Most of the things I have done are very small, and they’ve been scattered over a decade. And so, when I look at myself, I don’t see someone making much of a difference in the global refugee crisis. Usually, I just see a mama who is busy, somewhat frazzled, and sometimes a little disappointed she can’t muster more energy to do something more meaningful for refugees.
I focus on my limitations; not my agency.
Here in San Diego, I live only miles from the border. Some years back, I put in a lot of effort to save enough money to get passports for my kids. It wasn’t that I just dreamed of exploring and vacationing with my family around the globe (which still hasn’t happened). But I wanted my kids to see The Wall from both sides, to walk it; drive it. To be able to talk to people on both sides. There is nothing else quite like experiencing two different worlds in the space of a mile--including the privilege of walking by men with machine guns, while other children sit nearby in the dust.
I’m just an ordinary, everyday mama. But I can still do something about the global refugee crisis.
It was a classic Southern California evening, the sun low in the clear blue, grass in bright contrast. Meanwhile, we had our items in little piles, cluttering the sidewalk as neighbors tried to maneuver around us on their evening stroll. In a discussion prompted by the #ThreeToFlee Challenge, my kids had just finished making the difficult choice between their favorite toys and what they would need to survive. The pictures we were now taking captured the minimal essence of the few things we would each bring with us if we had to leave our homes as refugees.
During the apex of the Syrian refugee crisis, I can’t even tell you how intensely I longed to jump on a plane to Greece, the epicenter of where humanitarian aid and suffering met. I’d see videos of moms like me coming off the boats and I just wanted to be there. I felt like I’d give almost anything to let those women know they weren’t alone.
But like most travel, the cost was steep. And my family’s need for their mama to stay home in that season was just too much.
I knew that just because I was home didn’t mean I had to ignore the state of the world’s refugees. But what I had to give was hard for me to value because “being there” for them ended up looking different than I had imagined.
That year I collected and packed-up any baby carrier I could find. I connected with a group of women starting an organization simply to help new mothers as they fled from their homes in Syria.
I didn’t do a lot to help, but I did something.
I run an advocacy and fundraising non-profit, Blackout Trafficking. That year the participants in our annual March challenge raised just enough money to fund a water station for the refugees on their way to Europe. There they could wash, get fresh water, do their laundry, and read information to warn them of traffickers and where to find help.
In the scheme of the global refugee crisis, one water station didn’t seem like much. But for a few weary travelers, their moment of reprieve might have changed their world!
Many times I’ve reposted We Welcome or Women of Welcome’s content. I’ve helped everyday people, like me, sell their stickers or cookbooks (proceeds going to empower refugees). I’ve written blog posts to explain current events I am not actually very good at explaining (just because I couldn’t get it off my mind). I’ve found myself sitting with refugees, hearing their stories. I’ve signed a few petitions here and there. On rare occasions, I’ve given non-profit tips or copy edits to small orgs on the frontlines.
Even though we still have our passports, my family hasn’t crossed the wall recently. When I think of that, I find myself back in this cycle of feeling like I have to do more, that I am failing people I’ve never met, that I have to be present in body--not just in spirit or action. We advocates can beat ourselves up pretty effectively.
And although there is a time to go, act, and to do something (anything!)--I’ve also experienced waiting in the stillness with God. Asking how He is going to deliver. And there, surrendering to be available in whichever way He thinks is a good fit for me to be involved, it becomes His work, not mine. Even if my part to play is only in a series of simple, even ordinary, movements.
Experience has taught me that our God-given desire to make a difference can also destroy us inside when not properly positioned to truth. Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.” I am convinced that sometimes, if we are still so hungry and thirsty, it isn't always because nothing is changing. Rather, sometimes it is because our definition of “satisfied” is a little misconstrued. Our understanding of who is actually "delivering" is slightly lopsided.
Perspective shifts can sure be rejuvenating!
Because although I’m just an ordinary, everyday mama, I have been making a difference in the global refugee crisis all along.
Just like you are.
Elisa Johnston empowers ordinary people to make the difference they were born to make at Average Advocate, procrastinates on Instagram, and brings freedom to the exploited through Blackout Trafficking. Her passion to raise-up leaders, disciple well, and start world-changing things would probably compel her into a creative oblivion if it wasn't for adventurous explorations with her family to soothe her and a collection of introverted friends to ground her.