Editors Note: What follows is an excerpt from another update received from Maggie Konstanski, World Relief’s Disaster Response Manager. (Read Maggie’s first update.) Maggie writes from Iraq, where she is currently working with local leaders to assist families forced from their homes because of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
This week, my heart has been broken 10 times over. As I learn more about the stories and challenges of people I care for deeply, as statistics are transformed into stories of people I have come to love, I feel frustrated that I cannot do more to help. During a training exercise, we were sharing about what strengths existed within their communities and how those strengths were helping the community. Each one shared stories of how the community had surrounded each other, supported one another and sacrificed for each other. They had come from different towns, different backgrounds, and all faced their own share of hardship. They could have retreated within and only looked out for their own interests, and no one would fault them for it.
Instead, as every person in the room shared their own story of displacement, there was one phrase weaved as a common thread in each story: “…and then I said, ‘how can I help?’”
In circumstances that would lead many of us to ask, “How can someone help me?” this was a group that courageously asked the opposite, responding to the needs that surrounded them using whatever capacities and abilities they had to offer, however humble. Oh what this world could learn from such courage and compassion.
Daily, I find myself asking how I can be more like my colleagues here. How can I be more courageous, more compassionate, and more generous? We so often look for hope in security, wealth and accomplishment, and are angry when these things fail us or when life does not measure up to our expectations. What if instead we looked for hope and joy in how we could serve others? What if our joy was not measured by our achievements, but by how much we had given away, by the number of people we had welcomed into our home?
In Jeremiah 29:7 it says, “Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” I have always loved this verse, but struggled to comprehend how to put it into practice. People here are teaching me what this verse looks like in practice. In displacement, in towns not their own, they are seeking the peace of the entire community—not themselves, not their family, not only those that share their homeland or religion, but of the entire community. At times, this means forgiveness and loving those that turned their back on your suffering. It takes great sacrifice to seek not your own welfare, but the welfare of others, especially when your own welfare is in such great jeopardy.
Those who have seen the destructive power of hate and experienced dehumanizing discrimination know that peace is only found in recognizing the inherent value in our shared humanity. I pray that we will see each other as God sees us: equal in value, created in God’s image, sharing an equal inheritance in God’s grace. If we truly saw people this way, then surely indifference would be impossible.