I think a lot about home. My work requires that I travel frequently and I have lived in various places. I try to create a sense of community in every space that I inhabit but as I have gotten older, I am aware of the fact that for me, home is where my heart is and my heart is with my family of origin. Even as I have friends who have become like family and who I carry in my heart no matter where I go, I long to be reunited with my flesh and blood.
Yesterday, we had a very unique opportunity to visit Zaatari Refugee Camp, which is located in Jordan approximately 8 miles from the Syrian border. Zaatari is home to more than 150,000 Syrian refugees, making it the second largest refugee camp in the world. It’s a city, a tent city to be exact, one with limited resources, traumatized people and service providers trying desperately to keep up with the demands caused by war and conflict that has left millions displaced. Some come with their families, some have lost loved ones and others left family members behind. Regardless of how they got to Zaatari, one thing became very clear to me as we met with our brothers and sisters – home is where the heart is.
The first family we met was new to the camp, having arrived a week ago. As they welcomed us into their tent and we sat on their mattresses on mats on the floor, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had entered holy ground. We were in their home, sitting where they slept, attempting to get some insight into their situation. I felt like a voyeur even as I know that face-to-face encounters where I am on the listening end witness to the faith that grounds me. The family could only be described as shell shocked – their gazes seemed empty and they were cloaked in hopelessness and despair. The told us about their journey, one that began when their home in Syria was destroyed and has us meeting in this camp. They shared that some of their family members were left behind and that they couldn’t live like this. I can’t fully capture the feelings that washed over me and left me quite speechless as I struggled to come up with questions to ask. They expressed a deep desire to return home and shared with us that they hope we never have to experience life as a refugee.
The second family we met with had been at the camp for 10 months and the father was a street leader – one who represented a collection of tents and caravans and provided leadership and representation to the gathering of other leaders from around the camp. We learned that the camp was divided into twelve districts, each district being made up of various streets that each had leaders. The difference in affect between the first and second families was striking. While the first family seemed incapable of understanding exactly how they ended up in this situation, the second family had clearly come to terms with their reality, even as they animatedly expressed their political views and desire to return home. The father and mother expressed their disappointment with the American government and people for not taking a stronger stance and helping the Syrian people. We heard repeatedly that “if the American government and people wanted to end the war, they could. There is no political will.”
As a group, all we could do was apologize. I mean, what can one honestly say in that situation? I did express our deep desire to bring their stories back to our homes, to our communities, to help raise awareness and inspire people to act.
That being said, I am still struck by the deep connection the Syrian people have to their home and how it devastates the soul of a person when one isn’t able to inhabit their home. The connection goes beyond just place and deals with the land, memories, sense of self, faith and hope. One refugee told us that “being away from Syria was like being a child separated from their mother, and no one can live apart from their mother.” Syria is home.
The Syrian people aren’t the only people suffering around the globe. And I believe that as a global community, we have the capacity to respond to all suffering. We sometimes operate like there is a limit to how much we can give; to how many we can support; to how many causes we can care about. But this is not true. It is a lie that fear and scarcity thinking tells us. The reality is that abundance abounds. And it’s time we as people of faith start living like we believe this truth and not the lie.
Home is where the heart is. Where is your heart? When you find it, you will find your home. And my prayer is that you will never have to leave it.