The disruption of lives around the world through unstable economies and war has sent people fleeing to safe places. Many are families. Many leave families behind. Caught in the turmoil of politics and an uncertain future, it’s remarkable to witness the faith of these refugees in the face of so much hopelessness. I interviewed a number of them within a year of their landing in the United States. They are from the Congo, Somalia, Tanzania, and South Sudan. Here are some of their stories:
Jeremiah left his village in South Sudan at the age of 4 when his parents were killed. He was one of the lost boys who survived the 400-mile-trek to Ethiopia, and two years later, to Kenya where he stayed for 12 years before coming to America where he is now a U.S. citizen. His family was Christian, although he doesn’t remember what denomination. In the camp, he was taught by Catholic nuns. “I always knew that God was leading me,” he says. Jeremiah became the natural leader of his group of 30 boys who came to America, encouraging them to get their college degrees and to believe that God knew them–a long ways from that desert trek when they were 4 and 5 years old. When I asked Jeremiah how he survived, he said: “Because I believe in Jesus Christ.”
Hawa is a tiny young woman from Somalia who was also raised in the refugee camp in Kenya. She is Muslim and the silk scarf loosely wrapping her head accentuates her beautiful face. She doesn’t stop smiling the whole time we talk. She is one of seven children. “It was always our dream to come here,” she says. “I want to be a teacher. I love children.” Education is a light to those in refugee camps. As the mind develops the world opens up and hope increases. Hawa’s family always had faith in a better life and they never gave up hope. Their faith was in a future place where they could worship without persecution. Now they are part of a very diverse community. “Yes, I love it,” Hawa says. “People are from all over the world.”
Bashire found himself in the middle of the conflict in Burundi. He moved to Tanzania, then back to Burundi to find a wife. After marrying, he and his wife fled to a refugee camp in Tanzania to wait out the war. But the war kept going and the camp was no place to raise a family. After nine years they came to the U.S. The kids enrolled in school, two are now in college. “We knew God was watching, but we didn’t really find him until we came here,” Bashire says. “We just worked every day and hoped for a better life. And now we have one.”
The story of each refugee is different, yet each is weaved with common threads. The brightest color being their daily hope, their faith that life will get better. Each believe in God, and each worships in a different way. And perhaps that is the beauty of it. Each person brings their faith into the tapestry of a community. All over the country refugees are becoming part of existing faith communities. The community is then enriched by the different insights and experiences they bring. You have to wonder if that is the way God intended it to be. That He gives a bit of truth here, an insight there, and a myriad of experiences. When a community comes together to befriend, all are enriched. It’s diversity by design. After all, aren’t we all His creations? And all who seek Him will find a path that leads to Him.
Jeremiah told me that along his trek there were small miracles, mostly in the form of people who would feed them, or hide them, or give them directions to safe passage. From Heaven’s view, I wonder if we could see this great migration of God-seeking people, slowly moving and coming together, separating themselves from those who would persecute and do harm.
As those with faith exercise their beliefs and seek God, I believe that we are the ones along the path pointing the way to safe passage, offering them a bit of nourishment and being strengthened ourselves by their hope.
In India, Vaisakhi is a month where the year’s crops are harvested. It’s a joyous occasion when farmers and their workers celebrate their success. However, Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi for another reason; on this day, a new crop of mankind was created— “The Khalsa.”
On the day of Vaisakhi in 1699, a revolution occurred in the Punjab. At Kesgarh Sahib in Anandpur, a new nation was created by Guru Gobind Singh— a nation of warriors who fought against oppression; a nation who fought for the poor and the needy; a nation who fought for the rightful cause of mankind.
The Guru convened a large gathering in Kesgarh at Anandpur. The Sikhs were invited by special “HukamNamas” (orders) from faraway places. Divine music was sung and as the chanting of Asa Di War (morning hymns) concluded, the Guru retired inside the tent. He then came out and brandished his sword and addressed the assembly, “My devoted friends, this sword is daily clamoring for the head of a dear Sikh. Is one among you ready to lay down his life at a call from me?” There was a deep silence and everyone wondered as to what the Guru had planned.
At last Bhai Daya Ram, a 30-year-old Khatri of Lahore, stood up and bowing himself before the Guru, he offered his head. The Guru took him into the tent. A few moments later he came out with blood dripping from his sword; again, he made the same request and four more followed including: Bhai Dharm Das, a 33-year-old farmer from Delhi; Bhai Mokham Chand a washerman of Dwarka; Bhai Sahib Chand a barber of Bidar; Bhai Himmat Rai a water carrier of Jagannath.
