she needed, gave her food, and sent her back to the camp. I didn’t invite her to stay.
This is the honest struggle of never doing enough, never being enough. It is easier to judge and condemn and find fault than to step up and get my own hands dirty. This is the internal battle of believing, with my whole life, that every life matters, every human deserves to be treated with dignity, that our development work is about moving things in that direction, and at the same time being faced with a crisis of massive proportions and realizing that my chicken scratchings are nearly meaningless in the flood of broken lives.
This is just me saying, honestly and brokenly, I believe in a Kingdom of hope, peace, joy, and righteousness and I don’t know how to pursue it when the kingdom of hell seems to prevail.
The incredible thing about the Kingdom is that it is like a mustard seed. A small, stubborn, growing thing. And even in the middle of tragedy, the seed sprouts. Even among the refugees who live here, who are still coming here, hope is alive.
Maybe our tears are for watering the mustard seed.