We have continued to spend time in the refugee community and I continue to learn so much from my time with them, not the least of which being how much I still have left to learn. My previous post, though true and honest, barely scratched the surface. As rich and deep and overwhelming as my experience had been, there was still so much I did not know.

For example, I did not know that the specific family who hosted us at that first visit did so because in their community, they have the most to offer. Their apartment is the largest and they have the most furniture. In other words, we all gathered there because we could. I did not know when I was helping that young teenaged girl with her English homework that her bed at home is in the kitchen, and that homework along with a few clothes and little else was kept in a kitchen cabinet beside a broom.

I wrote about their joy and their gratitude to God for safety and daily bread, and what I wrote is still true. Their generosity continues to inspire me, not only when they bake for us or invite us for meals, but as they care for each other. A wallet is lost and neighbors rally to search all over town. It is not found, and it contained all the money a family had to live on this month. The neighbors give what they can, and though it is a significant loss, their needs will still be met. Over and over, spending time in this community puts life into clearer perspective for me, and at times it feels like my life when I’m there is more real than my “real life” back at home.


We finally got a turn to extend a bit of hospitality too! In our camper of course.
We’ve obscured faces for their protection.

Every one of us has a story. Our stories are collections of events, decisions, successes, failures, mistakes, losses, gains, griefs and joys that have led us to where we are and shaped us into who we are. Our stories are unique, precious, painful and beautiful. Your story is yours and though others may add to it or influence its direction, no one can take it from you. For people who have lost everything, sometimes their stories are all they have left. They are to be protected.

I didn’t understand this before, though it seems now like it should have been obvious to me. And so what I wrote before about our new friends being focused forward, not dwelling on the past, was only partially true. Yes, I believe they acknowledge that the only way they can go is forward and often their words reflect their best intentions and efforts to think positively. Don’t most of us do that? We put a positive spin on our circumstances when talking to others regardless of what we’re really feeling below the surface. I do – why would I expect anything else from others? Why would I expect new acquaintances to share their precious stories with me right away?

This past weekend I had the privilege of hearing the stories of several of my refugee friends. Against the backdrop of frying felafel and giggling children, I have heard fresh reminders of just how broken this world really is. It’s not that I didn’t know these atrocities were happening, but none of it had ever happened to someone I know. To someone I care about. Images on news reports are perhaps meant to inform us, but I think somehow they numb us. The suffering is on too large of a scale. It is too much for a human being to take in, and so statistics become numbers that are either forgotten or stored somewhere with the date of the Magna Carta and the Pythagorean theorem. Statistics and headlines are information, but story is life. Story gives us true knowledge. I wanted to hear and know. I’m honored to know. I’m humbled to know. But I’m also haunted by it. I can never un-know. It will change me. It has to. I have heard but a few stories from this community of hundreds. This community that is but one of hundreds in Sweden. Sweden that is but one of so many countries to which refugees are fleeing. There are millions and millions of stories. Lord have mercy.

I have spent many sleepless hours trying to wrap my mind around the stories I have heard. I am asking myself what I would do. Would I still profess Christ if I knew it meant I’d never see my children again? If I sacrificed everything to get enough money to try to get myself and my child to a safe place, and the person I paid to help me stole my money and left me stranded in a foreign country, what would I do? How would I keep getting up in the morning if I’d seen my whole family murdered? Why was I born into circumstances that gave me a childhood free from being kidnapped, molested, or witnessing the violent murders of those I love, and why can’t all children grow up free from these things?

I watched my kids playing happily with kids who have experienced things that even as an adult I can’t imagine. They run and laugh and invent games, somehow making sure the rules are understood in at least 4 languages. They are kids being kids and I just can’t force myself to imagine what these kids have been through.

They are thankful for what they have, yes. But they are still waking up in the morning in a strange place with a language and culture they don’t understand, where their very presence is controversial and they are regularly ignored and disrespected, where winter seems to last forever. They are waking up without their spouses, children, parents, not knowing if these loved ones will survive the day where they are. Children are waking up on their birthdays missing loved ones they would usually celebrate with and knowing that there won’t be any presents. Sometimes gratitude, just like love, is more of a choice than a feeling.

Unfortunately, in our broken world, you don’t have to go to a refugee community to find stories of pain and struggle. You probably don’t have to go very far at all. We need to take the time to hear each other’s stories, and to take the risk to share our own. There is beauty in sharing one another’s burdens and in helping each other choose joy and gratitude despite circumstances. True community is where we can laugh together, cry together, and meet each other’s needs. Stories connect us, bind us together, and leave us changed. Statistics are great to know if you’re playing Trivial Pursuit, but insulation and isolation won’t make anything better. Sharing stories is far from a complete solution, but it seems like a great start.

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