After taking the fifth man inside, the Guru took a longer time to come out. At last, he appeared with his sword sheathed, his face beaming with joy and satisfaction. Behind him walked those, who had apparently been killed. They were all dressed like the Master in saffron garments. Their faces, dress, and appearance were like the Master. They had given him their heads, and he had given them himself and his glory.
The five Sikhs who had given the Guru their heads were titled the “Five Beloved Ones” (Panj Piyaray). They were then requested to focus their thoughts on the Almighty God. The Guru then stirred the pure water in an iron vessel with the Khanda (two-edged dagger), until the prayers prescribed for the ceremony were chanted.
The use of a Khanda has a deep meaning. The first edge of the Khanda signifies the creative power of life and its sovereign strength, it’s immortality that can never be overpowered. The second edge of the Khanda signifies the power of chastisement and justice which protects truth, and all those who believe in God and truth. The iron vessel in which the pure water was stirred, signifies the strength of heart and mind. The chanting of hymns symbolizes divine power and is meant to give the Sikhs a strong faith in their religion and in the Almighty Lord.
Sugar crystals (Patashas) were added to the holy water (Amrit), which, the Guru’s wife Mata Sahib Kaur brought in. This was meant to bless the initiates, not only with courage and strength, but also “with the grace of womanly sweetness.” With the Amrit prepared (which was called “Khanday Ka Phul”), the Guru stood up and asked the Five to kneel. The Guru showered the Amrit in the eyes of each and asked them to speak aloud, “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Kee Fateh” (wonderful God’s is the Khalsa, and wonderful God’s is the victory).
The Amrit was sprinkled in their hair and each was asked to drink the Amrit from the same vessel. This transformed them into lions, knitting them together in a brotherly love—destroying the distinctions of caste and creed. After this, the Guru gave each the title of Singh, or lion.
After instructing the Five, the Guru himself knelt before them with folded hands and prayed for them to initiate him into the new faith. A similar practice was followed and Guru Gobind Rai then took the title of Singh and became Guru Gobind Singh. They became mutual protectors of each other and there was no difference between Guru Gobind Singh or his Khalsa (meaning “The pure one who seeks for Truth”). This gave the Sikhs a perfect principle of democracy, the Guru declaring wherever any of the Five were, there he would be. The “Five Beloved Ones” will have an authority superior to that of his own.
News of this unique event was recorded by a Persian news writer and the official report was sent to Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor of India at the time. The report quoted the instructions of Guru Gobind Singh to his Sikhs after they were baptized. The instructions were: “Let all embrace one creed and obliterate differences of religion. Let the four Hindu castes who have different rules for their guidance abandon them all, adopt the one form of adoration, and become brothers. Let no one deem himself superior to another…”
Consider this your Facebook reminder that someone has a birthday today…it’s Buddha!
Buddha and what he exemplifies means a lot to millions of people around the world.
Buddha’s real name is Siddhartha Guatama and was an actual person who was born on April, 8th around the year 563 BCE. Buddha started out as a prince, but later denounced his crown and founded Buddhism.
Buddha’s main message was to lead a moral life and to be aware of both yourself and those around you. These principles are basics in any religion, making it easy to apply them in our own lives!
So here are 3 ways you can celebrate Buddha’s birthday no matter your faith.
A Meditation Celebration
Meditating is one of Buddhism’s most talked about methods of gaining enlightenment. Trust me, this works way better than pinning quotes to your Pinterest board! Start by finding a quiet spot that’ll stay quiet for at least 15 minutes. If that means you’re just chilling in your car, that totally works!
Once you find your quiet place, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Count the breaths you are taking and try to slow them down. Once you find a slow, peaceful rhythm transfer your focus to your body. Are there any areas that are tense? Focus on those areas and imagine cool water brushing over them. When they’re nice and relaxed, bring your attention back to your breathing. When you’re ready, open your eyes and take note of how you feel. You can use this quick meditation as a way to wind down, or start going more in depth with your thoughts. It’s all up to you!
Pat on the Back
Buddhism is all about being self-aware, and recognizing both your faults and successes! So, we’re gonna write ourselves a letter of recommendation!
Yes, I am totally serious.
I want you to write a letter about why you’re qualified for this “job” called life. Write down what strengths you are proud of, and what life experiences have helped you get to where you are now.
