A Modern Refugee Nativity - David Lander
And it came to pass, In those days, when Bashar Assad was governor of Syria, even if Francis was kind of governor of Rome, certainly with an empire… and when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was the leader of ISIS or Daesh, Netanyahu governor in Jerusalem and Trudeau leader of Canada; In those days there was a national even international holiday, called Christmas, even as it was a holiday time for most religions.
In one sense, it seemed like a decree had gone out that everybody should celebrate Christmas, and be happy, and share gifts, and have plum pudding, and sing carols. But at the same time it seemed like a decree had gone out over the last few years from Assad, that so many of the towns of our beloved homeland should be destroyed, and so many of our friends and family should be killed.
And it came to pass; well “coming to pass” doesn’t do any justice to the horror that has happened. There wasn’t much left of Aleppo, or our lives really. It seemed that we had quickly become refugees, fleeing for refuge somewhere that might hold a census, where we would count.
So Maryam and I, Yusuf, left our home with just a few belongings we could carry. Maryam’s cousin gave us a lift closer to the border, and then we started walking under cover of the dark of night, amidst gunfire that was not nearly far enough away.
Maryam and I were planning to marry, but it didn’t make any sense with all the political ruckus and violence. Nevertheless, we are expecting a child; you may know how these things kind of just happen. We weren’t all that pleased because, well, how to complicate things at this point in our lives, when life is so terribly fraught with risk and turmoil.
And maybe every mother feels this way and every dad too for that matter, but Maryam came out with this bit about this baby being special. So what else is new? Isn’t every baby special? Well it better be, in the mix we’re in.
Maybe it was because life is just so absolutely crazy right now, so unpredictable, under the thumb of ruthless authorities, so up in the air whether we’re even going to live or be killed, that she got this idea that her baby, our baby, was going to get in the mix somehow and make the difference that mattered.
She spoke about a message from a mysterious spirit that gave her a quiet confidence that our little baby was somehow - somehow even going to save the world. Imagine!! Maybe every parent lives a little bit vicariously through their children, but this baby was going to be something else.
Maybe it was partly the guns going off in the distance, and the question about whether we would even make it to the border, that enabled her confidence to give me a calm, such that one night I felt some voice saying almost the same to me.
It was really hard for her to walk that distance of a few days, and we had to stop fairly often. Yes, sure it would’ve been easier with some kind of vehicle or a donkey, but it was hard enough for us to hide in the bushes when things got scary, on top of the shivering and shadowy nights.
Well finally we made the border, and were able to get a lift to a town not too far in, but there just wasn’t any room to stay there, so we were taken a few miles farther into a refugee camp and a well-used small tent to hold up in. It wasn’t very big, or have anything in it really, apart from a couple of cots, but its smallness gave it a coziness.
We settled in even if it wasn’t quite home, and with question marks in our heads of what was next for us, let alone our world, and many thoughts for the slaughter of infants that was happening back home.
I don’t think anyone thought Maryam was so near due; she certainly didn’t look it, but I expect that long, hard, and fearsome walk may have been a factor.
In any case we weren’t there very many days before one night Maryam gave birth to a very small beautiful little girl. Of course there was no bassinette or anything of the sort, so we wrapped her up in some clothes and laid her in a pizza box.
Even though it’s wasn’t all that convenient, what parent isn’t overjoyed and over the moon at the miracle of birth, and where this little one magically came from.
And from that, one’s thoughts go to what are they going to become, especially in a world so rife with hate and violence. We were just over the moon, full of hope for what this little gal will do in this world, the difference she is going to make, the souls she is going to save. Maybe it was from the trauma of fear and violence we had been through, in a world so devoid of peace, but we each heard some kind of spirit voice asking us to name her “Peace”.
So ultimately we named her Malala after that Princess of Peace, that little girl in Pakistan, who won the Nobel peace prize, for making such a difference.
We were just full of admiration for the halo that seemed to hang over this little girl’s head, the seeming divinity within her, the hope that she brought to our lives, and we would dare to think to the world that she’s born into.
If you have ever lived in a refugee camp there’s a certain kind of normalcy that does develop, there is a kind of community. But when you first land there, you wonder even if there is going to be anything to eat. Well, there were some almost innkeeper type folks at the camp, who came around with some supplies the next day.
And then to our surprise there were some local shepherds from way up in the hill country of Lebanon. It was so generous of them, and I don’t know how often they do this, but they came in with some hogget and mutton, and in the process were just so head over heels over our little baby, that they left singing.
Some days later, some wise ones of the UN came around, in a sense bearing gifts of hope, of language, of work. One man got us to fill out some forms so we and everyone else knew who we were.
A lady spoke to us of next steps, of possibilities of going to a couple of different countries. We wondered about Paris because even though some nasty things have happened there, there are some great things happening there too, that might save the world. And unlike a couple of thousand years ago, we do know quite a bit of what is going on with our cell phones. She told us how to get to the capital Beirut to visit embassies for visas and health assessments.
Another of the wise ones spoke to of us about integrating in life in the camp and using the work skills I have, ultimately to make some kind of a living.
They were wonderful to us, and those gifts that they gave us, continue to be gold for us.
We did all the embassy stuff, and then we just went back to the camp and waited… and we waited… and we waited.
We celebrated Malala’s first birthday. And we waited. We still have this awesome hope that she will one day change the world, but to be frank, there are many days when it’s just really hard to have any hope at all. For even though we left a war zone, a refugee camp is not exactly safe. There are marauders drifting around from time to time kidnapping men and boys for military service, for one side or another, and we certainly worry of our little girl in such a place should we be here a long time.,.
But then one day our wise ones returned, told us that there was a big airplane leaving for Egypt the next week, we had just begun to get adjusted to the idea with its hope but still fear of the unknown, when they came again and told us that actually it was going to Canada.
So right now we’re just sitting in a little hotel half a mile from Pearson Airport in Toronto. We’ve been told that we’re being sponsored by another group of wise ones from a little town in southwestern Ontario, and they are providing gifts of shelter, of food, of language, of work, of dreams and of hope.
You’ve all been through some kind of trauma or other, and even though you’re all hopeful people, there are times when you really wonder how any good can come out of it, and we felt that too.
But now we feel that somehow there must’ve been some purpose for all of this, and now we are just more confident than ever that our little Malala is just going to grow up to bring some peace where there has just been war and devastation, hope where there is hate, and compassion where there is calamity. Her glow, and her smile, her arms waving, her mischief, her spark, her tease, all seem to take our worries away and give us energy to think great things are about to happen. Just watch and wait, and listen to that spirit. Hang onto hope and live expectantly, and God knows what good will come. Praise Allah, praise God. Amen