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Even so, I am not giving up on you

I am sharing this blog because there is nothing more I can add except to say that we have NO IDEA how these refugees are suffering. Would even one of us leave the ‘comforts’ of our homes and families?

Thank you, Jim Love, for saying it so eloquently!

I saw your post on Facebook. The one where you were trying to get people to sign the petition to “stop the immigration”.

Wow. How do I respond to this?

Well, I guess I can say that I’m kind of glad it was you who sent it. If it had been some stranger, I would have just dismissed it as the ravings of some redneck asshole. Yup. That’s how unkind I would have been.

Which doesn’t say good things about me.

But because it was you I had to really think about how to respond. How can someone that I like, respect even, someone who I know would never wish harm to another – how can this person want to stand by and let innocent people, mothers and their children – starve in refugee camps or die at the hands of human smugglers?

Make no mistake, these people do die terrible deaths. Why? They are running from the same people who murdered the innocent civilians in Paris. They are bombed. They are terrorized. Some are rounded up and shot quickly. Those are the lucky ones.

Even in the areas supposedly under control of the “democratic governments” we in the west helped establish there is no safety.

Here’s a true story I heard from a former Toronto cop who trained police for the Iraqi forces.

Being an Iraqi police officer is often a short career. It’s a dangerous thing to do. But it pays a salary. Enough to keep your family from starving.

There are some alternative occupations. Suicide bomber is one. The guys who visited the man that the cop told me about promised to take care of his family for life. For life. All he had to do was to strap on a bomb and blow himself up. He said no – he’d rather take his chances as an Iraqi cop. And went off to the training camp.

Apparently, you aren’t allowed to say no when they ask you to be a suicide bomber. While he was in training to be a cop his wife and children were horribly murdered.

This is in the areas where there is some semblance of control. In the areas controlled by ISIS it gets worse. So they flee.

I don’t know who you think these people are, because outside of the fact that they speak a different language, many of them are pretty much like you and me. Or they were before the war. They ran small businesses. They worked in offices. They taught children. But there’s not a lot of teachers jobs in war zones. Go figure.

And the camps? Well I guess some of them make it to refugee camps. Why don’t they stay there? Some do. They “live” in these camps – the lucky ones – for years. In many of the camps there isn’t enough food or shelter. In some they have resources for about 500 calories a day for each person. You starve slowly on that amount of food. You watch your kids starve slowly as well. (By the way, as Canadians we throw out tons of food every day. But I digress.)

When they stay in these camps for year and year, with no hope do you wonder why some get recruited by the nice men who offer a career as soldiers or suicide bombers. When you abandon people to lives of no hope in squalid refugee camps, what are they supposed to do?

Surprisingly, the number that do become terrorists is very, very small. For these heroic people, many choose another option. Rather than starve slowly, live in a war zone or spend their remaining days hungry and lost in these camps, they run. Well, they walk mostly, taking what pitiful few possessions they can carry. Or they get on those boats.

Ah yes, the boats. I’m sure you’ve heard of the rickety boats that they go to sea in, hoping to make it to Europe. I know that you’ve read that many of those boats don’t make it. They are so overloaded, many capsize and the people drown. The smugglers don’t care. What’s a few more dead refugees, right?

Now, I’m not sure if you know what it’s like to die by drowning. The good news is – it doesn’t take that long. You die choking on water coming into your lungs but you only have about five to fifteen minutes to struggle hopelessly in the water. The bad news is that those five to fifteen minutes are horrific. It’s quite a terrible death. That’s why they use waterboarding as a torture. Even hardened warriors can’t endure even a few minutes of what its like to drown.

Of course you don’t always drown alone. Some drown trying to save their babies and young children, knowing they will fail. Sheer terror, painful death and knowing that your kids are dying and you can do nothing. Take a second and picture this. Just before you sign that petition.

You’ve got kids. Could you imagine dying in horrible pain while you know that you children are also dying in horribly and you can do nothing? If that’s not the definition of hell, I don’t know what is.

Again there are the lucky ones. Those ones survive and only get robbed once or twice. Some don’t lose all their life savings and have enough to try to get someone to smuggle them into another country. Some are like the folks that paid the smugglers to take them across Europe in a truck. They suffocated in the back of that truck, dying slowly over hours of suffering, clutching their kids and knowing that there was nothing they could do. Nothing.

Some of these folks have it relatively easy. Their boats don’t capsize. They don’t get in a truck. They just walk for hundreds of kilometers. Sure, some are robbed. Many are starving. As it gets to be winter in Europe – yes – they get winter there too – they shiver as they starve and freeze. Again, these are the really fortunate ones.

So why on earth would they do this? Why would they risk horrible, unspeakable torturous deaths, many helplessly dying with their babies in their arms?

Why? They are running from the same terrorists that we fear. They are running from the same group of people who killed a hundred or more people in Paris.

Every one of the people in Paris who died is a tragedy. That almost 150 died is earth shaking. You are mad because that happened? Me too. I’m furious. I am struggling to contain the rage inside me. I want someone to pay.

My problem? And where we differ? I don’t want some poor bastard whose only crime is that he or she picked the wrong place to be born to pay. I don’t want the mother who saw her husband shot to pay. I don’t want that Iraqi cop whose family were tortured and killed to pay. They’ve suffered enough.

And they continue to pay. The number of Parisians dead is the equivalent of one capsized boat. It doesn’t make the Parisians lives any less valuable. But the lives of the people who died in that truck are also valuable. By the time they found them they were mostly liquid rotting flesh.

These are the stories that make the news. Do we even know what kind of suffering happened to the people in all these unmarked graves they keep finding?

But it’s not the numbers that count. Every death is a tragedy. The people in Paris. The folks in that truck. The people who drown. The folks in those mass graves. The kids in that café in Paris. They are all innocent. And all of them are paying with their lives.

