This is the face of my friend. She’s a Christian, a wife, and a mom. She’s also a make-up artist who loves to sing as a part of church worship teams.
This is the face of her husband. He’s a husband and a dad who delights in his daughter. He’s a hair stylist who can cut, color, and style with the best of them.
They met at a salon where they both worked.
This is the face of their energetic two-year-old, who thinks Q is hilarious, especially when he pretends to fall. She’s learning a new word nearly every minute and is an actress in the making, practicing her most dramatic expressions on her parents. She calls Jaron khal–uncle.
These are the faces of a dad who is struggling to learn English so he can get a job to support his family; a mom so homesick she feels that God has surely forsaken her in this foreign land; and a little girl who may never see a blood relative again.
This is the face of my friend who said, “I was afraid to meet you because they always told me Americans want to control everything. They said Americans are causing war. But I love you. You are not what I expected.”
These are the faces of George, Katia, and Christelle.
They escaped Damascus 3 ½ years ago, a young newlywed couple, seeking safety in Lebanon with her family when the violence became too much. Their government was favorable to Christians, but everyone was caught in the crossfire when the conflict between Muslim groups escalated. They begged UNHCR to let them travel to a new home. But they said no. They begged again and again. Finally, the response came, “You can go, George and Katia, with your young daughter, but your mother, brothers and sister-in-law cannot go with you. You cannot return here until you have your New Zealand passport in five years. Maybe then you can visit.”
“I don’t know why the passed us over so many times, why they wouldn’t let us travel,” Katia still wonders with anguish.
But there are 65 million people in George and Katia and Christelle’s shoes. 65 million displaced people longing for a safe country to call home. The US accepted just over 72,000 this year. New Zealand accepted about 700.
And so, George and Katia are thankful. They’re thankful to live in a peaceful country where bombs are not being dropped daily. They are thankful they are not surrounded by the rubble of destroyed buildings that only serve as constant reminders of crushed dreams. They’re thankful that one day they will be able to get jobs in New Zealand and support themselves. They’re thankful to live in a city with an Arabic-speaking church. They know there is much to be thankful for.
Just recently, Katia found out that her brothers would be able to start their new lives in Canada. But not her mom. No, she is a 52-year-old widowed breast cancer survivor. They say she cannot travel to a new homeland. Governments need people who can work, who can contribute to the economy. She will have no one to care for her once her two sons are relocated to Canada.
And so, Katia cries. She cries for the homeland she misses, for the mom she left behind, for the loss of all that is familiar, for the language of her heart that few can understand, for a war that has torn everything apart, for the loneliness she feels on a daily basis, for media that paints misleading pictures of people on both sides of the camera and fosters fear of the other side.
And I cry with her because she is my friend. Because the media in my homeland says I should be afraid of this family, that our children should never play together, that these people belong in refugee camps or back in their war-torn countries. Because these people with gentle eyes and kind spirits are victims of one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Holocaust.
These faces are the faces of my friends. Their faces might just shock you. They might not fit the image painted by your evening news. These are the faces of Syrian refugees.