Mario learned last week of a refugee camp near our home, managed by one of his English students. We’ve long had these people on our hearts, and so were more than glad to lend a hand. We’d already heard first-hand the heart-breaking stories of immigrants who have been here awhile. But we’d not met any recent arrivals.
The government has housed them in a campground. Which, even though somewhat run-down, is probably nicer than anything they left. Two per bungalow, comfy tiny houses with private baths. Probably the first time for some to ever have running water in their home. Or three good meals a day.
After 3-4 days at sea with almost no water and even less food, they were in poor shape. All wore exhausted, confused expressions, looking out through haunted eyes. Most arrived with only the clothes on their back. Many of which, due to vermin, got burned. Through donations, they now own a set of clothing and thin beach flip-flops.
We had so little to give toward such great need. Some books for learning Italian. And the bit of extra food, better footwear (crocks), and clothing we took barely made a dent. But I had no idea when I wrote He has Broken Down Every Wall yesterday, that we would find a need for this today.
Yet the greatest need we found was that of tearing down walls.
They needed help in tearing down the wall of language difficulty.
Those who spoke English gathered around us like hungry birds. We can explain things. Help them understand what’s going on. Offer advice.
And when Mario read them a Psalm, they truly groped at that Word like the life-giving water that it is. Their main requests were: Can you bring us Bibles? Can you come and have church for us? Can you help us learn the language?
The only thing they have a lot of is need. But especially a great need for words of life and hope.
You would think, in their great need, they would band together, wouldn’t you?
But they started building walls right away.
Crazy! They’re all in the same boat. They own little, and have equally great need. Yet, they’ll have nothing to do with those from other countries. Those of other religions. And they separate into their own little groups. Nigerians here, Ghanaians there. Gambians in another spot, and so on.
Undoubtedly fear and suffering drive this division. Most of us cannot imagine the things they’ve been through. So they start building walls of separation, thinking it gives protection. But we encouraged them to tear the walls down. “See each other as family,” we told them. “You need each other.”
And we tore down the walls that tried to go up around us.
The director and other workers told us: “Don’t touch them. Wear gloves. Wear masks.” But the image of Christ touching the lepers sprang to mind. He didn’t shrink back — but drew close with love and compassion.
A Pakistani man came to our church service, asking if it was alright, since he is Muslim, and wanting to know why we join hands when we pray. And we chipped at another wall.
“You’re more than welcome!” we wanted to shout. “And uniting hands with others symbolizes unity. Because in God’s eyes we are all the same. Red and yellow, black and white, we are all precious in his sight.” Yet the Africans held back. Afraid to draw close. Afraid of the differences. Or perhaps even scarred and angry.
But the walls of separation — which cause so many of the world’s problems — must come down.
Walls of hatred. Of lack of forgiveness. Grudge bearing. Fear. Prejudice. Christ came to tear them down, and to help us tear them down.
Building walls is easy. We see them all around. Racial barriers. Religious and language barriers. Fear, hatred, and lack of forgiveness. Even the walls of Don’t touch. Don’t get close.
But how can we show love at a distance? How can we reach out unless we first break the walls down? And how can we bring peace unless we unite?
For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, Ephesians 2:14.