The trouble is – I can’t do a damn thing about the people in Paris. Except get mad. I can rage about it. I can cry. But I can’t change a damn thing.

I can help one person get out of those camps. We as a country can help thousands.

We’ve done it before. In the 1970’s – remember the recession and economic problems then? We took in 50,000 refugees or more – lots of them the “boat people”. We had a housing crisis at the time too. But we did it. Some people at that time said “we should take care of our own” first. Some said their North Vietnamese spies hidden in the refugees. We still took them in.

We did it in the 1950s too. Before our time. We took in an enormous number of Hungarian refugees. Again – it was a crappy time for Canada economically, but we still did the right thing. I’m sure someone talked about the commie spies that were hiding in the refugees. It was the cold war.

But we did the right thing not when it was easy – but when it was difficult. We did it when it was tough. Today, we’re all proud of what we did as a country. And those people we took in have gone on to make this a better country. Many have worked hard at menial jobs and raised families. Some of their kids are now in our parliament.

We have not always been so noble. This “ban immigration” sentiment has surfaced before. We said “none is too many”. We let them sit in the boats. We let them be taken back to Germany and the camps. That’s right. Canada sent Jews back to die in camps in Germany. It’s a historical fact.

When I think back on that, I’m not so proud.

I’m not prepared to let my country’s legacy be “none is too many.” I’m not prepared to sit idly by and let those people suffer.

So the short answer is no. I won’t be signing your petition. I couldn’t live with myself if I did.

And it would be tempting to just let this go by, but I can’t do that either.

All I can think about is that if some brave people before the second world war had stood up and said, no – we must let those people in – boatloads of Jews would have avoided the camps, torture and death.

I can’t change that. But I can oppose your idea – not you, but your idea. If I stand up and say no to this petition. If I oppose it with every fibre of my being maybe, just maybe – I might help one modern boat from being turned back.

And before you say it. Yes. Some terrorists might get in.

We’ll deal with that. These guys aren’t stupid. They’ll get in to our country anyway. Have you heard of the internet? They don’t have to come here to recruit white middle-class kids. Borders don’t matter anymore.
Thank god someone informs on the terrorists. How do you think our cops find and thwart the terrorists that are operating here now? They get information from the grateful people who don’t want to bring that hate, war and terrorism to this country. Loyal, grateful friends. They are our best defense.

So I can’t sign your petition. I have to oppose it with every fibre of my being. I have to do it for all these reasons and one more.

Here’s my last point. If I do sign and turn my back on these innocent people, knowingly let them suffer, then what have we become? Haven’t the terrorists already won? Haven’t we become just like they want us to be?

If I was going to make a recruiting poster for terrorism, the slogan would be – “they don’t give a damn about you. Why should you care about them?”

I won’t play their game. I won’t be consumed by fear and anger. I’ll be saddened because I’m human, but I won’t hate and I won’t fear. If we do, the terrorists win.

So, no thanks to your petition. I’d like to say I wish you success, but I don’t. All I will say is that if you change your mind, this door never shuts. I won’t hate you either. You will have to live with what you have and haven’t done.

I won’t give up to terror. I won’t give up trying to help the innocent victims of war. And through all of this – I won’t give up on you either.
 
 
Even so, I am not giving up on you

Welcome the Stranger. . .

As we watch television and see the thousands of men, women and children who are trying to flee from the war in Syria and other areas of the Middle East, the world is being called upon to take these refugees in.

But, if you have watched any of the political debates, you know that the current ‘cause celebré’ is not only closing the borders to additional immigrants, but also sending those who are here back from whence they came. Many of the potential political candidates have adopted the attitude that these migrating people (documented or undocumented) are a detriment to our society.

How is it, that we, who profess to be a Christian nation forget one of the primary teachings of Jesus:

    The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:34)

I recently attended a ‘National Welcome Week’ and Citizenship Ceremony held by the City of Columbus Community Relations Commission where we witnessed 40 people from 32 countries become American citizens. This was one of the most moving ceremonies I have ever attended. These people struggled to get to the United States, fulfilled requirements of background checks by Homeland Security, learned English, studied for a citizenship test (which most of our high school graduates could not pass), and willing gave up their citizenship of their native land. These people are now citizens, a part of the integrated fabric of America and Columbus.

For those who consider these new American immigrants a toll on our city, let me provide you with some ‘real’ facts on their impact on Columbus and Central Ohio:

  1. Approximately 9,800 refugees have migrated to the Central Ohio area in the last ten years
  2. 48.4% of all the refugees settling in Ohio from 2012 to 2014 settled in Franklin County
  3. 41.86% of these immigrants are currently enrolled in college or graduated from college
  4. Somalians account for 52.5% of refugees settling in Franklin county since 2002
  5. Refugees’ median household income is $42,000 compared to $51,460 for other households
  6. Refugees/immigrants spend approximately $35.9 million in Columbus yearly
  7. Refugees/immigrants contribute income of approximately $1.6 billion in that same time period
  8. Immigrants constitute 13.6% of the entrepreneurs in Franklin County, employing more than 23,273 employees*

We are reminded by Jesus:

    I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. . . Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me. (Matthew 25:35, 40)

    Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. (Matthew 18:5)

As the situation in Africa and the Middle East worsens, I call upon Saint John’s to consider welcoming strangers in collaboration with state agencies such as Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS), to sponsor and support these individuals and families who are coming to Central Ohio to build new lives.

More information about assisting with resettlements can be found on CRIS (Community Refugee & Immigration Services)
 

* Statistics provided by Community Research Partners in conjunction with the Columbus Community Relations Commission, Community Refugee & Immigration Services, Homeland Security and state and federal government
 
 
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church, 19 September 20015