There are some misperceptions about what it takes to be a resettled refugee in the US. The resettlement process is long and complicated. By the time a resettled refugee sets foot in the US, he or she has been vetted by a whole number of agencies, including the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the US government. He or she has been through security clearances and health checks. He or she has sat through countless interviews. He or she has waited to be identified as a refugee. The process takes years.
And people die waiting.
People like my colleague, friend, and brother in Christ, Simon, who died last Thursday from kidney failure. Simon was the pastor of the Sudanese Lutheran congregation that meets at St. Andrew’s. Originally from South Sudan, Simon had been sick, and on dialysis, the whole time we have been in Cairo. He applied for refugee status when he arrived, and it was, eventually, granted. Then, he waited. And waited. And waited. He had been accepted into the resettlement process for the US. But his body gave out while he was waiting.
When I received the call about Simon on Friday morning, I broke down into sobs. For Simon and for those whose names I do not and will not know. There is a whole lot of heart break in this work. There is so much that is not fair or just. There is so much that is left up to luck or chance or where you happen to have been born.
We’re coming up on three years here in Egypt. I have learned so much. I have met incredibly brilliant, compassionate, and deeply faithful people. I have had countless deep, gratifying conversations where I have learned more about the world around me and the realities of it. I have cried some tears and heard stories that will haunt me for years to come. I have been moved to frustration and anger by bureaucracy. I have a whole new empathy and understanding about the refugee crisis, the largest the world has ever faced.
And, with brothers and sisters here and around the world, I keep turning back to the promise and hope of Revelation 21:3-4.
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.
My brother, Simon, clung to that promise. Our brothers and sisters who mourn his death do, too. I have heard it from them over and over again these past few days.
I have turned to these words when young people known to us go missing, presumed dead at sea. I have turned to these words when people die from diseases that should have been curable. I have turned to these words when I have listened to stories about what caused people to leave their countries, to seek refugee status, to leave behind family, homes, what was known and familiar to them. I have turned to these words when I have heard about actions borne out of evil, hatred, and fear. I have turned to these words, and will keep turning to them, because I believe, down to the depths of my being, that they are true. That the promise is true for each and every single one of us. And that, in spite of everything that appears otherwise, God is still working to bring about that day when “death will be no more;” when “mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”
O, Lord, may it be so. For Simon. For you. For me. And for each and every single one of God’s beloved children, of all times and places.