Lenten Rememberings – The Rohingya

The Rohingya, one of the world’s most most persecuted ethnic groups, are a Muslim people who have lived for generations in Myanmar. Denied the right to vote and given nearly impossible rules for acquiring citizenship, they are hated and looked down on by the Buddhist majority around them.

The Rohingya speak a dialect of Bangla and are seen by many as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many of them can trace their family history in Myanmar for many generations. While they represent roughly 2% of the total population, their Buddhist neighbors fear they will take over and try to make Myanmar a Muslim country. Untold numbers have been hunted down, raped and murdered in a genocide that the Myanmar Government continues to deny is happening. Many have escaped across the border into Bangladesh or by boat to Thailand, Malaysia or the Philippines where again and again they are turned away.

Bangladesh, the most accessible country by land, is currently planning to house them on an uninhabited island that is immersed in water during the monsoon. Many are taking the risk of returning to Myanmar rather than lose their lives to nature. A small number have been accepted as refugees into the US, Canada and Australia but, for the most part, the Rohingyas remain an unwanted and fiercely hunted people group.

Rohingyas eat rice, fish, vegetables, milk and chilis. Meat, such as this Beef Curry is served to guests or for special occasions. We shared this meal family and prayed for a place of belonging and safety for the Rohingyas.

Lenten Rememberings – Syria (again)

Today my heart is full of questions and aches and tears. Not many words to share with you. Just a recipe for Toshka, a Syrian version of grilled cheese with minced meat and pita bread.

We bomb a country for killing its own people but keep the victims from that same country out of ours. Keep out, folks; no trespassing. But here, let me bomb your enemies for you. Maybe we can make peace and end suffering that way.

Really? When has violence ever stopped violence?

 

Burden or Blessing?

Fresh MangoesThere’s a small produce place I like to shop at in a nearby town. Like many others, I am drawn there because of the delightful variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and affordable prices. Located in a relatively small, mostly white town, the aisles are typically packed with a diverse crowd of shoppers. As I was checking out one day, the cashier, an older “white” woman, began to talk to me about the foreigners who shop there with their (EBT) “food stamp” cards. She told me that I would have a heart attack if I saw their balances and ended by telling me that she is so tired of supporting all “those people”. At this point I was becoming increasingly mortified, not at the balances she was freely sharing with me, but at her attitude towards those poor and foreign.

When our family went through some really tough times financially, (yes, we know what life looks like below the poverty line) I started to notice how often the word “poor” is used in Scripture. There are 446 references to the poor or poverty. I have yet to find one of those references that are about the poor needing to work harder or stop taking advantage of the rich. What I see over and over and over is this:

Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other. Zechariah 7:9&10

Mercy.

Compassion.

Don’t even think evil of the poor.

What does that look like? In a world where often the minimum wage is not enough to feed, clothe and house families, this has to mean something.

Personally, I consider it a blessing to contribute to a system that helps the poor, even if the system isn’t perfect. In an article called The Hidden Benefits of Food Stamps, we see that every $5 of food stamps spent generates up to $9 in economic activity. Every $1 billion of food stamps creates 3,300 farm jobs. Food stamps improve kids’ health and allow struggling families to have more to spend on rent and other necessities. Nearly half of all adults in the US and half of all children will be on food stamps at some point in their lives.

If you’re in the half that will never need to be on food stamps, hold your tongue and your thoughts the next time you’re in line behind someone paying with food stamps. More likely than not, they’re ashamed to use it but know their kids would either be hungry or on the streets if they wouldn’t. While every system is broken and has some who will take advantage of it, there are many more who use those benefits to make the world a better place. Walk in their shoes for a moment because someday those shoes could be yours.

Lenten Rememberings – The Biharis

Bihari FoodThe year 1947 brought about the great split of India. Pakistan was born amidst great upheaval and loss of lives as Muslims and Hindus were divided up into two countries.

It was at this time that many Urdu-speaking Muslims from the Indian State of Bihar escaped into East Pakistan where they lived among the Bengali-speaking Muslims.

