Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Whenever You Helped the Least of These: Love of family, country trumps all else for Syrian refugees (Pt. 7 of 7)
By Jimmy Patterson
AMMAN, Jordan — Tears are prevalent here. They come from the eyes of Syrian refugees driven from their homes by the violence of the Assad regime and the forces that oppose his rule in their homeland. In two years of fighting, the bloodshed quickly escalated and grew into the deadly conflict it is today. The latest numbers are startling: Over 2 million have fled the country. Of the ones who stayed, more than 115,000 are now dead. Those who escaped are left to face a future of uncertainty. No one knows when or if they will ever be able to return home. Or if they will ever see their family members who stayed behind to fight for Syria.
In America, our greatest uncertainties can amount to what time a soccer game begins or when a spouse will get off work so that dinner can be on the table and warm for the family. So many of us have such minor problems in comparison.
The killing in Syria is not unlike the stories of war and brutality we’ve heard for as long as any of us care to remember. War has been with all of us for most of our lives, it doesn’t matter our age. We have not learned.
Certainly next to those who give their lives or suffer injury, and their families, the people who lose so much in war are the peaceful among us; citizens, such as the Syrians in this case, lose so much; they are forced to give up their homes, husbands and sons. Forced to trade lives of security for the unknown. Peace-seeking people are left out of the political equation of war. People like us and Syrian refugees — who are like us — are all one, perhaps especially so when part of the body is hurting.
I learned a lot in the Middle East. Most lessons came from people who say they are hopeless, but who still hope anyway.
When I left America on October 4, we were embroiled in much bitterness. Disgust flowed from our lips and anger through our Facebook status — our modern day stage and soapbox. We were faced with the bleak reality of having a government in tatters, unable to pay its bills and its people but continuing to spend. When I returned home, we had traded a government shutdown for a healthcare lockdown. The rage remained, only the object of the rancor had changed.
I learned a lot from the people I was fortunate to meet from Syria and Jordan. Like many people in America, nothing is more important than love of family and country. Many Syrians step out in courage instead of understandably suffering through pain and depression. Just that one attitude can teach us a valuable lesson.
But there’s also this:
— Love your family. Anyone who has survived a fire or a natural disaster knows what it feels like to lose everything, When family emerges from the rubble, they know what it feels like to have everything. People driven from their homeland know both those emotions in an especially compelling way.— Love your country through it all. Think we have problems in America? Despite our significant economic issues, what we do have—safety, opportunity, home— is what many Syrians describe praying they can one day have again. Living in tents or crowded apartments as refugees, they can’t wait for the day when they can peacefully return to their land, even if their house is no longer standing. It is home. Most of what we have in America the refugees in Jordan only dream of, yet since they spend most of their time just surviving, their dreams are often different from our dreams.
— Work. Next to having a healthy, secure family and a desire to return home, the men from Syria mostly just want to work. Not just so they can provide for their families, but because it gives them self-worth.
— Fall in love. Stay that way. I met one couple that was quite an inspiration. She is 33. Her husband 24. They married because they fell in love. In America, that’s understood. In the Middle East, it can fall somewhere between rarity and miracle. Seeing the embodiment of a love-created union in the middle of war and involuntary displacement is an emotional slice of life powerful to watch.
— Sometimes its OK to look back. Especially when, like most refugees, that’s where you left behind most of what you had and many you cared about.
— Open your home to strangers. Sight unseen, the Syrian families welcomed us, gave us tea, shared their life stories and blessed us and thanked us when we left. The appreciation they have for the kindness of others is difficult to put into words.
— Take care of the poor. It is our mission. To not do so renders us poor in spirit, many times as difficult a place to be as physical poverty itself.
— No matter how hard you have it, someone else has it worse. You may never meet that person, but he or she is always there.
— Whatever you do for the least of these, you did for me. Whatever you did not do for the least of me, you did not do for me. Pray. Not just for people you know. Pray for those you will never know. They are counting on you to do so.