Asylum seekers should know us by our love, not our fear

To begin with I want to tell my friends who are of different faith or no faith; this blog is mostly directed to those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ. Some parts may feel like an internal family debate, but in reality these are crucial questions for everyone.

Also, as I write this, Europe is on my mind. Again, I welcome everyone else to join the discussion because this topic is truly a global issue and a global challenge. It is the same ‘hot topic’ in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America. Except maybe in some small islands in South Pacific… (no, I have not been to all these places but I do travel a lot for work and have lived in three continents)

And don’t worry; I will keep this blog short even though there is much to say. As we know, the issues are very complicated. There is already lots written and said in media, government, workplaces, family… One of my friends in Latvia commented, “On this issue everyone in my family has an opinion.” This is truly a debate that involves the society as a whole. Many of the opinions and arguments are thoughtful and respectful and helpful, while many others are simply xenophobic and unhelpful and very very fearful.

What I want to focus on this time is FEAR! People express many views and emotions when they talk about immigration, refugees, asylum seekers. Common ones is anxiety and fear. I can relate to it very well because I have struggled with many fears in my own life. Some of them are now gone; others are still lingering. So, I try not to judge other people but I can be a judge of myself. And I can speak as a Christian who is called and commanded to follow a higher law.

Jesus was constantly opposed by people who did not like his way of building God’s Kingdom or the people He included. They had their own ideas of what it means to be a godly person and what it means to have their national identity and morality and religious authority. Keep everything ‘impure’, ‘unknown’ and those ‘others’ as far away as possible. Wash your hands after you come home from a public place because who knows what or whom you have been touching.

Once Jesus answered them like this, “You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. (…) You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Harsh words but how many times I have felt that this is exactly what I have done; I have focused on many important things but have gotten completely blindsided but missing the main point.

The question of receiving asylum seekers is a matter of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness! The fair treatment of the immigrant and the host community is primarily a Justice issue. Having compassion and empathy for asylum seekers is Mercy. Believing and trusting God when He talks about the love toward our fellow human being is Faithfulness. There is so much to say about each of these but I will leave that for other blogs.

What are we afraid of? Let us think about our fears and anxieties! Let us deal with them! One of my teachers said, “Holiness is moving towards darkness.”  Those fearful corners of our hearts are truly dark but everything brought in His light becomes light. And then we can love anyone who becomes our neighbor freely and practically and sacrificially!

We Care 17

Latviski:

Iesākumā es gribu pateikt saviem draugiem, kuriem ir cita reliģija vai arī nav nekādas ticības, ka šis raksts ir vairāk domāts tiem no mums, kuri sauc sevi par Jēzus Kristus sekotājiem. Tāpēc manis teiktais daļēji izklausīsies kā ģimenes saruna, bet patiesībā tas attiecas uz jebkuru.

Vēl, man rakstot, prātā ir Eiropa. Protams, visi var piedalīties diskusijā, jo šī tēma un problēmas ir patiešām globālas. Tā pati ‘karstā tēma’ Āzijā, Austrālijā, Āfrikā, Eiropā, Amerikā. Varbūt vienīgi kādās mazās Klusā Okeāna salās par to nedomā…

Un neuztraucieties; šis raksts nebūs pārāk garš, kaut gan teikt var daudz. Mēs jau zinām, ka šie jautājumi ir sarežģīti. Daudz jau ir rakstīts un pateikts gan plašsaziņas līdzekļos, gan no valdības puses, gan darba vietās, gan ģimenē… Viens mans draugs no Latvijas ieminējās: “Par šo jautājumu katram manā ģimenē ir savs viedoklis.” Šīs diskusijas iesaista visu sabiedrību. Daudzas domas un argumenti ir pārdomāti, cieņas pilni un palīdz domāt un rīkoties, bet citi ir vienkārši noskaņoti pret svešiniekiem, nepalīdz meklēt risinājumu un veicina arvien lielākas bailes.

Par to es arī gribu šoreiz parunāt – par BAILĒM! Cilvēki izpauž savus uzskatus un emocijas, kad runā par imigrāciju, bēgļiem, patvēruma meklētājiem. Bieži redzama reakcija ir uztraukums un bailes. Es to varu saprast, jo man pašai dzīvē ir bijušas daudz un dažādas bailes. Dažas no tām ir izgaisušas, dažas vēl mēgina turēties. Tāpēc es cenšos nenosodīt citus, bet pati sev gan varu būt soģe. Turklāt es varu paust savas domas kā kristiete, jo mēs esam aicināti sekot augstākai pavēlei un likumam.

Jēzum vienmēr nostājās pretī tie, kuriem nepatika Viņa pieeja Dieva Valstības celšanai, vai arī tas, kādi cilvēki tiek aicināti šajā Valstībā. Šiem kritiķiem bija savas idejas, ko nozīmē dievbijība, vai ko nozīmē nacionālā identitāte un tikumība un reliģiska autoritāte. Turēt visu “nešķīsto”, “nepazīstamo” un “citādo” tālu tālu prom. Atnākot mājās mazgāt rokas, jo nevar taču zināt, kam vai kādiem cilvēkiem tās pieskārušās.