25 years later, when East Pakistan won independence from West Pakistan, after a bloody war over language, Bangladesh (literally the country of Bangla) was born. The Urdu-speaking Biharis again found themselves in a land that did not want them.

As Urdu speakers they had not supported this war for independence and about half a million fled into Pakistan. Pakistan, however, would only accept about a third of them so many today are living as stateless Pakistanis. Many who remained in Bangladesh were killed or lost their homes, bank accounts, lands and jobs. Today they live in slum-like, crowded camps throughout the country, where families of up to ten share a one room hovel and up to 90 families share one toilet.

In 2008, the Dhaka High Court gave citizenship and voting rights to 150,000 Bihari refugees who had been minors during the war. Children born since the war were also given citizenship. Life remains hard for them as they try to hold on to their language and customs, while living in squalid conditions in a country that still looks down on them. Many youth would like to leave and get jobs in other countries but passports are not issued to anyone who has an address inside of a camp. As of yet, the UNHCR has not addressed the statelessness of the Biharis.

During our years in Bangladesh, we were privileged to get to know one Bihari woman especially well. She would tell stories of life inside the camp while she scrubbed our dusty floors and share her dreams for her children while she washed the dishes. She was a tiny woman with a big heart and impressive strength.

The Biharis in Bangladesh are famous for their kebabs and fried snacks so tonight we had some friends over and shared Shingaras  (a deep-fried pastry filled with savory potatoes and chilis), Bihari chicken boti kebabs, Parotas (a flat bread fried in a bit of oil), and Shemai (angel-hair vermicelli cooked in a sweet milk spiced with cinnamon and cardamom).

For a glimpse at Bihari life in Bangladesh, check out this video.

 

Lenten Rememberings – Burundi

Burundi MealBurundi, a small African country hemmed in by Rwanda, Tanzania and the DR Congo, is no stranger to hard times. A civil war that lasted from 1993-2005 left 300,000 dead and many fled the country as refugees during those years. Some of those same refugees, having returned home after the war, are once again on the run as refugees. Since the election of President Nkurunziza, the police, intelligence officials and the ruling party’s militia, known as the Imbonerakure, have been on a killing rampage. Nearly 400,000 have fled the country, fearing for their lives, with an average of 724 refugees arriving daily in Tanzania. Camps are full in Tanzania, with only one, Nduta, still accepting new arrivals. Nduta recently passed its capacity of 100,000 and the struggle to shelter the refugees is huge.

In the DR Congo, refugees from Burundi are finding healing by performing dramas based on real-life experiences. You can read more here and watch a short video clip.

The refugee camp in Rwanda has passed capacity, with many people living in overcrowded communal hangars covered with plastic sheeting.

In Uganda, Burundian refugees are given small plots of land to build homes and plant crops.

Burundi cuisine is simple but delightful. Red Kidney Beans with Plantains, Fish with Tomato Sauce, and Pili-Pili hot sauce served over white rice made a delightful meal.

Lenten Rememberings – Iraq

Iraqi FoodAs Iraqi Security Forces push deeper into Mosul, attempting to take back the city from IS or Islamic State, many are fleeing their homes and looking for safer places to stay. According the the UNHCR, 238,236 Iraqis have been uprooted from their homes in Mosul and surrounding areas since October 2016. Since January 2014, three million Iraqis have become internally displaced, meaning they have not been able to flee the country to become refugees, but have left their homes and have moved to other areas of the country in an effort to find safety. Refugees who have made it out of the country number roughly 250,952 and are hosted in surrounding countries.

Three million…internally displaced people!
That blows my mind!

How can we be moved to compassion by starving children in one part of the world, but turn away from dying children and their families in a Muslim country? How easily we hide behind bans or labels as an excuse to brush aside what is going on. Iraqis are our neighbors, just as much as anybody else. If you are afraid of terrorists, you should feel compassion because the Iraqis on the run are experiencing terrorism on their own soil. We have no idea.

What if three million Americans had lost their homes and were on the run to stay alive?

