The sound of silence
Every now and then we hear someone’s story, and the only appropriate or possible response is silence. Words fail, and that is good, because any attempt to speak would be undignified and disrespectful. The sound of your thoughts as you take in what this person has just said, how powerless they – or you – are to do anything about it.
This story matters. I met a man in Valletta. I had seen him before, and this time we were walking in opposite directions in the same street. I stopped him and said I could tell he was from South Sudan because of the particular scarring he had on his face (facial scarring is a common practice among many of the tribes in the country). I introduced myself and we talked about South Sudan briefly. We arranged to meet the following week.
He had arrived in Malta in 1998, by boat without his wife and children; they tried to join him in 1999. They’d made it to Malta, but on arrival the local authorities sent them back to Libya the same day. UNHCR had a local partner on the ground that gave the go ahead for this illegal action but once it was completed and reported, UNHCR said that this man’s family had the right to stay in Malta and that all efforts should be made to re-unify them. However, the local authorities did not agree, and the man has not seen his family since. One decision made by someone else, and before you is a profound change in life. Of course, this happens to everyone at some point in their lives but when it does where does your support come from, where does your help come from?
The man showed me a recent photograph of his family. His former wife is saying now that she needs to marry someone else for the sake of protection and provision. What can you say to this? A family’s broken apart because of an action done in haste, either in error or on purpose.
This man is now applying for naturalisation as he has been here 18 years, and this exceeds by eight years the requirements for an application. And yet there is scant chance of it being approved. Despite the constitutional provision for this, it is not the ‘done thing’. I’m hoping to be able to walk a bit further with this man. He arrived in Malta when he was 48. He turns 67 next year. Dare we pray, and what do we pray for?
We returned to Malta in late September and within a month found ourselves needing new accommodation. This was sudden, unexpected and no fault of our own. In short, our landlord had become embroiled in a family feud which brought many of his tenants, including us, into a situation where we were not supposed to pay him any rent. So we’ve moved. The children have coped really well. It has been annoying and disruptive but also possibly positive by “shaking things up a bit” and generally it’s a good outcome. And it must also be placed in perspective with the story I just shared. It’s minor. It’s nothing. God keeps providing, and out of his overflowing abundance in all things we share with others.
“What do you actually do?”
I get asked this frequently. Sometimes it is easy to answer but other times it is difficult. Much of it has to do with our understanding of, and response to, the refugee situation. I might mention “breaking isolation” and helping those “who have fallen into the cracks of society”. “But what do you actually do?” This is where it get trickier. How do you explain that a large part of your work is sitting down with people and talking about their situation, their needs, their dreams and then trying to inject some hope into them? It is inefficient, slow and not easily measurable. How do you measure an act of kindness? (Besides the fact that you shouldn’t!) There are obviously other elements to our work, which include writing, conferences, meetings and collaborations.
I’ve been reminded of an old song that I used to sing as a kid and we recently sang it in church: “Thy Loving Kindness is better than Life”.
Experiencing that is key for everyone.
Lots of love and Happy Christmas!
Doug and Jacqui