Many refugees of war, once they’ve escaped with their lives, prefer to look to the future rather than dwell on the past. However, their past haunts them, often to the point of terror. The pain is embedded in their DNA.
If we are willing to listen, refugees need to talk. They must share the weight of their burdens. When they have a listening audience, talking is akin to therapy. Whether on the written page or person-to-person, there is healing in the listening.
Perhaps the saddest thing we do, often inadvertently, is to change the topic when they are talking. Suddenly, matters of life and death are treated as incidental. Once again, the refugee is left alone to harbor the burden.
Reasons are multifaceted: Either the listener isn’t interested, or the listener can’t bear to hear their tragedy.
When one survives the horrors of war, i.e., bombings, cross-fire, unjust incarceration, the victims witness evil incarnate. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,the Lutheran pastor and author of “Letters and Papers from Prison”. He was put to death by Hitler. He did not live to tell his story, but Bonhoeffer’s voice lives on in his witness, for he spent three years in London working with refugees from Hitler’s Germany. Later, Princeton University created a teaching post to protect him, but his conscience would not allow it. Thus, he returned to Germany, only to be incarcerated by Hitler. (“Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Belonging: A Christian Perspective” by Jacob Phillips. The Pastoral Review, July/August, 2016).
When refugees share their stories of life, death, and escape, LISTEN. It might be one of the most difficult tasks you’ll ever encounter, but there is healing in the listening. Consider yourself blessed that the refugees entrusted their story with you.
As this book goes to press, 60 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons, the greatest number in recorded history, are swarming camps in receiving countries. Though free countries of the world are ‘vetting’ them to assure they’re safe to enter, the greatest tragedy occurs when we ignore their voices.
Today, in 2016, once again, refugees’ cries are echoing around the globe. They, too, need a voice in the modern era.
In the spirit of hope, it is my deepest desire that “Refugees! A Family’s Search for Freedom …,” will help to bring about ‘Peace on Earth’ and cross-cultural understandings.
. . . by Jeanne Jacoby Smith, the author