by Joseph Healey, MM
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 | Philippians 3:17-4:1 | Luke 9:28-36
“Abram put his faith in God.” ~Genesis 15:6
Thomas met me in the parking lot of the office of the Bishops’ Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. He had just fled from Torit in Southern Sudan. He told me his sad, sad story as a political refugee. He was thirty-four years-old. Since Thomas was a one year-old, his whole life had been spent surrounded by the turmoil of a civil war.
His story went like this. Sudan gained independence in 1956. Thomas was born in Southern Sudan in 1957. In 1958 there was an Army coup. Over the next 15 years, there were a series of military coups, popular uprisings and economic crises. In 1983 there was a redivision in the South, the outbreak of civil war, the formation of the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) and the introduction of Islamic law.
Thomas was caught in the tragic civil war in the South. He was separated from his wife and three children. Even today he doesn’t know if they are alive or dead. Thomas moved around to different places until he finally fled to Nairobi.
The bare statistics are grim. More than 20 million Africans have fled their homes to seek safety, food and shelter elsewhere. Of these, 15 million are displaced persons in their own country. Five million are like Thomas — political refugees who have fled to neighboring countries.
God called Abraham out of his land of Ur of the Chaldeans to go to a new land of Canaan where his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky. But war, violence and injustice forced Thomas out of his land of Sudan. With his wife and children missing or dead, he has no descendants — and especially terrible cross for an African to bear. Yet his faith in God remains strong.
This Lent let us remember the numerous refugees scattered across the globe. How can we forget the dramatic pictures of the thousands of Kurdish refugees streaming into the mountains of Northern Iraq. As we thank God for the blessings of a home and family, let us remember the Ethiopian proverb that says, “Living is worthless for one without a home.” Also refugees invite us to the ministry of peacemaking. Refugees need peace, a peace which is based on justice and leads to integral human development.
This Lenten season, we can be more aware of the thousands of immigrants and exiles who have come to the United States. “Remember always to welcome strangers; by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing” (Hebrews 13:2).
This reflection was written by Rev. Joseph Healey, MM, an author of many articles and books on small Christian communities, African culture and world mission. It is taken from Faces of Africa: Lent 1992, published by Pax Christi USA.