Refugees Welcome {Kentucky}

I was standing at the bus stop.  This would be my very first day of Kindergarten-in a foreign land-and wearing someone else’s clothes.  My blonde hair, blue eyes and southern Kentucky accent made me stand out among the dark haired and skinned kids around me.  I couldn’t understand their language and they were intrigued by mine.  The night before I had walked by myself to the temporary showers that had been set up-two men followed me and I could feel them watching me the entire time.  I closed my eyes and pretended they weren’t there.  I had seen them the day before-standing there on the side of the road-as we were walking back with our food and water.  It was in the dark that I most missed the comfort and safety of my home.  It was here that God first spoke to me.  It was when I began to file away the moments and thoughts of my day in case they might be needed in the future…

I’m still not entirely sure why we were there, but I do know that I was afraid.  In the midst of my fear people showed up.  They offered us food, water, clothing, transportation, translation.  All the things that we had been able to supply for ourselves before.  Those same people continue to keep up with me and care about my life.  They engaged my story and were willing to step into the uncomfortable reality that it had become.

“When we deny our stories, they define us.  When we own our stories, we get to write the ending.”  Brené Brown

I just can’t. I just can’t sit and watch the photos, videos and read the articles without doing anything. I just can’t sit and think to myself, “What if it was my toddler washed up at sea? What if Nathan had to choose between our children-who survived?” I’ve got to stop using the suffering of others as an excuse to apply fear to my own life and in response just ignore the reality of what is happening. Because whether or not I want to believe it-there it is. I’ve seen too much to turn away. My own story connects me to this story in a powerful way.

I’ve had several people ask me how they might be able to help right now as we face the largest refugee crisis since World War II.  Here are a few of my ideas, so far:

1.  Thank Someone

Do something powerful-say “thank you” to someone who is doing more than you can right now.

This is by far the most important thing I’ve done this week.  I’ve reached out to those I know on the front lines here locally and globally and thanked them.  You know why?  Because people who are doing things have to work through shame, ridicule, judgement, and fear.  It doesn’t matter what they are doing, but if they are acting in courage hard work follows.  Your positivity and encouragement may be just what they need to do the next hard thing that’s right in front of them.

Never underestimate what your support of someone else’s good actions can do.

2.  Feel Something

It can feel like our caring is not enough.  We may look at our own stories and say, “I’ve not suffered like these people I see in photos right now.”  Suffering is suffering.  When we ignore our own suffering it makes it easier to ignore others.  We are a society where we are expected to show up “okay”.  To be feeling something in a big way is just not often allowed.  A baby was washed out of his parents arms and into the depths of the sea to be washed ashore and photographed.  Let’s feel something about that.  Let’s allow his dying not be in shame.  Let’s allow those around us to feel something too.  We can just sit with that for a while before we do anything.  In fact, feeling IS doing.

3.  Do Something

Once we’ve allowed ourselves to feel and we’ve offered space for others to do the same we can look right in front of us and do “just one thing”.  It’ doesn’t have to be big or glamorous or even feel like “enough”.  In fact, it will never feel like enough-so we just have to get started.  Little acts of doing can mean something significant.  Learning to let go of our own selfishness is a good first step.  Taking less from someone who is giving to those with the highest needs is selfless.  Simply teaching our children why we are doing it will mean a more compassionate future for everyone.

4.  Send Something

I’ve been wondering what refugee women are doing about feminine products, diapers, underwear, etc. Here is an easy way to contribute to the Syrian refugees in Greece. Planning to box up items to ship? Ask your friends that are too busy to do the shopping and boxing if they would like to contribute financially if you are able to do the work! It takes us all contributing in any way we can to make a difference.

Mail to:
Hellenic Postal Office of Mythymna
℅ The Captain’s Table
Molyvos 81108, Lesvos, Greece

Sneakers, gym shoes for men, women and children (all sizes) are a HIGH PRIORITY
Sweatpants of all sizes.
Briefs/underwear for men, women and children (all sizes)
Men’s trousers (small, medium and large) and shoes
Baby powder milk
Any non-perishables like nut butters or other long-lasting foods.
Feminine products
Sleeping bags
Plastic to cover the floor/for shade
Mats (camping or yoga mats)
Hats and caps for sunshade (adults and children/light colours because of the sun)
Electric Plug for multiple devices (european voltage)
*Information provided above was made available by Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

5.  Give Locally

One of the best ways to help locally is to keep doing the selfless acts you are already doing, but maybe with a little more compassion and a slightly better attitude.  Keep engaging the things that you are passionate about even when they get tough.  Things are going to get hard, you are going to fall, you are going to want to give up, but please-find the courage to get back up.  Know you are not alone.

Locally, we can say THANK YOU to the City of Bowling Green for not only welcoming refugee’s into our community, but for providing resources for them.  I can consider ways to support those who are helping refugees assimilate as soon as possible to Kentucky so that we may be able to make room for more people who are fleeing for safety. We CAN make a difference:

Donate to the International Center
Donate to The Foundry
Support the Double Dollar program or volunteer your time at CFM
Support Running for KY Refugees (my friend Sarah Wichman)
Donate to school resource centers

The recent photos and stories coming out of those fleeing Syria for safety have put a fire in our belly.  Let’s take a moment and thank about “what’s next”.  What happens when people are relocated?  Rather than continuing with systems of displacement let’s consider how we might create entirely new systems of self support.  One way you can do that is by supporting small-scale, start up businesses at the International Festival on September 26th.  By supporting current successes we model pathways to opportunity that others can duplicate.  Engage the stories of real people living right here in our community.  Put your dollars there.

I have serious concerns about the inaction of our communities, neighborhoods, churches, and organizations.  I do not have all the answers, but I do know that we have problems here on our soil.  When we disengage (as we have) we hand over complete control to our governments, deplete our own food supplies, stop talking to our neighbors, ignore those who are suffering, and in general become a numbed out nation-filling our need for connection with drugs, alcohol, TV, internet and shopping.  Our fear allows us to make excuses for all the reasons we aren’t doing enough-or anything.  It concerns me.  The only way to change things is to first change ourselves and then make things better around us.  It might be as simple as asking someone how you can help.  Some of the most passionate people doing the best work are doing so because someone helped them get started.

What’s happening globally reminds me of the need to create stronger local systems that meet the needs of ourselves and those we welcome here.

6.  Live Authentically

I know now (maybe I always knew) that I was building up for “such a time as this”.  Living authentically-engaging the normal processes of life:  birth, parenting, eating, communicating, death was never about personal decisions or outcomes, but rather about who I was becoming during the process.  One of the most important ways that I live authentically is by intentionally surrounding myself with people who are compassionate.  My Facebook feed, my daily conversations, my relationships are MOST often full of people who care and take action on it.  It becomes the commitment I make to living authentically and filtering out the rest.  As Glennon Doyle Melton says, “not my circus-not my monkeys”.  If the only thing I do in times of crisis is look around me and say, “in what ways am I feeding the monkeys” then I have made a decision to live authentically.

I tell my story because it’s why I feel passionate about refugees.  It’s hard.  It’s painful.  I’ll have to answer to those who say I didn’t suffer enough or to those who choose hate over love or those who think I am shaming them.  There is a place of connection deep inside me that gives me the ability to keep getting back up even when things get tough.

I’d love to hear your story-I bet that it is leading you right to the place where you are needed most.