Mark Eckel continues his series on suffering. Visit Part 2 here, or see the series introduction and Part 1 here. Mark has also written about the spiritual discipline of caring for a home here, a good complement to his poignant reflections on displacement in this post.
Nearly 60 million people are currently displaced from their homes by war and persecution — more than at any time since World War II. Half are children. In our current crisis, nearly 30 million children worldwide have been driven from their homes by war and persecution. Media coverage has lately focused on the Syrian dimension of this tragedy. But these 30 million girls and boys are from all over — Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Honduras, El Salvador, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. 
I felt the pain of the ordinary barn swallow.
A nest had been formed in a humanly difficult spot: a corner ledge just above the main entry into the kitchen off the back porch of the house. I knew it would be a problem, for bird and human.
When I mentioned the nest to the home owner he told me to take it down, but if I didn’t want to, he would. I was grateful for his so saying. I could not.
He did. The mud dauber nest is now gone. That morning I watched with heavy heart as the swallows flew back and forth to the ledge looking for their home.
In some deep way I “feel for” those birds. Displacement must be an awful event. Forced removal from one’s place contains devastation. Uprooted, a being is now forced to make another place their home, when anything else is foreign soil.
In human terms, the quotation above gives but a snapshot of the awful conditions for so many people. Refugee status means homelessness, plain and simple. So many people, so much suffering.
The Israelites understood what it meant to be aliens, strangers, refugees (Lev 19.33-34). Jesus had trouble finding a pillow for sleep (Matt 8.20; Luke 9.58). Paul was at times shipwrecked, adrift at sea, imprisoned, and without shelter (2 Cor 11.25-28). Peter writes to groups of Christians who are exiled by the throes of persecution (1 Pet 2.11-12).
Displacement happens to many, even when they have their own home.
In similar straits I ponder what it means to have the common, the ordinary, the familiar taken away. The list of questions below have different answers depending on the day, depending on the time of day.
- How do you feel when you have been removed from that which is familiar to you?
- How do you respond when the commonplace has been replaced and you are without a place?
- How do you grieve having been taken from what you knew to the unknown?
- How do you withstand the knowledge that what once was, is no more?
- How do you go on, putting one foot in front of the other, knowing there is no ‘home’ to return to?
I ache for those swallows, even now, as I reminisce about it. I weep for those families, those little ones, who wander without a roof, with no property except the dirt on which they stand.
And as I ponder those creatures and my fellow earth-dwellers, perhaps, just perhaps, I have some of my Father in me:
“If I care for the birds, how much more do I care for you?”
- How do we respond when given bad news, the worst news, life-changing news?
- How do you plan for the future when your future is “no place?”
- How do you contemplate a home when you will never see “home” again?
- How do you live with “time” since your times have been separated from your place?
- How do you consider ownership, work, or your “standing in the community” when you have nothing to own, you have no work, and you stand outside a community?
Dear Lord. I am a cork tossed on the seas of disappointment, discouragement, and sometimes, disaster. I can see nothing but the waves. I can feel nothing but the crushing weight of storm surges. I hear nothing but my own screams of pain above the howl of the wind. So, Lord, I cry out to You in my disenfranchisement. My alienation is sometimes more than I can bear. May the testimony of Your Son be my Lighthouse in the tempest, Your Word be my Light in the darkness. In the name of Jesus I pray, who was displaced for my sake, Amen.
 Jake Silverstein, “The Displaced: Introduction,” New York Times Magazine 5 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/magazine/the-displaced-introduction.html