While most Iraqis have not been able to make it out, love and hope are on the ground as a group of peacemakers called Preemptive Love Coalition goes into the hard places, confronting fear and hate with the transformative powers of love. Providing food, shelter and emergency medical supplies to families on the run, education to at-risk children, and grants for small business owners, they are love in action. I’ve followed them for some time now and highly recommend getting involved in some way, so that your love for those in need moves from an idea to action. “Love” for them is an action verb and they do it so well.

You can purchase products made by refugees.

You can donate your money.

Follow them on Facebook and see for yourself the power of love under fire.

Our evening meal consisted of Khubz (Iraqi flat bread), Hummus, FattoushMujadara ( a rice and lentil dish), and spinach chickpea stew. We topped it off with Qatayef for dessert, a fried pastry filled with nuts and soaked in sugar syrup.

 

 

Ten Things You May Not Know About Refugees

10 Things1. It is VERY difficult to officially become a refugee.
To officially be a refugee, one must flee from danger in one’s own country, to a second country. In that second country, one then applies to the UNHCR for refugee status, a process that takes 18 months to 3 years. Only then can application to a third country for resettlement begin.

2. Coming to the US as a refugee is even more difficult.
If a refugee is chosen to go to the US for resettlement, it takes a minimum of two additional years for all the screenings and interviews to take place. Less than 1% of all who apply to the US are accepted.

3. The refugee problem is NOT going away.
As of June, 2016, there were 65.3 million displaced people and 2.3 million of these were refugees. Less than 5% of these refugees will ever be resettled.

4. Stay in a refugee camp can last well over a decade.
Refugees receive a stipend of roughly $30/month while they wait for resettlement. About 60% of adults find jobs and 13% of children also work to have enough to survive. One-third of the world’s refugees stay in camps and the average stay is 17 years, although some say it is less.

5. Refugees are given a LOAN to purchase airfare to their country of resettlement.
Refugees are not given a free ride. The International Organization for Migration gives them a travel loan with which to purchase their airfare. This is an interest free loan which they have to begin making payments on within 4 months.

6. Refugees CANNOT choose where they are resettled.
Refugees do not choose where they are resettled, although if they have family in an area, the resettlement agency will try and resettle them near there. Most agencies work with the new refugees for 90 days to find housing and help acclimate them to life in their new country.

7. Refugees who resettle in the US do NOT have it easy.
Refugees are not given a life of ease. The $925 one time stipend they receive, per person, barely covers rent and transportation for more than a month or two. Many do not speak English and the amount of stress they face to navigate a new city and find a job quickly is daunting.

8. It’s not uncommon for refugees to face identity crises.
Refugees must leave their past behind them. A doctor in the old country now works in a menial minimum wage factory job. A teacher cleans toilets. Qualifications and paperwork rarely transfer across borders and they are forced to start at the bottom all over again. Their self worth is often pummeled and depression not uncommon. There were recently two suicides in a refugee community near where we live. The struggle to find meaning is real.

9. Refugees are fleeing horrors, NOT taking advantage of an opportunity.
Refugees come here because they don’t know where else to go. They are not coming to the US because they’ve heard all kinds of warm and wonderful things about this country. Many of them have clear memories of a beautiful life they once had. Rolling green Syrian hills or a small farm in the Congo. Loud family gatherings with food so unique to who they were. Walking to school with their friends or haggling in the market. All they loved has been stripped away. They land here, after fleeing the horrors of terrorist attacks in their own countries, after living through nightmares that we cannot even begin to imagine, and we act like they are the terrorists.

10. Refugees create WEALTH.
Refugees give back. A 2012 study in Cleveland, Ohio shows how refugees in that area generated $48 million in economic activity, supported 650 jobs and created nearly 2.8 million dollars in local and state taxes. The cost to resettle these refugees was $4.8 million. That is a ten-to-one return! Refugees do not take away from us, they give back.

Now, stop reading about refugees and go out and get to know them. They need you to welcome them and you need them more than you know.

Lenten Rememberings – Yemen

P1350173Yemen, the poorest of the Arab countries, shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. It sits on the coast of the Mandeb Strait, a thin waterway that connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, which empties into the Indian Ocean. Most of the world’s oil supply sails through this strait, like banners of wealth and luxury waving on an unconcerned breeze while a child dies from hunger every 10 minutes on the shores of this country wracked with suffering.

