Refugee Blues

In 2015 there were 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 21.3 million refugees and 10 million stateless people (source: UNHCR).

refugees

Photo credit: images.forbes.com

In some cases, only poetry can touch our souls in a way which leads us to compassionate action. We live in a world with constant refugee crises. Let us not live as if millions of people around the world are not suffering due to lost family, friends and homes.

 

Refugee Blues – W.H. Auden, March 1939

 

Say this city has ten million souls,

Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:

Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

 

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,

Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:

We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

 

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,

Every spring it blossoms anew:

Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.

 

The consul banged the table and said,

“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:

But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

 

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;

Asked me politely to return next year:

But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

 

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;

“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:

He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

 

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;

It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:

O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

 

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,

Saw a door opened and a cat let in:

But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.

 

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,

Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:

Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

 

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;

They had no politicians and sang at their ease:

They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

 

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,

A thousand windows and a thousand doors:

Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

 

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;

Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:

Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

What will you do now?

This coming August 14th I will celebrate ten years of full-time mission work in Latin America. Almost ten years ago, at age twenty-two, I was met at the airport outside of Caracas, Venezuela by fellow missionaries. I spent that night inside my very first apartment in Latin America. With a suitcase full of clothes, several books, a few things to remind me of friends and family, I began organizing my new life.

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Anaco, Anzoátegui, Venezuela

So much has happened in the past ten years: I’ve witnessed new births into God’s Kingdom. I’ve helped establish new congregations. I’ve sung at weddings, funerals, and helped expecting parents choose names for their children. I’ve run from armed gunmen and I’ve run into the arms of newfound family and friends. I’ve grown. I’ve cried. I’ve sweat and I’ve suffered.

 

So now what? People ask me, “What will you do now?” To ask, “What will you do now?” is a haunting question in our postmodern, liquid society. Very few people keep a job for very long anymore and many people move around fairly regularly. We expect new seasons in life to bring about important changes on many levels. So, What is my answer? What am I going to do? I would like to continue doing what I am doing now.

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Edo. Amazonas, Venezuela

My desire is to spend the coming years in Latin America as a missionary. This is not because I am somehow overly qualified for the job or never face uncertainties about my vocation. I recently discovered the following truth in a conversation with a friend while on furlough. Confession time. Here it is: I need to be a missionary.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the people of Latin America need me or that somehow the church would feel my absence. Quite the contrary, both friends and family in Latin America would do just fine without me. But I need to be a missionary because I need them – my Latin American friends and family.

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Parque los Chorros, Caracas, Venezuela

You see, mission work isn’t just about teaching – it’s also about learning. It’s not just about helping others, but being helped yourself. It’s about denying yourself certain privileges in order to walk alongside others. It’s about setting aside a part of your self to be transformed into someone different. Mission work changes you.

 

I would dare say that I’ve learned more about myself in the past ten years than I would have if I would have stayed in white, suburban America. Nevertheless, this self-knowledge would be entirely vain and egocentric were it not understood in light of my experience with the risen Lord.

 

You see, Latin Americans teach me about Jesus all the time. I’ve learned more about Jesus in dirty urban slums and in the Amazon than I did from a trip to the Holy Land. I come face to face with Jesus whenever I serve or am served by one of the “least of these”.

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Plaza Bolívar de Chacao, Miranda (East Caracas)

I don’t want to leave Latin America because there is so much more that I have to learn about Jesus. There is so much more that I have to learn about what it means to walk with Him on the asphalt, the dirt roads and through the high grass. I need to hurt, to struggle, to be alone, to be present, to laugh, to cry with my people because it is this pilgrimage together that teaches me who I truly am. It teaches me where I am going and to whom I am going.

 

I’m a missionary in Latin America because I need these people.

My Two Favorite Books

My first all-time favorite book is the Holy Bible. It is made up of Old and New Testaments that give testimony to God’s redeeming action on behalf of all creation. It is the account of God’s love and mercy with a rebellious people who do not deserve His grace. It is through the Scriptures that I can hear God’s voice, learn who I am, what my vocation is and what it means to be like Jesus in His Kingdom while I anxiously await His second coming.

My second all-time favorite book is my passport. It is small but it allows me countless adventures that have shaped who I am today. This book has taken me places I never dreamed of going – rural towns in the Andes Mountains, indigenous villages in the Brazilian Amazon, South American shantytowns, gigantic Latin American capitals. Thanks to this little book, I have learned to communicate in four languages. I have met and interacted with people from literally all over the planet.

I will continue to give away copies of the Bible whenever I can. But sadly, I cannot give anyone a copy of my passport – it would useless to anyone else.

IMG_3732Thanks to my reading of book 1 and my frequent use of book 2, I have spent much time reflecting on what it means for Jonathan Hanegan to be Jesus in today’s world. This Spirit-guided reflection is born out of the reading of Scripture and an experience-with-God. It is also shaped by the living testimony of other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some people I dearly love have shown some concern regarding the way I see the world. For the moment, we have arrived at different interpretations of Jesus’s exhortation to love our neighbors. We disagree on what it means to pledge allegiance solely to God’s Kingdom. We understand differently our call to be peacemakers in a war-torn world.

I appreciate your concern. I appreciate your patience with me. And I solicit your prayers as I continue to wrestle with what it looks like to be Jesus to everyone I meet.

My website and my Facebook profile are a microcosm of what I think “the good life” is. I share pictures of my family, friends, church activities, books I am reading as well as essays and news articles that I think are important. If you disagree with what I write or post, I ask that you comment respectfully and help me understand what you believe and why it is important to you. If at all possible, let’s do it over coffee!

My prayer is that all I say, do and represent rings true with Jesus’ person, ministry and message of peace, love and reconciliation that our world desperately needs.