A few years ago, I saw my mom’s fear of refugees dissolve. While visiting me and my family in the Midwest, she sat in as I taught an English literacy class for East African refugee women, mostly from Somalia and Oromia. We were learning the language to describe our families, and we all went around the room saying how many children we had (the numbers were high—5, 8, 4—because Muslims view children as a gift from God).
When I introduced my mother, my class started probing. They asked how many children she had. “Three daughters,” she said, explaining that I was the middle child. No sons? The women seemed a little sad for her. My mother told them that she did, in fact, have a son, but that he had died in childhood as a result of a car accident. The women immediately expressed grief for her—a few even got up to hug my mom.
Then, despite various cultural and language barriers, one by one the women in my class shared how they too, had lost children, through sickness, famine, and war. One woman shared how six of her children died in a refugee camp. This woman, and every other person there had been touched by profound loss.
Our English class was transformed into something else. As the women hugged my mom and enfolded her into their circle of grief and resilience, she stopped seeing them as refugees. To her, they were grieving mothers, just like herself.
A few days ago I sent a brief text message to Maryan, a Somali, Muslim, neighbor, and friend. I told her I was thankful for her, I was sad about everything happening in the news, and I wanted her to know she was always welcome.
Later, the phone rang: “I haven’t had time to listen to the news,” she said. “What’s going on?” My heart sank.
Many of those most affected by the recent executive order concerning immigrants and refugees were too busy surviving to be glued to the news or to social media networks. They were single mothers and men working the swing shift, recently arrived refugees trying to navigate schools and hospitals and so many bills. Maryan had three children and worked at a minimum wage job. She was too busy to worry about the powers that be.
I didn’t want to be the one to tell Maryan, but here I was. Like many of my neighbors, I knew she was too busy trying to survive to pay attention to the news. I briefly outlined for Maryan the ban on refugees from Syria and six other countries—including her own. She did not seem surprised. “It’s ok,” she told me. “Everything is in God’s will.”
I also believe that God is ultimately in control, and that the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Book of Lamentations show us that the Christian faith includes the concept of complaint. We are invited to cry out, ask questions, and demand justice without fear of losing our place in the presence of God. The God of the Scriptures desires honesty. God does not want a relationship built on hiding our struggles and insecurities.
Maryan and I talked for a while longer. Finally she asked with a worried voice: “Will Trump send back the people who have already arrived?” I told her I didn’t think that was possible, that I believe that God is in control of the world but gets upset when the people he loves are treated poorly.
“We should all pray,” my friend told me. “All of us together should pray, and then God will have to listen to us.” She told me that her husband is still in Somalia. She will have to work that much harder at her job to make enough money to go visit him, if she is even allowed to do that. She paused for a long while, and then told me she felt very sad, both for herself and that so many families will be separated by this ban. “So many people have spouses or family members still in these countries,” Maryan told me. “But what can we do?”