This weekend I met the Secretary General of the Reformed Church in America, who told his story of being a refugee. His family left Nicaragua and came to the United States when he was eight during the 1980s violent Iran-Contra scandal. He spoke of his fears, not being able to speak English, and being made fun of in school.
A few months ago, I listened to a story of the fear of a Rohingya Muslim mother with her baby being driven out of Buddhist Myanmar. They walked for endless days through the mud and the jungle while being shot until they reached Thailand.
Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux, formerly wealthy, tells the author’s experience of being left with nothing but his car and his dog and of his struggle to find food each day. Sally’s is the Salvation Army. When he was given an old typewriter, he recorded his tale of friends he made and lost. On the street, the homeless help each other find food, beg for food, and must wash in whatever bathroom available.
Refugees have lost their country and homes they knew. Many of our homeless who can no longer return to the home they knew, so in effect are refugees in their own country. John lives somewhere in the United States. Yonatan lived somewhere in Syria. Neither has a safe place to lie down to sleep. They have no home.
Why is John homeless? Any one of many reasons may have left John alone on the street. Poverty, even when a person works, can leave them without enough money to rent even a room. Sometimes a person must leave a home under threat of being beaten or death, a result of domestic violence or their neighborhood. Shifting work opportunities can leave groups of people with no income so they lose their home or business.
Yonatan left Syria where he may have been a teacher, but his school and neighborhood have been leveled by bombs. He may have been known as against the uprising or because he took part in the uprising. He has no income and fears for his life. He might be a Christian in a Moslem country. He could not stay in his country. John and Yonatan have left what they knew as home either as children or adults.
In Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia there are similar stories.
The greatest danger for both the homeless and refugees is not being seen as individual men, women, and children with names but only seen as a dehumanizing lump called “THEM.”
Perhaps the phrase that should come to mind is “THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD, GO I.”
Seventy years ago the United Nations agreed upon and signed “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Article 2: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty
Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Article 4: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”
Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”