GOOD ONE local columnist Jan Woodard

Jan Woodard shares thoughts on faith, life and recovery. Contact her at janwoodard.com or textingthrucancer@gmail.com

A 13-mile journey on the Aegean Sea.

Hope, 30 minutes away.

Until waves overwhelmed them.

Fake lifejackets failed them.

A Syrian father lost his world —

Rehan, their toddlers, Ghalib and Alan.

His reason for breathing.

Little Alan Kurdi was 3.

You remember the pictures.

Or maybe you don’t.

Too many tragedies since that night in 2015.

Tiny body, washed ashore.

Bright red shirt, blue shorts.

Itty bitty sneakers, strapped in place.

Face in the sand.

When his mama dressed him that last time, did she fear for his destiny, and her own?

I forgot about Alan.

Easy to do, from my safe North American home.

Forgive me, God.

o o o

Thanksgiving memories for me revolve around family, turkey and a warm fireplace. I’d like to reminisce about pumpkin pie and my sister Carol’s tangy cranberry relish right now but my blessings poke me: “Don’t forget families not so blessed, headed toward our border.”

Last Saturday Jim and I attended a program called “Where is Home?” directed by Theresa Arnette, supported by the Refugee Working Group of Indiana. We were served poetry, performance and conversation, and left aware that immigration is terribly complex.

Complex, legitimate concerns exist, but that night I saw faces, not issues.

The event raised funds for Casa San Jose in Pittsburgh. Operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the center welcomes Latinos and helps them integrate into American culture. Sister Janice Vanderneck spoke of immigrants with strong families and deep faith. I don’t fear them, I fear for them, she said.

Dr. Hilario Molina of IUP humbly described growing up the son of migrant workers, laboring in fields. Let me dispel myths about immigrants, he said. For one, people always asked the English words for things, wanting to learn the language.

One by one, he dismissed more misconceptions as he recalled hardworking, honest, family-focused folks who willingly performed lowly forms of labor (work no one else wanted). 

To my surprise, Dr. Molina called refugees crossing Mexico a “Christian caravan” — he said without faith, they would never begin this journey.

Authors Richard and Linda Eyre write that nothing will ever be more important than what we do within the four walls of our home. Nothing. (“The Thankful Heart”)

But what of those without one?

o o o

“no one would leave home unless

home chased you, fire under feet,

hot blood in your belly …

“you have to understand,

no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land …

“no one would choose to crawl under fences,

be beaten until your shadow leaves you … “

— from “Home,” by British-Somali poet Warsan Shire

You can read her complete poem at https://austinrefugees.org/home-a-refugee-poem/. I found it researching the little boy who drowned and learned that since his death 8,500 refugees headed to Europe have died at sea.

o o o

On this side of the Atlantic a caravan presses on, with all their rambunctious children. When we see them as weary individuals, each with stories, they are harder to dismiss. Are there ways we can be more welcoming?

What if, instead of thousands of soldiers, we met them with an equal number of trained workers to greet and interview families?

What if we harnessed American brain power and ingenuity to consider how to help more refugees find homes and jobs, and ways to stabilize their native countries?

What if, after stuffing our turkeys, we passed out fresh bread and asked God to multiply it?

Would it make us weaker?

Or stronger?

My friend Cindi messaged: “Honestly, I wasn’t sure where I stood on this issue, until tonight. My eyes were opened. I felt my heart grow bigger … a renewal of spirit. With controversial issues, my first thought is, ‘What would Jesus do?’ Well, I think we know the answer to that! The synagogue shootings and these refugees have stirred my heart and soul to respond. My heart is open to hear the call, open the door —  answer and walk in. Surely God is there.”

Sue, another friend, texted: “If people feel helpless knowing how they can help, they shouldn’t. Opportunities are an email, phone call or contribution away — both passive and active opportunities. I went Saturday night to learn more and gain connections, and I did!”

Despite my apprehensions about too many refugees to possibly accommodate, I find myself remembering.

Remembering God, who declared, “Is anything too hard for Me?” After they were scattered, God promised He would gather His people from many lands and bring them back to a place of safety (Jeremiah 32). Does He care less for today’s refugees?

Remembering Jesus, who said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Remembering Alan.

Remembering my blessings, this Thanksgiving.

All will be well.