First Church regular visitor Laurelyn is in Nepal for six weeks for her job with the U.S. Government. She sent us this update from abroad.
There have been a number of thoughts running through my head since I left the US nearly a month ago, so narrowing them is challenging. I’ll try to cover at least a few in this post.
This trip is the first trip I have taken to interview refugees abroad as, normally, my job is to adjudicate cases for refugees who are in the US and apply for asylum. This trip also comes on the heels of a recent break up. Given this, I was uncertain whether or not going across the world to stay in such a remote location for six weeks would be a good thing or a bad thing! But, despite my hesitations about the timing of the trip, the opportunity arose and I seized it. Conducting refugee interviews abroad has always been something I have longed to do.
I have had personal relationships with refugees since I was a teenager when my family helped support three Sudanese refugees with their resettlement to the US. We continue to consider them members of our family. I recall with clarity the evening that my Sudanese brothers first told me about their flight from Sudan to a refugee camp in Kenya—during which time they were shot at and witnessed many other children die of starvation or animal attacks. I remember standing and looking at myself in the mirror after they told my family these stories and thinking, “What am I doing?!” “How can I stop this?!” “How can I help?”
My immediate thought was that I had to drop out of school, sell all my possessions (which were not many as a 14 year old) and give them all to the dying kids in Africa. What was more important than this?
However, my senses would always kick in immediately after these thoughts and remind me that I was just a teenager. And, more importantly, I was a teenager who suffered from separation anxiety and never even wanted to even go to my friend’s houses a few miles away for a sleepover let alone leave my family and move to Africa! How could someone like me be called to do something about issues abroad? Why was I given this desire to work in such unknown territory and, at the same time, have to deal with debilitating anxiety the moment I went 10 miles down the road?
These questions were at the forefront of my mind for many years. And yet, some insight from a guest pastor at my school did help me become more at ease with what seemed to me to be an impossible “calling.” One day at high school, our chapel service focused on one of the many conflicts / issues in Africa. Feeling quite torn up about the situation, I approached the guest-pastor who was in charge of the service. I sat down with him and told him about the Sudanese refugees and how affected I was by all these issues, but how I felt so incapable of doing anything about it. His response has stuck with me and has been at the forefront of my mind here in Nepal.
He reminded me of the story of Moses and the burning bush in the Bible. The story is from Exodus 3 and goes something like this…: God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush and Moses takes notice because this bush is not burning up like a bush normally would do. God calls from the bush and Moses says “here I am.” God tells Moses that the ground he is standing on is holy. Then God tells Moses that he has seen the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt and he instructs Moses to go and bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses questions why God would choose him for this task? And God promises S/He will be with Moses.
The pastor who I was speaking with that day in high school recounted this story to highlight the burning bush. I don’t recall his exact words but I remember him telling me something akin to: “don’t worry. You don’t necessarily have to do something right now. You may not be ready. If you are truly called to do something about these issues in this life, then that passion will be like the burning bush in which God appeared to Moses …..it will not stop burning. It will not burn up.”
This story helped me tremendously at the time and in the years to follow because I was not ready or able to travel around the world, and I did not have the skills to work in the humanitarian field for many years. My path into my career was not always straight and it was not always clear. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but I had years of fretting over what I wanted to pursue academically or what career tracks were available. However, remembering the pastor’s interpretation of this epic story from Exodus did help me to feel somewhat more at ease—hoping that if there was truly something that I was called to do, the passion for that something would never completely die out, despite the path being unclear, uncertain and full of set-backs.
The verses of Exodus 3 after God appears to Moses provide some additional food for thought. In these verses, God tells Moses to take off his shoes because it is holy ground. Maybe, in this context, it is signifying that we ought to treat that which we are called to do—those passions and desires and hopes which burn within us—as holy ground. Things to be respected. To be paid attention to and nurtured. Things to be in awe of.
Like I did, Moses questions God’s calling of him in the passage. He, too, doesn’t feel prepared. Yet God responds by promising that S/He will be with Moses. It may sound overly dramatic to those who never knew me as a child, but given my on-going struggle with anxiety as a child and young adult, it is really nothing short of a miracle that I am in Nepal and in the line of work that I am. Looking back, I can clearly see the sequence of events that led to me overcoming anxieties, gaining experience in the refugee protection field and leading to my current job which has brought me to Nepal. Maybe God was with me as S/He promised S/He would be with Moses?
The moment I let this idea settle in, however, is the moment my mind finds the whole “burning bush” idea to be naïve and simplistic. I mean, what about the burning bush passions of refugees who are forced from their home? Or fear persecution or discrimination in their home country for being who they are— for their ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity? Is there not a fire in their hearts that they wish to be fulfilled and yet cannot because of their reality and/or location in the world? Is God not with them? And what about other passions and desires of those people living near us that—no matter how hard they try—seem to continue to elude them?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. In fact, I would be very interested to hear how others have grappled with them.
For now, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be here in Nepal and to finally to be able to work with and for a refugee population abroad. And when I consider the other desires of my heart which seem to continually get derailed, I find myself praying how my Mother taught me to pray about these things…Asking God to make the desires of my heart clear and to take away that which are not the calling for my life.
May God give you clarity. And may God be with you and all people in the coming weeks … as S/He was with Moses.
A nervous monk prays on the plane ride from Kathmandu to Damak.
Refugee kids preparing to fly to the U.S.
Housing in the refugee camp.
Women in an English class at the refugee center.
the author in Nepal!