Running, Refugees, and Skittles – A short reflection on What is the What

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Taking a step away from the daily readings, I felt something I needed to write about this morning. I was at the gym for my normal workout this morning and three things came together at once. I am reading a book called “What is the What” – a biography of a man named Valentino Achak Deng who was forced to flee his childhood home in Sudan during the civil war of the 80s and 90s. I am at the point in the book where he is telling of his final time fleeing his childhood village and running to safety in the darkest of nights (both literally and figuratively). So, I read the following passage this morning… (The Baggara are those who were attacking his people, the Dinka)…

I knew I had to leave the path, which was a path of the Baggara now. I ran away from the path and thereafter the hours of the night tumbled over each other without shape or order. My eyes saw what they saw and my ears heard my breathing and the sounds that were louder than my breathing. As I ran thoughts came in quick bursts and in the moments between I filled my mind with prayer. Protect me God. Protect me God of my ancestors. Go quiet. What is that light? A light from a town? No. Stop now. No light at all. Curse these eyes! Curse this breath! Quiet. Quiet. God who protects my people I call upon you to send away the murahaleen. Quiet. Sit now. Breathe quiet. Breathe quiet. Protect me God protect my family as they run. Need water. Wait for dew in morning. Sip water from leaves. Need to sleep. Oh God of the sky, keep me safe tonight. Keep me hidden, keep me quiet. Run again. No. No. Yes, run. Must run to people. Must run, find people, then rest. Run now. Oh God of rain, let me find water. Let me not die of thirst. Quiet. Quiet. Oh God of the soul, why are you doing this? I have done nothing to ask for this. I’m a boy. I’m a boy. Would you send this to a lamb? You have no right. Jump log. Ah! Pain. What was that? Stop. No, no. Run always. Keep running. Is that the moon? What is the light? My ancestors! Nguet, Ariath Makuei, Jokluel, hear me. Arou Aguet, hear me. Jokmathiang, hear me. Hear me and have mercy on this boy. Hear Achak Deng and lift him from this. Is that the moon? Where is the light?…I continued to Run…

I looked down several times while reading and saw my feet moving on the elliptical machine and thought of the stark contrast those provided – him running barefoot through he woods and on the dirt while I was working out in my Nike running shows. He was running through the pitch-black night while I was in a climate controlled, well-lit, safe fitness center. I was able to check my email and listen to music while I worked out while Achak knew he might not ever see his family members alive again. The contrasts could just continue to grow. The final piece of this came as I looked up to one of the TVs in the fitness center and saw the post from Donald Trump’s son that compared the refugees from Syria to a bowl of Skittles.

Here I was reading about a young man who was forced to flee for his live at the age of 7 – not unlike the millions who have been forced to flee Syria – and hearing the story from his point of view. He didn’t choose for that to happen, he didn’t want to have to flee his home, he simply did in order to survive. I understand the realities of fear and the realities of the security that people desire in their lives – I feel it myself. But I don’t want to be ruled by that fear. I don’t want to be ruled by a fear of what could happen but I would rather live with the trust that following God’s ways will lead us in God’s ways. I want to be ruled by a calling to serve those most in need even if it challenges my own security and safety.  I don’t think that God has called us to anything different.  This story and this experience this morning challenge me in my thinking and my living. Achak is not a Skittle to be written off. Nor were the thousands he fled with. Nor are the millions struggling to survive today.

This is a bit like the blueberries a few weeks ago – a reminder that as I run in the morning to remember in prayer and to live to help those who are running for a better life both here in the US and throughout the world.

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