Reiz Jēzus atbildēja tā: “Jūs atmetat to, kas svarīgākais bauslībā – taisnīgu tiesu, žēlsirdību un ticību. (…) Aklie ceļa vadoņi! Jūs knišļus izkāšat, bet kamieļus norijat!” Skarbi vārdi, bet neskaitāmas reizes esmu sapratusi, ka tieši tā esmu rīkojusies. Esmu pievērsusi uzmanību labām lietām, bet esmu bijusi gluži akla pret pašu svarīgāko

Jautājums par patvēruma meklētājiem ir Taisnīgas Tiesas, Žēlsirdības un Ticības jautājums. Taisnīga izturēšanās pret imigrantiem un pret vietējo sabiedrību ir Taisnīgums. Spēja just līdzi un sirds, kas iežēlojas par bēgļiem, ir Žēlsirdība. Uzticēšanās Dievam, kad Viņš liek mums mīlēt sev tuvāko cilvēku kā sevi pašu, ir Ticība. Par katru no šīm lietām var daudz teikt, bet tas nākamajiem rakstiem.

No kā mēs baidāmies? Pārdomāsim savas bailes un bažas! Skatīsimies tām acīs, un tiksim ar tām galā! Viens no maniem skolotājiem teica, ka “svētums ir tuvošanās tumsai.” Tie kakti mūsu sirdīs, kas pilni bailēm, ir tiešām tumši, bet viss, ko Viņš ceļ gaismā, top gaišs. Un tad mēs varam mīlēt tos, kuri kļūst par mūsu līdzcilvēkiem, brīvi un aktīvi un upurējoties!

Walls that keep us ‘in’ or ‘out’

This week I was traveling on a long international flight. Usually my flying routine is sleep, eat and watch movies. The airline had a good selection, especially documentaries. So, I watched a short documentary about the fall of Berlin Wall in November of 1989.

It brought back lots of memories and a flood of emotions. I was just a teenager during those days and followed this world breaking news from Latvia, hoping with all my heart that the same power of change would transform my own nation. And it did!

I think about walls often. There are a few walls that come to my mind immediately. The Great Wall of China (which I have visited), the Berlin Wall (which I hope to visit one day… the part that is left as a reminder) , the Israeli Wall in the West Bank (which I hope will come down one day soon), the big border fences/walls on the US-Mexico border and the EU border in Greece… Just to name a few walls that are meant to keep people apart.

Some build prisons to keep people in; others build fortresses to keep people out. Like the Great Wall of China built to keep the invaders out. But most walls have two sides and it depends on which side you live. Like the Berlin Wall which was supposed to keep out the ‘fascists’ and ‘capitalists’ from the West. Only nobody from the West would risk their lives to climb this wall; the desperate attempts were made by people from the East side of the wall who felt like were living in a prison.

I watched again the scenes of people collapsing on the ground and crying when they had escaped to West Germany… People running through the barbed wire and not caring if they get injured. And then the amazing scenes of Berlin Wall coming down and people rejoicing and celebrating and embracing and crying… The wall that separated families and nation and people for decades coming down without any violence or single shot.

I remember in my own country Latvia how the Baltic beach was considered an invisible wall. The border of Soviet Union to protect us from those ‘capitalists’. The beach sand was raked, so that anyone trying to cross the sea would leave footprints… We all knew if anyone even tried  which way the footprints would point. In USSR we built prisons…

The Wall in the West Bank is called ‘separation’ fence or ‘security’ fence in the Hebrew and the wall of ‘apartheid’ in Arabic. It depends which side of the wall you live or what you think in your heart – is it to keep people out or keep people in?

In Europe, we build our fences to keep people ‘out’. Those we don’t want. We build fortresses…

These are the visible walls, but what about the invisible ones? I keep discovering them in my own heart. To dismantle a wall we start by removing one brick, one stone, one block at a time. So, I will start with myself because I don’t want to be just another brick in the wall.

www.usnews.com

When we look for someone to blame

Last week there were international headlines from Durban and other cities in South Africa. Any story about Durban catches my attention since I have been to this beautiful city on the Indian Ocean. South Africa is a country with amazing people. I remember sitting on the airplane watching a sunrise over the green rolling hills around Durban. Where are the lions, right?

Unfortunately last week’s headlines were sad and described tragic events. There were violent attacks against foreign immigrants. This is not the first such outburst of hatred, but the most recent one. The stories spoke of rising xenophobia in South Africa. The definition of xenophobia is „unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture”. As we know, it is not a South African problem; it is universal. Let’s think of our own countries…

After spending time in South Africa, I know it is very complicated and there are many challenges in this ‘rainbow nation’. Lots of bad governance, homicide, unemployment, poverty, growing in-equality between those who have and those who have not… From the news, the attacks are mainly in the poor townships and directed towards people from other African nations (with some exceptions of Asians)… That raises many questions.

Whatever the possible answers, it is clear that this anger and frustration is directed at the wrong people. Also, there are powers who can manipulate these feelings. It is easy for those who have power to start pointing fingers. The leaders can blame the media, the media can blame the leaders or the poor. Meanwhile many poor blame the immigrants… and so on. Lots of scapegoating. But the most important question becomes, „Who is my neighbor?”

I was so encouraged to read in international news about our friends in Chatsworth. Many churches, including Good News Center (a mixed Zulu and Indian fellowship), are responding to this difficult situation. Bringing food and aid to thousands of people who are sheltering in makeshift camps in one of the football fields in Chatsworth. Dennis John is a local pastor and a man of peace whom we enjoyed partnering with. He told the journalists that those behind the attacks were becoming more meticulous, driving away South Africans in relationships with foreigners.

There are peace marches and other statements of solidarity. There are many religious and civil society groups and NGO’s who are showing compassion and neighborly love. I don’t need the journalists to tell me; I know it because I have been to South Africa. I know the people there and I know that there is lots of light in the darkness.

I can only try to imagine the hardship and suffering of the people who are now afraid and so uncertain for their future. Coming from poor or conflict ravaged countries and hoping for a new and better life. I hope that the friendship of their true South African neighbors will bring them the assurance that they are ‘welcome’.

Xenophobia