22 August 2016
MEDITERRANEAN REFLECTION: Refugee--the human face of God
by Hadje Sadje
[Note: Sadje’s reflection has been adapted for CPTnet; the original is available on CPT-Europe’s blog.]
When I arrived in Mytilene International Airport Lesvos Greece on 10 July, the city center and the entire island of Lesvos were not new for me. Similarities between what could be considered a Philippine tourist destination spot and the culture of Lesvos can be noticed through the architecture, scenery, weather, urban planning, stony seabed and beautiful mountains. In short, Lesvos is a holiday paradise. The street acts as such: crazy lorry drivers, ending lanes, racing cars and reasonably easy public transport—it felt like home to me.
However, my main reason for visiting the island was to assist in the work of the Christian Peacemaker Teams Mediterranean project (CPT). Since the war in Syria and Iraq, Greece—and specifically Lesvos—has been the frontline of the refugee crises. Lesvos and the Aegean Sea coast near Turkey are the main focal points for the massive wave of refugees from different countries (Syrians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, etc.) entering the EU. After the EU-Turkey deal (March 20) everything has changed. Presently, many describe Lesvos as two worlds colliding: where holiday paradise and refugee crisis converge.
In the last few years I’ve dedicated my Christian life to social advocacy work: particularly with refugee life struggles in EU. By volunteering with the CPT Mediterranean project for the month of July, I hoped I could do something different that would support the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people in my own little way. It is, of course, important to do so without having a messianic complex. I did not do this to feel good about myself or because there was nothing else to do. This is one way I can express my solidarity with refugees, as I am a human being committed to social justice.
In my culture when we face difficulties in life we just need people that can listen and be with us. We call this, “pakikisama sa kapwa” or “getting along with others” (in times of joy, sadness, celebration and struggles). This is not, however, a truly adequate English translation, because it does not communicate the strong sense of community in our Filipino culture.
Before rethinking our Christian commitment to social justice, we must first acknowledge our limited understanding of the work of the kingdom of God. Some contemporary views are often confused with the kingdom of God. In particular, the message of the kingdom isn’t always about prayer, preaching, evangelism and Bible study. Joining with CPT, I learned that God is among the refugees. Many people spend so much time (and money) studying and debating God. For me, serving refugees and immersing myself in their life struggle has helped me feel and find God’s presence. I consider this to be the work of the kingdom of God, and the more I become involved in social justice advocacy the more I feel connected to that presence.
Undoubtedly, the work of the CPT Mediterranean team is highly commendable and valuable, especially during its first years of operation. Since the EU-Turkey deal, everything has changed. Flexibility has become very important now as the team reacts to the current situation on the island.
Moreover, I realized that one of the essential elements of the CPT Mediterranean project is to listen to refugees’ stories so that we can be a voice for the voiceless. Sometimes I am too afraid of not being heard. I know it is hard to learn the art of listening, but only through it are we able to understand others. I need to embody it in my mind and heart. It is easier for me to get wisdom and insight from other people by listening to them and empathizing with them. I feel that it helps me become a better person and a better Christian. To be able to spend time with people who are marginalized and oppressed was a life-changing journey. It was a born-again experience for me. I don’t know about your Christianity but my Christian tradition calls me to comfort the poor in spirit and those who mourn, to listen to the meek and those who are persecuted and to walk with the peacemakers. The more I immerse myself in the life struggle of the refugees, the more I feel and find God’s presence—because refugees are the human face of God.
See God in the faces of the refugees. Show your support for the work of CPT-Europe www.cpt.org/donate