Guest Opinion by Cindy Mullet
As I looked at the recent on-line Ranger-Review Syrian refugee poll, my thoughts went back many years ago to northern Uganda, driving into a town to meet a friend and seeing lines of people walking out of that town with babies on their backs, holding small children by the hand, carrying food items, cooking pots, clothes and sleeping mats.
We didn’t know it then, but a group of northern soldiers had revolted and were now fighting to overthrow the government. We were planning to drive south that day to the capital, Kampala. With little hard information available, we started out and got almost to the bridge over the Nile River when we were stopped by soldiers and told we could go no further. The bridge was a battleground.
We went back, spent the night with the friend and tried again the next day, this time opting for a different road and a ferry across the river, a ferry we weren’t sure was running. Two days and a lot of military roadblocks later we made it to Kampala where anxious friends at the university where I was working greeted us with joy and even the market vendors celebrated our safe arrival. The love and warmth they showed us helped calm the fears of the dangerous road we had traveled.
Six months later another rebel group was fighting its way to Kampala. I would walk out to the edge of the university campus in the evening and again see lines of people walking up the hill, seeking a safe place to spend the night. When the fighting got even closer, I could look out my second story library office window and see people camping in a sheltered spot right below it.
When the rebels made their final assault on Kampala, we were suddenly in the middle of the war zone. A shell fired by the government soldiers hit the roof of the hallway just outside my guesthouse room, filling the room with dust and glass and pieces of shrapnel. That night I was the one quickly gathering a few things and walking to a safer part of campus to seek refuge with friends who took me in and also reached out to the family who lived next door to me, finding places for us to sleep and food for us to eat.
The next day we huddled in a hallway, an Irish nun and an Australian nun, a Ugandan family of five, a young Hindu girl and I. We sang Christmas carols and prayed no shells would hit our apartment building. When the fighting finally stopped and I went back to my room, I discovered Ugandan friends from the guest house had cleaned it so I didn’t have to deal with the chaos I had left behind.
As I looked at the poll, my thoughts also went to a visit to a refugee camp in northern Mozambique a few years later, and I saw the deadness in the eyes of people, even small children, who had walked for days to escape the terror of life in rebel held territories.
But I also remembered the leaders from the Mozambican churches who risked their lives to give aid to those who were suffering, who worked tirelessly to bring the warring sides together in a peace treaty and who traveled across the country preparing the people for peace, talking with them about how to accept the neighbor who had joined the rebels and may have destroyed their houses or killed some of their family members but would now be coming back to live beside them.
I saw love conquering fear and people who had suffered much forgiving those who had caused that suffering. I saw their resilience, their ability to laugh as they told stories of fleeing in the night to escape a rebel attack, or how they survived by eating whatever plants they could find and hoping they weren’t poisonous.
So I looked at that poll and remembered all those who had reached out to me when I needed help, all those who had risked their lives to bring aid to those living in terror, all those who have suffered and are still suffering from the violence that has destroyed their normality.
And I remembered the words of Jesus when he separated the people one from another and said: “Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance… For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me.”
I remembered all these things, and I answered “yes,” to the question “Should Syrian refugees be allowed to settle in Montana?”
Cindy Mullet is a staff writer for the Ranger-Review. She may be reached at email@example.com.