“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is. It’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to, but it doesn’t really.
And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along. Something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel whole, something to make you feel loved. And the truth is, I feel so angry, and the truth is, I feel so f—ing sad, and the truth is, I’ve felt so f—ing hurt for so f—ing long and for just as long I’ve been pretending I’m OK, just to get along, just for, I don’t know why. Maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own.
Well, f— everybody. Amen.”
This heart-wrenching sentiment comes from Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman. It is as close to a representation of a thought I think a refugee would have. It gives me great hope. When I visited the settlements, most of the refugees didn’t feel this way. Even though they faced the worst possible parts of God’s plan, they didn’t come to despair and bitterness. Hope was still alive.
Of all the principles I’ve seen here, love is the greatest. Even though there is so much differentiating us from them, they welcomed us with open hearts. In every settlement we went to they gave us beautiful performances that showed us their wounded heart is still beating. Most of the people whom we smiled at gave a warmer smile back. The children would follow us as if we had been in the village since they were born. It is this love in the midst of such hardship where I found God dwelling among His people. As Jesus said, love your enemy. In the hearts of these refugees, I could see the word made flesh. They didn’t become like the enemy and turn to hate, but have moved on and are trying to improve their life. In the schools and settlements, we learned that there is a mixture of tribes. This has allowed them to get past tribalism and see the humanity in each other. Such a vision of love goes beyond the explanation of psychology, sociology, and all the other -ologies.
While I have been in Uganda, I have been inspired by the refugee’s faith. After seeing their homes burned, family members killed, and children starved, the refugees still have a faith with a burning intensity that is unquenchable. Instead of turning to nihilism, these people have clung ever stronger to their faith. Their Masses are hours long, there is “God” written on many signs, and the name of Jesus has power here. Their faith is where they find hope. Their whole identity has been destroyed, and their tattered family serves as a reminder. They have become strangers in a strange land. Their faith is their only hope that things will get better. I can see from the way they talk about God that His word is writ on their hearts. Their faith is where they draw the strength to forgive and pursue a future. My experience has shown me that their religion forms the bedrock of their identity. Dumbfounded by such faith, I had to ask Sharon, a radio host and journalist who we interviewed, what do the South Sudanese think about why God allows such suffering. She said that suffering is just a test. We know God loves us and it is just the devil that is trying to tempt us through suffering. We hear God loves us on the radio, TV, and in person everywhere.
If Jesus came here, there wouldn’t be much change. Not because the settlements are so holy but because Jesus focused on eternal life. He didn’t free the Israelites from Rome. Even though he criticized the scribes and the Pharisees, he never overthrew them. Instead, he got crucified by them without protest. The way Jesus focuses on the next world gives me great hope. If the King of the universe lived on earth, he didn’t change the political, social, nor economic structures. He changed hearts. I don’t have to try and fight all these structures that will crumble under their own weight of wickedness. I have to be like Jesus and help my neighbor through small acts with great love. After all, he died on a cross after being abandoned by his followers, and he is still worshiped today. You don’t have to change 7 billion people. If you change one person, you change the world ( Butterfly Effect). The one-person changes another who changes another. Before you know it, you were a small yet integral piece in the big change.
Some may think the refugees are useless and a burden, but they aren’t. When I see these human being insulted, I see it as an insult to the whole of humanity. A refugee is a human being who is searching for a future after they have been forced from their home. Just like any other human being, they want to protect their family and give a future for their children. Just like any other human being, they want their human dignity back through simple acts like listening to their story. Unlike every human being, even though they have nothing, they still give what little they have. The richness of humanity amidst such poverty could make the hardest heart soft.
The situation for the refugees is like the night. It is a dark time for them where they cannot see very well. There are stars to guide them, but these don’t provide enough light such that there is no darkness. Although the night is quite terrible, it is not permanent. There will be change. I can already see the crack of dawn. These refugees are coming to Uganda to build their future. One great sign of the passing night is the settlements themselves. They are far better now than they were five years ago. Now when refugees come, the UNHCR has a very systematic and organized way to assist the refugees. There is change for the better whether we realize it or not. Coming to Uganda for 18 days, I have found the solution to the refugee crisis. The solution is time. It might take one year or 300 years, but it will get there eventually.
Even though we aren’t directly intervening in the lives of the refugees, this documentary is a still doing a lot of good. Herbert, our guide, has said that just our very presence means everything to these people. They are powerless and stereotyped. The fact that a bunch of students from around the globe came to see what their life was like and share their stories with others really means a lot to the refugees. Humanizing their struggles gives them a level of humanity that has been stripped from them by their government. It acknowledges that people care about them. I could feel it in the interview. They would show it throughout our whole time with them. For me, this time that I have spent with them was priceless, it was life changing.