Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free [Republican or Democrat]—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. –1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (The Voice version)
As part of my Lenten practice this year, I want to do a few of posts on refugees and immigration. 4 stories. 2 about refugees. 2 about immigration. 2 from a welcomed perspective. 2 from an un-welcomed perspective. The subject is complicated, varied, and divisive. I don’t know anyone who thinks we should ‘throw open our borders to anyone,’ nor do I know anyone who touts that we should close our borders to all. I will not solve any of the issues in my blog; however, I want to share some stories. I hope the stories will help us remember that while we debate and discuss immigration issues, we affect real people’s lives.
Last week, I told the story of how I felt like a refugee when we lived in Germany. This week, I tell the story of actual refugees that lived in our small village of Erzenhausen.
Another family living in our town did not receive the same tepid welcome that we did. They were refugees from Romania. Ovidios had been on Ceausescu’s hit list. When that regime fell, the country was in disarray, and Ovidios and his family fled for their lives. He was an internationally recognized artist. He had won international awards for posters he created for the International Red Cross and for the United Nations. I had seen these posters in the media, symbolizing world peace.
He was somebody!
But, he was also a refugee.
His accolades meant nothing in Germany. The posters he’d created, which hung on the walls in the small home he and his family were given by the German government, did not give him peaceful living.
This story plays like a Hollywood movie:
The little home fellowship we called ‘church’ took them in. We tried to find them asylum in America; but we found that the immigration laws prevented them from coming here. For America, they were required to have $1,000,000 and have a sponsor in the country who could provide Ovidios with a job that no other American could do.
Our borders were closed.
We didn’t want them.
An internationally known, award-winning artist.
But one who was poor and came from an eastern-european-communist-block country.
The immigration standards changed depending on the country you left.
We finally found asylum for them in Canada. Our group of about 20 families raised $20,000–the amount Canada required. Remember the time–early 1990s, long before GoFundMe pages, Paypal, and wifi! We raised the money the old-fashioned way–we wrote letters to friends and family and churches, we sacrificed our own finances, we contacted government officials and embassies.
One woman in our little group LOVED crafting. She got us all to make 5 quilt squares each so that we could make a queen-sized quilt for them to take to Canada. I am NOT craft-sy. But, I dutifully made my quilt squares (with her substantial help). Ovidios, Tania, and their little daughter would be able to remember us.
Oh, and we gave them Cheez Whiz (or ‘Cheez Wheez’, as they pronounced it). Ah, yes, this delicacy is what we’re giving the world. Canned spray cheese made them so happy.
That’s the end of the story. The joyous, Hollywood ending!
(Naturally, Emma Stone would play me, and Steven Spielberg will direct… Ooooh, or maybe it could be a musical!! Lin-Manual Miranda, are you reading?!)
But I digress…
But the middle part of the story also has the tension and drama of the Hollywood script:
Ovidios, Tania, and their little girl (I believe she was 3 or 4) were refugees.
And the little German village did. not. want. them.
The local baker refused them service.
Anonymous people would vandalize their home, and send them notes of un-welcome.
They did not feel safe.
They had no transportation. The nearest city was about 10 miles away. The closest bus stopped in the next town over, a couple of miles away. They often got rides from some of us. And several of us would get extra groceries at the commissary to give them.
In short, they relied on the kindness of strangers.
Because they had fled Romania, they had precious little in the way of clothing and creature comforts. Because they were refugees, they had precious few people to offer them support … of any kind–financial, emotional, mental, spiritual. Because they were refugees in a country who didn’t want refugees, they didn’t know whom to trust. Because they were refugees, they had precious little in the way of finances and ability to earn money to help them live. The German government gave them a subsistence for housing and food; but they found it hard to make ends meet.
Even in our little house church, people quoted Scripture (out of context) and said that we shouldn’t help them because the Bible clearly says, ‘For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat”’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
**And how they actually quoted that verse: ‘Why should we help them? The Bible says, “If a man don’t work, he don’t eat.”**
Ovidios wasn’t lazy. No one would hire him. Because he was a refugee. Employers considered him an enemy.
Still, I’ve sanitized this version. I wish I had done more, realized more, offered more. One family in our house church lived very close to them in our town. They really bore the brunt of helping them. They exhibited more of Christ’s life to them. They sacrificed themselves and their young family to make room for them. (Emma Stone would play Leslie, not me…)
So, our current tensions over refugees hits home for me. I know what it’s like to feel like an unwelcome outsider in a foreign country–even though I had many comforts because of access to the American military bases. But, I’ve also seen the hardships of a refugee’s life as a friend to one.
Most refugees don’t pick the country where they will resettle. Survival-mode describes the trauma they feel as they escape war-torn tyrannies. Terror cloaks these children … women … and men. All they want is a friendly gesture of welcome. Because most of the gestures they receive do not acknowledge their humanity.
I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.
**Next week, part 1 of an immigration story.**