By Mark Mofield
Senior Pastor, Temple Baptist-Durham
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
And by night, but find no rest.
Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the country of Nauru, a tiny island nation northeast of Australia. It’s likely most of you who are reading this have never heard of it either. However, there is a painful story playing out in Nauru, one that intersects with our own story. 1200 asylum seekers who had fled to Australia to escape persecution in their home countries were denied care by the Australian government and forced to settle in detainment centers in Nauru. Their hopes for a better life were quickly smashed by the cruelty of the citizens of Nauru and the terrible living conditions in the containment center.
Many refugees, including children, are physically assaulted by local residents, and what few belongings they have managed to flee with are often broken and vandalized. The tents in which they are forced to live provide no protection from the elements or pests and are breeding grounds for mold and infection. The refugees do not have access to a clean water supply, and there is widespread illness in the camp, including latent tuberculosis in almost 50% of the children. Perhaps even worse, the refugees have become targets of sexual predators, including reports of guards in the camp forcing women to have sex with them in barter for basic essentials of life.
These refugees will never be given the chance to become citizens of Nauru, but they have been forced to stay in Nauru in these horrible circumstances. Nauru has banned foreign journalists from their island and the Australian government passed a law making it illegal for current and former employees at the camp to speak about the living conditions there. We know of what has been happening there only because of men and women who spoke out at great personal and professional risk. In 2016, the Australian Supreme Court ruled these camps unconstitutional, and public pressure has been growing to close these camps down and resettle the refugees in permanent, and safer, conditions.
Why am I telling you about the tragedies and torments of the refugees in Nauru?
A few weeks ago, I received an email from World Relief with an emergency request. They had gotten a rather unexpected phone call: a refugee was going to be arriving at the Raleigh airport in a week. All refugee travel has been shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, so World Relief was not expecting such news. However, they learned that this refugee was coming out of the refugee camp in Nauru, and thus an exemption seemingly had been made.
Considering the physical and emotional trauma that most of these refugees have experienced in their confinement in Nauru, World Relief was eager to help this person find stable and secure housing. However, as in all international travel cases right now, the refugee would have to be quarantined for 14 days before moving into permanent housing. Wanting to find a place where the refugee could know security and peace, World Relief reached out to ask if the refugee could stay in the Sterling Road Hospitality House. The refugee stayed in the Hospitality House the requisite 14 days and has moved into permanent housing and is starting a new life here in the United States.
When CBF Field Personnel Marc Wyatt learned about our willingness to allow this refugee to have a home to stay in when they arrived in the country, his response was an exuberant: “You guys at Temple are heroes!”
I tell you this story today for three reasons.
One, now that the refugee has moved out of the house, I feel it is alright to tell you some of the backstory. World Relief had asked that we hold the circumstances of what this refugee had experienced in confidence prior to their arrival to ensure that nothing was inadvertently said or done to inflict further pain or discomfort on this individual.
Two, God is still using our facility for Kingdom glory even when we cannot use it the way we are used to using it. We sometimes say the church belongs to God; here is evidence of the truth of that statement.
But there is another reason why I tell you this story: to offer some hope.
We are as the church and as a nation struggling through a cultural crisis that blends the new threat of a pandemic with the far too familiar struggles with racism and polarization.
My neighbor asked me last night, “So what do you say as a pastor in the midst of all this?”
Today, I choose to tell this story as a reminder that God is finding a way in the midst of all the evil and the struggles and complications of our world today to bring transformation and new life into existence. I do not know what all the answers are to all of our struggles, but I believe that the Lord is still working in this broken world to make all things new, and the story of this refugees trials and triumphs is evidence of that to me.
When you read those opening verses from Psalm 22 above, who do you imagine might be praying those words right now? Today, I imagine a refugee huddled in a tent in Nauru, wondering if anybody cares, if anyone is listening to their cries for help, wondering if their dreams for a better life have only led them from one nightmare to another. There is so much brokenness that needs to be redeemed and made whole in our world today. Yet, in our Lord, we have hope that our cries are heard, and that He will answer.
For [the LORD] did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
He did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. …
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
And proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
Psalm 22:24, 30-31
Temple Baptist’s Hospitality House is one of the eight houses in the Welcome House Community Network refugee and immigrant ministry of CBFNC and CBF.