I belong to a Catholic group that gathers for prayer and good works. At a recent meeting, we discussed a project to help a refugee family resettle in our city.
The discussion was practical until the leader asked everyone to explain what motivated them to consider the project.
That’s when my friend began to cry.
She couldn’t watch the news, she said, with its frequent reporting of misery and tragedy around the world without becoming overwhelmed and wondering, “How can I help?”
I’ll admit that my friend cries easily, but there are few of us who can handle the daily onslaught of horrific news without feeling deep emotions. We seem to move from one humanitarian crisis to another.
Whether it’s the enormous suffering of those affected by Ebola in African cities on the verge of internal collapse, or the horrors of war and beheadings in the Middle East or the sight of young children trying to find refuge from violence by making the long journey across Central America, it has been a gruesome year. The suffering of refugees is one of the most painful to behold.
Our group will be assigned a family by a local agency that handles placement of refugees through the U.S. Department of State. We have been given a list of items the family needs to begin their new life, from a refugee camp on one continent to the dizzying environment of a busy American city.
They’ll need everything, from toothbrushes to cleaning supplies, to a table and beds. They need bus tokens, towels and garbage cans. The list is long and specific. We realized that by taking on the material needs of one family, we’re making a dent, scratching the barest surface, of human troubles in this weary world.
There is a saying, “He who saves a life saves the world entire.” Sometimes the news obscures individual suffering. People are lost in a blur of huge numbers. That’s when assisting one family brings home reality.
I recently saw a news photo of a baby, a few months old, in the arms of a Turkish soldier in full battle regalia. The soldier was looking for the Syrian child’s parents in the wake of thousands fleeing a city besieged by Islamic State fighters. The baby was cradled against a gun slung across the soldier’s chest.
I wondered: Did that baby ever find his mom? That picture brought the war to my kitchen table in a way that statistics can’t.
Millions of Syrians have fled their homes, some have left for neighboring countries such as Turkey or Lebanon.
Additionally, millions more have fled wars in countries throughout the world. Millions live, sometimes for decades, in refugee camps established by the United Nations, and many will never have a chance to go home.
A few “lucky” ones will be sent by the U.N. to countries like ours, and to cities like mine. They come from Bhutan, Iraq, the Congo, South Sudan. They come to a strange place, to live among strangers in a culture, customs and language foreign to them.
For many, the apartments they will be able to afford will be in tough neighborhoods. The adjustment will be hard, the loneliness deep.
There are few fairy-tale endings here. But there is a chance, one family at a time, to tell them that we care about a suffering world.