Tag Archives: San Diego Refugees
- Timz – An Iraqi-American rapper from El Cajon, CA.
- Mark Kabban- Founder of Yalla San Diego, a program that uses soccer to motivate and help child survivors of war and immigrant youth rebuild their lives in the US.
- Cy Kuckenbaker – A filmmaker/photographer who produced the short film Bush League.
- Yasmeen Maxamuud - The author of Nomad Diaries, a novel about a Somali Woman who is resettled in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her family, and who struggles to adjust to a different way of living and a different culture.
Here’s also a copy of our presentation, which mostly consists of images of the Iraqi Refugees we met in Lebanon:
A few weekends ago, Nathalie and I spent some time with a few Chaldean Iraqi friends down in El Cajon, San Diego. Almost every Sunday over the summer months, literally thousands of Chaldean Iraqis get together in a few different parks in San Diego to celebrate their patron saints as they would in Iraq. Such gatherings also allow for families and young people to come together as a community in a new land. Young and old gather together, kebab’s are grilled, hookah is smoked, and traditional dancing is the highlight of these gatherings.
The more stories I hear about Iraqi refugees and what they have been through, the more my heart breaks for them. These refugees have been through so much in leaving Iraq and getting here. I am currently reading the book, “Waiting for an Ordinary Day” which is written by a Wall Street Journal reporter who lived in Iraq before and during the occupation. It chronicles the life of different Iraqis she has met, and gives a very personal picture of what has happened in Iraq during the last few years.
During my time with our Iraqi friends, I couldn’t help think about the difficulties and horrors they have seen and experienced. I also couldn’t be more surprised by how they are simply able to enjoy life: it is the simple things in life that they hold on to and enjoy. It was a beautiful (and fun) experience to share with them all.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5: 3-4 – The Message)
I had to pose the question: “What was your journey with God like in the midst of all this?” Janan, a Chaldean Iraqi who started life anew over a year ago in El Cajon, San Diego, had been talking freely about his life all morning. This was not the first instance we had spent time together, yet I was deeply touched by both his openness and willingness to share, and by the hard life he had led at only 19 years of age. His peace and wisdom throughout led me to bring up matters of faith and, quite truly, I should not have been too surprised by his simple yet heart-felt answer: “Nothing is too hard for God. He can do everything. You do all you can do, and then you wait. My journey brought me closer to God.”
Perhaps it is the academic in me that expected us to talk about faith for longer and in more complex terms, but it was his child-like faith that left the biggest impact, a mere reminder that God is in control, always, and there is not much more that one ought to ponder on.
Janan and his family left their village in the North of Iraq two years ago after his father was kidnapped while travelling across the country. It was the last straw. His family had received threat notes and life had gotten worse after the insurgence. Things during Saddam Hussein’s reign were hard, and little was earned with much toil. A hope for change was birthed with his death, but religious conflict and violence soon dampened this hope. It was time to run for even the unknown was safer and so, together with his mother and brothers, Janan crossed the northern border over to Turkey and did life as best as they could before they were granted asylum in the United States. Janan’s hope for a better life, one of peace and freedom, had been dampened but not quite lost. News of the release of his father reached his family soon after their arrival in the United States and they are now waiting for him to join them in El Cajon. Janan’s unceasing efforts to grasp a good command of English are driven by his dream to go to college and eventually qualify as an X-ray Technician. In his own words, work is secure with such a career choice. Finding a job, any job, has been hard for Janan and he yearns for the security in building a professional career.
God’s favor and protection over Janan and his family is evident. The large majority of his extended family escaped Iraq unscratched and has now resettled in the West. Considering the odds against them, this speaks of a heavenly blessing, and Janan sees and recognizes this. Rooted in that blessing, he knows that his Father in Heaven has many good things for him and his future, and that cannot but instill joy and peace as he chooses to look onwards and upwards.
In 2009 the number of Iraqi refugees resettled in the United States was shy of 20,000, with San Diego County taking more recent refugees than anywhere else in the United States. Building friendships with these refugees has been a joy and a strong testimony to my heart; eating, fellowshipping, worshipping, and celebrating with them a reminder of why God has put the Middle East and refugees on my heart.
This post was written by my amazing girl-friend Nathalie. Nathalie is going to be in the Middle East this summer working with Iraqi Refugees.
The life of a refugee is complex and the answer is more elusive than you might think. In Mugunga Refugee Camp in Goma, Congo while we were conducting interviews, we met this family. You could see how worn and weary they were from being driven off their land by Rebel fighting. They were from a village about one hundred kilometers away and had walked that distance when the rebel fighting began. That was quite a journey for this pastor, his wife, and six children.
When they arrived in this “safer” area surrounding Goma, which has only seen peace since December in the last 17 years, they found themselves in this Refugee Camp where we met them. Mugunga is the largest of six refugee camps surrounding Goma, with 20,000 living in it. Mugunga is not an easy place to live by any stretch, with there being very little food, a very rough terrain to build on (volcanic rock), extremely limited access to medical care and education, and a constant fear of rebels coming again. But here 20,000 people lived in these conditions.
While hope was present in this pastor, it felt like it was “just” holding on. He was the strength to his family and his six children, but he seemed weary and tired, and that he did not know what to do next. His family did not have enough food and he had no way of providing for them. We asked him why he couldn’t return to his village. He said that the rebels had moved onto his ancestral land and if they returned they would kill him.
It is hard to know what the “answer” is in a story like this. The rebels and fighting made this family leave there home. The government places them in a large refugee camp, where there is not enough food or jobs. The International NGO’s are not helping as much as they can with providing basic services like education. The problem is difficult and complex. You listen to there story, and it feels very easy to doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. But in fact, that is the only hope that is present in Mugunga, and is far more present than you think. Jesus’ hope is the only thing powerful enough to shine in a place like this. I found the more I was in Mugunga, the more I saw hope and beauty. God hears every cry, and even in a place like Mugunga he sees and hears. That is the justice of God.
I just found out last week that the government has shut down this refugee camp, forcing the refugees that met either back to there home villages or to other refugee camps. The sad part about this is that the problem that caused there to be so many refugee’s in Eastern Congo has only been partly fixed. This pastor and his family can’t go home, because rebels have taken over there land and are living in there house. Who knows where this pastor and his family are now. What a glimpse into the life of a Refugee Pastor in the DRC.