Next, I want you to answer the dreaded interview question, “What are your weaknesses?” Take some time thinking through this, but make sure not to punish yourself for your weakness. No one’s perfect, so don’t put that expectation on yourself! Find ways you can turn a happy weakness into a happy strength, then go out and make it happen!
Pat Someone Else’s Back
Not just anyone’s back…but an enemy’s back.
I know a name just popped into your head. One popped into mine, too!
Take a few minutes to think about this person. What have they done right? What about them can you actually admire? If this is taking a while, go ahead and scroll up to that section about meditation. Clear your head a little and try answering this question when you’re relaxed and calm.
When you have at least one good quality, go ahead and pick up the phone and tell them!
Okay, who are we kidding, no one calls people anymore. Especially their enemies.
If you feel comfortable getting on the phone, that’s great! But if not, then go ahead and send your compliment via a Facebook comment or email! Either way, you’re getting outside of your head and focusing on others, despite their flaws.
After all, that’s what Buddha was all about.
As a writer, believer, and chronic Pinterest fail-er, Maddy believes that everyone has a unique message to share with the world, and enjoys finding new ways to strengthen her faith through different perspectives.
Louis Zamperini was a person of faith, even though he lost his way at times. When I read his amazing story and watched the movie Unbroken—about how he faced trauma, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and alcoholism—I could relate. And, like Zamperini, faith has played an important role in my sobriety, and my life. However, Louis’ life was definitely more dramatic than mine has been.
Louis became an Olympic track star and then a military officer in World War II. His plane was shot down, and he survived for 47 days on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. Then, he was captured by the Japanese and tortured as a prisoner of war.
HOPE AGAINST HOPE
“To hope against all hope” means we hope for something even though it is impossible to see how it could happen. When Louis and his comrade had been adrift in the raft for several days without water, there was no rain in sight. Yet, against all hope, he prayed and promised God he’d commit his life to Him if He’d send rain. The next morning, there was a huge downpour. The very definition of faith means to believe in that which we cannot see.
TRIALS CAN DEEPEN OUR FAITH
Zamperini endured many difficult trials. We tend to think that life would be great if we didn’t have to deal with trouble and pain—if everything could just be easy. Yet, if that were the case, we wouldn’t be able to learn and grow in faith. I have often wished I didn’t have to go through the trials I have faced. Yet, I have to admit, I am so grateful for the strength and increased faith I have gained because of my challenges. “No pain, no gain” applies to faith.
FAITH REQUIRES PATIENCE
Only three men survived the plane crash, and only two lived 47 days at sea. It was Zamperini’s faith and persistence that helped pull them through. However, at some point during the two years he was a prisoner of war and frequently beaten by a guard called “the Bird”, he lost faith. He questioned how a loving God could let such things happen. After returning to the United States and getting married, he still felt like God had been “toying” with him. He began drinking heavily and got angry whenever his wife went to church. Four more years passed before Louis returned to church where he remembered the promise he had made to God before it rained. Then he went home and emptied out all the liquor bottles in his cabinet. He never had another drink. Even though it took years, Louis still managed to find faith again and it helped him overcome.
FORGIVENESS INCREASES LIGHT
For years after the war, Louis longed to hunt down the Bird to get revenge. With divine help, he finally found freedom from his prison of hatred. When he learned of the Bird’s death, “something shifted sweetly inside of him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was finally over.”* For me, it has been important to realize that my hatred for those who committed serious sins against me was only hurting myself. And forgiving them didn’t mean they were being “let off the hook.” It meant that I was being released from the strongest emotions that held me bound to them—vengeance and hatred. It takes time for us to heal and reach a place of forgiveness. When we do, we often find those dark places in our heart and mind can finally be illuminated by divine light.
*Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken. New York, New York: Random House, 2010, p. 386.
Laurie Campbell is a copywriter for advertising, as well as a volunteer counselor with a masters in mental health counseling. She finds photography and nature go hand-in-hand, increasing spirituality and love for God’s pretty amazing creations.
You can probably remember seeing her picture on the news—a girl with blonde hair and a shy smile, sitting next to her harp. Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home on June 5, 2002. She was fourteen at the time.
The word of her abduction spread to national news outlets. What started out as an anxious search for one missing girl in Utah, turned into a nationwide effort by thousands to bring her home.
