Thank you, Rosi Penner Kaufman, for this reflection as we approach World Refugee Day, June 20, 2018.
This past Sunday during our time of praying together we sang these words from a hymn by John Bell and Graham Maule:
If the war goes on and the children die of hunger,
And the old men weep, for the young men are no more,
And the women learn how to dance without a partner,
Who will keep the score?
If the war goes on and the truth is taken hostage,
And new terrors lead to the need to euphemize;
When the calls for peace are declared unpatriotic,
Who’ll expose the lies?
After the service, an astute friend asked, “Which war?”
What a question. My sad reply is, “Choose one.”
In the past few weeks I have become aware of the war that is happening near us, on our borders, between those seeking shelter and safety in the United States with their families and the U.S. government policies that justify border agents ordered to detain them. I read stories of thousands of children, some as young as four years old, forcibly separated from their parents and held in detention centers.
Next Wednesday, June 20, 2018, is World Refugee Day. I admit, refugee is a word distant from my personal experience. My grandfather might have been considered a refugee when he fled Poland to avoid military conscription. I’m sure there were hardships involved, but in 1890 there was never a question of whether he would be admitted to the U.S. He wasn’t alone, and he had family and a destination waiting for him.
The refugees today are CHILDREN. IN OUR COUNTRY. ALONE.
I hardly know how to express my lament. As is often the case for me, I look to music, trying to find something that we can sing together to gather our resolve to do something about this injustice. This is one of those times when I may have found something too powerful to venture singing in a worship service. Corporate worship has to take into account the experience of a wide range of people, including children. I was introduced to a text that, while it touches the lament of my soul, might be unsettling, especially for kids. The text is paired with the tune common for “Away in a manger.” The pairing of this text that describes fear, loneliness and the blatant disregard for life, with a tune we sing as a lullaby or hear our preschoolers sing at a Christmas program, is a powerful condemnation of how sheltered I am from the reality of this text. It is frightening.
Frightened refugee children don’t sing carols. They weep. And now I weep with them, frustrated that I don’t know how to bring about the hope of the third stanza.
*Double click on this song to make it larger.