For nearly two years, a war between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed president has ripped this country apart. Using weapons sold to them by the US, the Saudis have escalated the war in an effort to defeat the rebels. Before the war, Yemen imported 90% of its food supply. Now, due to air raids and blockades, very little food and other aid is getting through and most of the people have no food or medical supplies. 183,483 refugees have left Yemen and wait in surrounding countries. Most of the displaced Yemeni people, however, are unable to flee the country.

Despite the depth of the tragedy, there are voices of hope and courage within Yemen. One such voice is a street artist known as the Banksy of Yemen. Using the ruins of war as his canvas, he uses his brush as a way to protest the war. He urges his fellow Yemenis to pick up a brush and join him, creating solidarity in this fractured land.

As we ate a light meal of Shafoot with Lahooh, a spongy flat bread similar to Ethiopia’s Injera, we held this suffering country in our hearts and prayed for peace. It’s humbling to have so much, when those who should be eating these dishes are starving. It is hard to sit with these stories and be able to do nothing but honor their suffering by becoming aware of it and praying for it to end.

 

Lenten Rememberings – South Sudan

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Guest Post – Riley Miller – Age 13

South Sudan is located between Ethiopia and the Central African Republic. There are more than 2.25 million displaced people in South Sudan and across its borders. Nearly 1.5 million South Sudanese have registered as refugees with the UNHCR.

One of the main reasons there are refugees in South Sudan is because they have been displaced due to war. In school, at Early College Academy, I learned about South Sudanese refugees. One of the refugees was a boy named Chuol, a 9 year-old boy, when his village was attacked and bombed by soldiers. He was with his mother and grandmother and they fled to the swamp. Chuol’s mom ran in a different direction so Chuol and his grandmother kept going. They went into the swamp water and hid for hours so they wouldn’t be caught by the soldiers that raided their village. Chuol was constantly afraid that he might die but he was more scared of soldiers then the most vicious crocodiles and poisonous snakes. Eventually they found their way to a camp on a tiny island with at least 80,000 other people running from the war. Later they were able to find a camp in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. When Chuol was in the camp, he felt very traumatized because he had seen so much blood, gore, and killing. He has dreams just like every other kid and hopes to become a doctor some day. You can read more of his story here.

Our meal consisted of Asida, Red Stew, Spinach with Peanut Butter and Peanut Salad.

Lenten Rememberings – Afghanistan

P1350153A people unwanted.
Rejected.
Humiliated.
Brave souls who escaped terrorist attacks and war in their country, sometimes fleeing with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, are now viewed by much of the Western world as being terrorists themselves.

Currently Afghanistan is the world’s second largest source of refugees, numbering 2.7 million, according to the UNHCR. In addition to this, there are an estimated 3.7 million displaced Afghanis, mostly residing in the neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan. Many refugees are being forced to return to Afghanistan, mostly from Pakistan but some also from Iran and the EU. The EU no longer considers Afghanistan to be a war zone even though the fighting has not stopped.

In Pakistan, Islamabad issued a mandate that by the end of 2017, all Afghani refugees must return home. Tensions are high in Pakistan, where many Afghani refugees have lived for two or three decades. Some have already made the choice to return home even though their children have never known life outside of Pakistan. For many this seems to be the only choice due to escalating harassment since the mandate. Yet upon their return to Afghanistan, many are harassed all over again being suspected as Pakistani spies.

These refugees who have spent years in “the wilderness” are returning home to what? Despite the promise of shelters being built to house them in the early stages of repatriation, none are ready. Winters are harsh and lodging scarce in this land that has been blown apart by bombs. In one study’s estimate, 60% of Kabul’s buildings are damaged or destroyed. Reconstruction is a long way from being finished in this land that has known so much fighting.

Tonight as we ate our Kabuli Nan, with Afghani Chicken Karahi and Sabse Borani, we held these brave and beautiful people in our hearts and pray that their homeland would once again become safe and strong.