Date: Wednesday, Jan. 1
Mission Partner: Lutheran Services in Iowa, written by Jane Scanlon, volunteer
Scripture: Micah 6:8
“O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Injustice has varied faces. I encountered many of them as a volunteer with the refugee program of Hope’s mission partner, Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI). All refugees are forced to flee their home countries through no fault of their own. They are innocent victims of political, social, ethnic, racial or religious injustices, which prevent them from living in their native land.
Many of the Burmese, Bhutanese, Africans and Iraqis I’ve been honored to meet, spent years in lawless, primitive refugee camps in neighboring countries before being sponsored for resettlement in the U.S. They were driven from their homes and witnessed the murder of loved ones. Many women and girls were assaulted and men were forced to serve the militias who attacked their villages. All knew hunger well. I could not undo the injustices they suffered but I thought I could do justice by helping them rebuild their lives here by teaching them English (ESL). Of course, my students taught me so much more than I taught them: life lessons on the resiliency of the human spirit. I saw that the God-given capacity for joy, kindness and humility endures despite extreme injustices inflicted by others, that divine spark within is always there, somewhere.
One of my vocabulary activities was a “class mood questionnaire” where students would survey each other about whether they were feeling happy, sad, angry, tired, excited or worried. We would tally the results on the board. In my six years as an ESL teacher at LSI, almost every student reported they were either “happy” or “excited”. Occasionally there was a “worried”. Only once was there was a man who said, “sad.” Why? Not because he had a college degree in his country, had lost everything and was now working on an assembly line. “Because”, the young man replied, “next week is holiday and no English class!” I always came away from my classes with a bigger, lighter heart and a much smaller concern about most everything in my life. “Blessed to be a blessing” defines my experience as a volunteer with refugees.
During New Year’s Day, as we are invited to explore new beginnings, I am reminded of another life lesson I learned from a student who had recently arrived from Burundi (Africa). We went on a “field trip” to Valley West Mall to see the Christmas display and learn about American traditions. As we looked down at the elaborate Christmas village and the well nourished Santa Clause on his throne, I attempted to explain the Santa story in simple English: “On Christmas Eve, he rides through the sky on a sled pulled by reindeer – like antelope –and brings gifts for children all over the world….” After staring at me wide-eyed for a few moments he asked, “And this man lives here at the Valley West Mall?”
Driving home afterwards, chuckling as I reflected on how newcomers interpret things they encounter here, I was struck by how God invites all of us to live life as newcomers: to see with a child’s eyes as though for the first time. Jesus asks us to set aside what we think we know and cultivate what the theologians call, the “beginner’s mind.” This New Year, Lord, may I assume nothing about anyone or anything. May I greet every encounter with curiosity. May I discover new joy in doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with you alongside my brothers and sisters of all countries and cultures. Amen.