Miraculously, Elizabeth was found nine months later. The details of her captivity emerged, revealing an experience that no one of any age should have to endure. In spite of these troubling circumstances, Elizabeth has amazed the world with her determination to live a full, happy life.
As an abduction survivor, she has turned her efforts to raising awareness of victimization on a global scale. She hopes that no child will ever have to experience the crimes she endured.
How did Elizabeth get through those long nine months of pain and suffering? What kept her from giving up and losing all hope of being found? How has she risen from that dark part of her life with such grace and optimism? She attributes it all to her faith.
“In my own life and in the countless other lives of survivors that I have spoken with, It has been the power of faith that has allowed us to not only persevere, but to find true peace and happiness.”
Elizabeth’s faith healed her deep wounds, set her free from her haunting past, and opened the doors to a brighter future. How has faith healed your heart and the hearts of those around you?
We’re two weeks into the year and—congratulations—so far you’ve stuck to your guns. Each morning, in the grand tradition of the New Year’s resolution, you roll from bed and into a rigamarole of Pilates classes, kale smoothies, and get-behind-me-Krispy-Kreme.
But as you whip yourself into shape this year, don’t neglect to work your spiritual muscles too. Strengthen your spirituality in 2015 with these fifteen exercises.
Get Lost in a Good Book
Rescue your library card from the blackhole beneath your sofa cushions and hit the books this year. Start a blog and share the passages that inspire you.
Take a Hike
You look like you could use some fresh air. Pack yourself some sandwiches and head for the hills to clear your mind and marvel at the natural world.
Take a page from Henry David Thoreau: “We need the tonic of wildness…. We can never have enough of nature.”
Paint Your Masterpiece
Unleash your inner-artiste. Write a poem, make an app, sew a dress. Use your unique talents to express who you are.
Lift Your Mood with Music
Whether you’re playing the guitar or just hitting “Play,” music is a powerful muse. Put those high school saxophone lessons to use and make some noise.
Do Some Good
Get off your duff and help a brother out. As you lift other people’s burdens, your own will start to feel lighter.
Say Your Prayers
A prayer is a phone call to a higher power. Dial in to give thanks and ask for help. Or lose yourself in meditation and find your spiritual center in quiet reflection.
Try Something New
Get unstuck from your rut. Break your routine and do something you’ve never done before, whether it’s backpacking in Patagonia or walking the the long, scenic way home.
“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.”
You Are Here—Be Here
Put your phone in your pocket and take a break from Words with Friends to have some actual words with your friends. Pay attention, take interest in people, and be present.
Get to Work
Manning the banana stand for the summer or running the company—whatever your gig, do your best work. When you put in not just the hours but your best effort, you’ll enjoy both the paycheck and the satisfaction of a job well done.
“To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.”
—Pearl S. Buck
Say Thank You
“What do we say?” your mom prompted you as a kid when Uncle Ted handed you a snow cone. Moms know best. Take time to write a letter and say thanks to someone who’s made a difference in your life.
Let Go of Grudges
Carrying a grudge is like carrying a huge boulder everywhere you go: it will only leave you feeling sore and looking like a crazy person. May your fences and beefs be mended and settled respectively.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Eat, Sleep, and Be Healthy
Your body is the car your spirit rides through life in. Keep it tuned up with adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
Make Your Space Sacred
Make your home a peaceful place. Fill it with reminders of what matters most—your family, your faith, and whatever else inspires you.
Look at the Big Picture
We fixate on small, daily concerns and sometimes forget about the big, long-term ones. Take a step back and put things in perspective.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Life can be a mess, but it’s a big beautiful mess all the same, and there are countless pleasures to be plucked from it, even though sometimes they’re buried down deep. Dig in.
In the wintery streets of Brittany, France, in 1839, Saint Jeanne Jugan met Anne Chauvin, an elderly and disabled widow rattled by the cold. Concerned, she carried Chauvin home and gave her a bed (Jugan’s own; Jugan herself moved to the less comfortable attic) and a promise to look after her.
That’s how Jugan began her mission to serve the aged and an organization that today gives free care in 31 countries to the elderly poor.
“Too many elderly are shoved aside. They’re pushed to the background when they’re dying or when they’re not economically feasible anymore,” says Sister Mary Bernard, one of almost three thousand devotees of the Roman Catholic congregation.
“But I feel that God wants me to serve the elderly as I would Him, and I’m happy to do it.”
Make It Count
What selfless acts of faith have you witnessed? Think about it, then tell us about it.