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God Accompanies Us in Exile (August 2008)
Friday, August 01, 2008

We must not try to idealize exile or forced displacement. By its very nature, it is evil, and this is the way the Bible sees it. Nobody should feel obliged to flee one’s land due to war, persecution or poverty. For all of us as well, the sight and experience of evil is deeply unsettling. We feel wounded and are tempted to think God has forgotten us or is not listening. That is why we must turn to the words of consolation that the prophet Isaiah spoke to the Jewish community exiled in Babylon: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” This is the key experience which must nurture our spiritual life: the closeness of God. God is with us. A Burundian widow from Lukole camp in western Tanzania explained how close the Lord is to us in our suffering when she said: “God understands us for he has also lost a son.” In Jesus we experience this closeness to God since he is our ‘Emmanuel,” a name that means “God is with us.” His final words to his disciples, “I am with you all days till the end of the world,” remind us that He also accompanies us in suffering and death.

Jesuit Refugee Service believes in the primary importance of accompaniment in its work with forcibly displaced people. This ministry of accompaniment stresses both God’s presence in our sorrow and joy and his personal affection for us. We believe that everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God. As we meet and work with refugees who have confronted evil and suffering, it is important to remind them and ourselves as well to keep in touch with God, the source of all good and love. This is the only way to withstand evil. As Thomas Merton once said, “Love alone can teach us to penetrate the hidden goodness of the things we know.”Human suffering, especially if inflicted by people, saps our faith and our belief in a merciful and compassionate God and perhaps even in the ultimate goodness of humanity. Confronted by the conflict in Iraq, the slaughter in Darfur, and the seemingly endless anguish in so many other places in our world, we wonder how God can allow such things to happen. A recent UN report estimates that there are currently 67 million forcibly displaced people in our world, a figure that includes refugees and people who are displaced within their countries by war and natural disasters. How can we still dare to tell people such as these that God loves them? The Old Testament describes how the people of Israel suffered war, violence, famine, persecution, and exile, and how they tried to find the presence of the loving God of the covenant in all those harsh realities.

Reflections for Prayer
Suggestions for Prayer:
  1. Watch Never Again, a multimedia presentation by actress and advocate Mia Farrow about the tragic suffering of the refugees from Darfur by clicking here.  How do the faces of these refugees in need touch your heart?
  2. Slowly read and re-read Isaiah 49: 13-16.  Hold the people of Darfur in your heart and in your prayer.  Talk with the Lord, friend to friend, and ask him to comfort them.
  3. Quiet yourself before the Lord and listen to how He is calling you to accompany the poor and vulnerable.

Suggested Reading for Prayer
Habakkuk 1: 2-4I cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not intervene. 
Isaiah 49: 13-16The Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted.
Matthew 28: 20Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.