a party and a story

Last week Adam and I went to a very unique party. A party to celebrate the fact that a family who once lived in fear for their lives can now call Australia home. Last year their initial application for residency in Australia was rejected, but on 26 March this year, I got a message to say it had been approved!

the story

refugees in Africa

The Sydney Refugee Team was working with this family last year. Their lawyer was doing a reasonable job but B* and his wife S* were very distressed and simply couldn’t understand why the government had refused them. They were scared and confused. So even though my knowledge of refugee law was limited, my boss Janice graciously let me don my lawyer’s hat and I listened to B’s story.

B recounted parts of his and his wife’s childhood, of growing up in a culture where violence, discrimination, poverty and corruption were sadly, normal. Like many refugees, their story was complex and fragmented. I asked, “Did that happen before or after this?” at various points. I too was confused, but at the same time filled with compassion for this man and his family. I was starting to pull the pieces together – it seemed that their case was really valid, but their story was muddled.

For him, the events had just happened. But I explained that he needed to tell his story to the tribunal in the order the events had occurred. I don’t think he’d even heard of chronological order, let alone understood it. I was struck by this vast African/Australian storytelling difference.

How does one talk about such traumatic events in an orderly way? If this couple couldn’t write and tell their story in a clear, consistent order, enabling our legal system to recognise them as refugees, there was a risk that they might be rejected again.

I also read to him the definition of a refugee according to the United Nations. He said in his culture persecution equated only to being killed. He didn’t know that other forms of harm and discrimination are also considered persecution.

B and S were able to rewrite their application, face the tribunal process and then wait the many months for the outcome with help and support from Sally and the SRT. The team truly walked with this family on this difficult chapter of their journey.

the party

At the party B* was almost the first person to greet us – he emerged from the loud African music and dancing – and hugged me, saying, “Naomi! It’s good to see you. Thank you. Remember that day! Thank you for helping us. Thank you.” He turned to Adam and embraced him – automatic friends. I was so glad to help them in a small way! Oh and I almost forgot to mention that they came to faith in Jesus in the midst of their trials!

helping refugees

Adam and I before RIDE 2010

I’m getting a team together to do RIDE for Refugees on Saturday 18 August in Sydney. I want to help people like B and S and others around the world facing uncertainty, fearing for their lives, fighting for survival and desperately seeking a place to truly call home. Want to join my team (leave a comment on this post) or register your own (go to the website)?

Today is World Refugee Day. Every refugee has a story, but few have a choice in what happens next…how will you help write a different chapter for a refugee today?

*Names withheld to protect their privacy.

 

the power of the story

Stories become more true in the telling.

I started this blog because I wanted a place to reflect and write as I sought to live a better story with my life, something I was challenged to do after reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller.

Stories are intrinsic to our lives. We tell them every day – stories of conversations overheard on a bus, about the strange dish we had at a restaurant last night, the holiday we had, the dream which woke us in the middle of the night and the prank we played once on our younger siblings. We love to tell our story. We want to be known, heard, laughed at.

Tonight we went to see the movie “The Help” and I was reminded again of how powerful it is when someone who has never been able to tell their story, has the opportunity to do so. Without spoiling it, a young female writer listens to, and writes the stories of the “helps,” the African-American women who tend to the wealthy white families in Jackson Mississippi in the 1960s. I was horrified to watch the way that the white people, especially the women, treated African-Americans, – who were practically raising their children, generation after generation, for them. How could humans treat other humans this way? Fear, manifesting itself in various ways seemed to keep people quiet and compliant with the status quo.

It is a profoundly moving film. It has inspired me to write, and to keep seeking and listening out for the stories that need to be told, to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and to live in faith, without fear for breaking the status quo. Because stories do become more true in the telling.

In the last couple of years I have had the opportunity on a few occasions to tell the story of my life – from earliest childhood memories to the present, and I have listened to the stories of those who listened to mine. On one of those occasions, I had forty minutes to tell it and it took all that time. It is a most humbling, emotional and wonderful experience all at the same time – both for the listener and the story-teller. It is my hope that others get to have this opportunity sometime in their lives.

Our lives are stories, and the days, months, years ahead – they are blank pages waiting to be written. What will I write in my story tomorrow? And whose story can I listen to, that it might become more true?