Listening to one woman’s journey on World Refugee Day

Noor’s flight from Syria is a reminder of the Christian call to love one another

by Alethia White | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Zahra Al Hussein feeds her children inside her tent in a settlement of Syrian refugees in Minyara, a village in the Akkar district of northern Lebanon. Al Hussein is originally from the Syrian city of Homs. (Photo by Paul Jeffrey / ACT Alliance)

BERLIN – Noor arrived in Europe with two young children and without her husband. She left her home in Aleppo, Syria, two years earlier. Conditions made it impossible to live. Her family felt they had no other choice. During her passage across the Mediterranean Sea, the boat she was on sank with her young children and a group of other migrants. Noor had trained for years as a swimmer so she was strong enough to stay afloat and keep her children safe until they were rescued. But she had tears in her eyes as she remembered one mother who screamed repeatedly for her lost baby.

Those listening to her story were silent as she cried.

Noor arrived in Germany, but didn’t understand the language. She remembered having to take her young son to the doctor because he had a serious illness, but she couldn’t understand the doctor’s instructions. In those moments, she felt alone and uncertain. Noor decided she had to conquer the language to navigate life in her new country so she studied hard and attended regular German language classes. She told her story in fluent German.

A nurse in Syria, Noor hopes to someday continue her work in Germany.

Someone asked Noor about her family in Aleppo and she fell silent. Another person asked her what she misses about Syria. The tears start to fall. She said she misses everything about Syria. Would she go back if she could, another asked? She said, “yes, of course.” Although she has conquered the language and worked hard to establish herself in her host culture, nothing compares to the idea of life in her home country, her home city free from war. She has lost a great deal but now has Germany, a small community of other Syrians and has finally reunited with her husband who traveled separately from Syria.

The circumstances that brought her to Germany are incomprehensible to most of us. But her story brought light to those who listened. We heard her voice, her hope and her uncertainty. We learned she is more than just a “refugee.” She is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a nurse, a swimmer, a language learner, culinary creator, and a human being in search of peace.

Pity. Fear. Compassion. Sympathy. Uncertainty. Stranger. War. Disaster. Loss. What are the words that come to mind when you hear the word “refugee?” It’s a lot to comprehend so choose to ignore the people who have been propelled into refugee status.

As a mission co-worker working with refugees, I encourage individuals and congregations to sit and listen to a refugee’s story. Learn. Their humanness will take shape in those interactions. After all, aren’t we all human beings in search of peace?

In many churches, we “pass the peace” to each other every Sunday morning without a second thought. What if we chose to pass the peace to everyone we encountered, not just on Sunday mornings? What does that look like if not a brief handshake and repeating familiar phrases? Maybe it’s welcoming someone new into the neighborhood. Maybe it’s helping them sort mail in an unfamiliar language, accompanying them to the doctor’s office, finding furniture, helping navigate unfamiliar systems. Maybe it’s breaking down walls, real and imagined. Maybe it’s following Jesus, who was himself once a refugee, forced to flee as a baby into Egypt, and who calls us to love one another.

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Alethia White is a PC(USA) mission co-worker in Berlin.

 


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