News-Star: Opinion

The journey and the challenge

Ned Walsh, right, with Abu Nabil, left, and Nabil’s daughter, Maria. When Nabil opposed the Syrian regime, his house was bombed with Maria inside. She suffered head and facial wounds. The family, include Nabil’s wife, fled south to Jordan with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Ned Walsh, right, with Abu Nabil, left, and Nabil’s daughter, Maria. When Nabil opposed the Syrian regime, his house was bombed with Maria inside. She suffered head and facial wounds. The family, include Nabil’s wife, fled south to Jordan with nothing but the clothes on their backs. PHOTO COURTESY OF NED WALSH

My wife and I arrived in Amman, Jordan, late on a Saturday night in September after a long flight via Paris. We headed straight for the shower and then to bed in our modest two-star Arab Tower Hotel. We were exhausted.

At 5 a.m. sharp, we were awakened by the Muslim call to prayer, broadcast by loudspeaker from the multiple minarets in this area of old Amman.

We came to call it our daily Muslim wake-up call. And actually, after a few mornings, these calls to early-morning prayer became a soothing, calming, even welcome sound and a call to begin a new day.

We had traveled halfway around the world to an area of our globe shattered by war and sectarian violence creating the worst refugee crisis since World War II. We were there to work with those refugees, Syrian, Iraqi and Sudanese, who had fled the terror, death, kidnapping, torture and bombings of wars they did not create yet had decimated their lives.

Our host in Amman was the Collateral Repair Project, its name reflecting the fact that these refugees are considered “collateral damage” in all this war and the brutality of ISIS. The CRP is seeking to put their lives back together and give them some hope.

On a daily basis we were among these refugees. Almost all were Muslims; all had been traumatized by the wars and sectarian violence in their home countries. Their stories took us to the gates of Hades.

Abu Nabil, who opposed the al-Assad regime in Syria, witnessed the bombing of his house with his 9-year-old daughter inside. Abu Nabil was a Syrian attorney with a good life. Today, he and his family are refugees.

Sadam, a well-educated young man, fled Bagdad, Iraq, following the kidnapping, torturing and murder of his brother-in-law, delivered to his front yard in parts in a plastic bag. A sectarian militia murdered his father, and he carries two bullet wounds himself. Sadam, his wife and two children are now refugees in Amman and want to immigrate to the United States. I would welcome him and his family to be my neighbors any day.

My wife spent hours working with the children of these refugees. As a lifelong elementary teacher, she quickly detected the sad, empty eyes of those children who had witnessed things no child should ever see or experience.

We interviewed some of the children to capture their views of war. We were shaken and moved. Hands and fingers moved across their throat as to express the witness of the slaughter they had seen. They described airplanes dropping bombs on their neighborhoods and killing their friends.

We have returned home determined to be their voices, determined not to be silent. This is far more than a “refugee crisis. This is a human crisis of moral and global dimensions.

Here is what we heard from the refugees:

▪  Though we are Muslims, we are just like you. We are, first, human beings struggling to survive, to provide for our children, to live where we can be safe and have freedom.

▪  We prefer not to immigrate to another country. We want to go home.

▪  Tell your leaders to stop the war and killing in our countries. Stop selling arms that prolong the wars and killing.

▪ Just because we are Muslims, we are not terrorists or a violent people. We hate ISIS. It is not a part of Islam any more than the KKK is a true part of your Christian faith.

My challenge to you:

▪  Leave your comfort zone. Meet and become a friend to a Muslim in your community here in Johnston County.

▪  Christian clergy and congregation members, visit a mosque, talk with its imam. Learn more about Islam from them, not the politicians and their propaganda, not the misinformation that populates the Internet.

▪  Christian clergy, have the courage to address the issues of Islamophobia, hate and the human crisis of these refugees from your pulpits.

▪  To all of us who call ourselves followers of the Prince of Peace, become Matthew 25 Christians.

My spouse and I welcome the opportunity to address your church, civic group or school to share our journey and experiences working with these refugees. We can be reached at 919-936-0498 or at nedward425@nc.rr.com.

The writer lives in Princeton.

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