Yesterday, we bid Kia Ora (be well) to the six Southern Nazarene University students and two adult sponsors who had spent every waking hour of the past three weeks with us. What adventures we had! Over the past three weeks (technically 19 days on the ground, though 20 makes for a better blog post title 😉 ), our volunteers built intentional relationships with people who represent approximately 20 different cultures. I am not even exaggerating! It was truly an amazing (and sometimes exhausting) feat for them.
Our “uni team,” as we fondly call them, spent their weekdays volunteering at three drastically different primary schools, helping out with our playgroups, and tutoring and playing with refugee children at a couple of area after school programs. They also got to experience the many flavors of the Nazarene church in New Zealand through a culture night complete with a haka and the traditional dances of the Samoan and Cook Islands, as well a young adult retreat (think touch rugby in the church at 2 am and a full-fledged Samoan lunch). They wrapped up their time in New Zealand by hosting an amazing mid-winter Christmas party for our Kids’ Club. It included all of the traditional American festivities and all of the traditional kiwi foods. There was so much merry making!! In each of these places, the uni team encountered an array of different cultures.
However, it wouldn’t be a truly kiwi experience if their time with us had been all work and no play. They surfed with our favorite instructor, Surfer Steve (click on the hyper link to see their awesome surfing photos), hiked the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, wandered through the Redwoods, visited Hamilton Gardens, and made space to reflect at the Blue Spring Walkway. Along the way, a couple of them got special nick names like “Pillows” and “Squash Bug” from Q, dubbed “Wiggle Worm,” and all of them were loved by the small one who proudly claimed his role as a member of the team and his new nick name.
The entire experience was one that is much better told with pictures and videos than words, and we certainly have lots of them. Enjoy!
While most of the world is heating up… we’re definitely not. We’ve enjoyed a spectacular autumn!
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.
Katia’s mom and brother
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.
Katia with her family
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.
Out of curiosity, I posed a question on Facebook this we week. Posing questions on Facebook can be a dangerous endeavor, I know. But this question didn’t involve the names of any US presidential candidates so I felt relatively safe. The results evoked feelings I didn’t expect.
Me: Kiwi friends—I am curious. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on this day [September 11] 15 years ago?
A few of their responses went like this…
PC(India) I was in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, India – when we got a news that my uncle was flying to London from India and he was stopped somewhere, don’t know in which country he was..No Msgs no phone calls- saw the attack on the news channels and was praying to listen to a good news about my uncle. Can’t forget that moment 😞
PW (New Zealand) I remember I was at the dress makers with my nana when we saw it on TV. Couldn’t believe what was happening. I was thinking of all the people who lost their lives and thinking of their families. Such a sad time. That was before i had so many American friends.
PW (England) I had just got home from High School and saw the news
BB (New Zealand) I couldn’t sleep so got up and watched TV. It was about 2am when I surfed through the chanels and saw the plane hit the building and sat watching thinking how did they manage to make that look so real (thinking it was a movie) after a moment or two I realised it was real so went and woke Adrian saying America has been attacked. We sat watching until 5am when we knew we had to get some sleep before going to work. I still find I get riveted to the TV when programs come on about it, like last night there were some on the History chanel.
AP (New Zealand) Yes, absolutely. We were living in London at the time. So I was at work, word got around as to the terrifying drama that was occurring, so we were all watching it on TV (saw the collaspe live on TV). Horrible, scary stuff.
SW(New Zealand) I was living in Auckland and my sister was staying with me. I remember just watching TV continuously in a complete daze with tears running dwn my face. I felt so helpless.
JM (New Zealand) I was pregnant with Paul and was in a shop that had s TV on and we all stood there saying is this real footage, not a movie??? We couldnt believe it. I worried for the people I met while living in Baltimore if they were safe 😢😢 just stared at all the news reports in complete horror and sadness x
FR (New Zealand) I had got up to go and milk cows. An A.B technician had arrived (if you don’t know what that is we’ll discuss it over a family meal together sometime 🙂 ). It was really early so I hadn’t seen the news. She told me the US had been attacked so as I began the milking I flicked the radio on to listen to the news. I spent the day following it and feeling devastated for those who lost their lives, the families, and worrying about the fear that would grip the nation, and what that fear might lead to. 9/11 holds horror for much of the Americas – also thinking of Chile and their remembrance of the horrible military coupe on 9/11 1973 that saw the death of their democratically elected leader and put the violent leadership of Pinochet in power.
As I read those, I felt a lot of things, but the one thing that has really stuck with me is a sense of solidarity. A sense of unity over something held in common. Intentionally shared experience. Though I call these people friends now, I didn’t know one of them back then. 15 years ago, many of them didn’t know a single American personally. Yet, in these responses, I hear them saying, “We stood with you. We hurt with you. We felt your pain. We remember with you.” 9/11 holds for them a significant place of horror in their lives as well. And, while I wish we could erase the atrocities surrounding these memories, the sense of solidarity that those shared memories provide, feels really good. They cared. They felt deeply. That matters.
The more I think about it, the more I can’t help but think of the gift of solidarity that we have to offer to those currently escaping the violence of similar extremist groups. To those whose homes have been reduced to rubble much like the Twin Towers. To those who don’t have the resources to fight back. To those who are desperate to help their families feel safe again. Thousands and thousands of those people will go to sleep in refugee camps tonight, not knowing what tomorrow holds. They’ve had that September 11 feeling every night for months, even years now, with no end in sight.
No matter how helpless we feel, we can certainly offer our solidarity, saying, “On some small level, we know what it is to feel the uncertainty and grief and violation in the face of terrorists, and we stand with you. We remember how painful that feels, and we hurt with you. We remember our own grief and we grieve with you. Even if we never have the opportunity to learn your name, or meet you personally, we stand with you.”
I hope and pray that if anything could come out of those events 15 years ago, it would be hearts of empathy and compassion for those who continue to suffer. It would be eyes that see our own children sitting in shock on the back of an ambulance or lying on the edge of a body of water. It would be hands that offer a cup of cold water and warm blankets. It would be spirits that desire peace and refuge for all. It would be solidarity. Let’s stand together.
The calm, peaceful waters of Blue Springs (as seen in the picture above) pick up speed and force further down stream.