Two years ago I was visiting a refugee camp on Good Friday. It was my fourth and final day hiking the trails that connected dusty ridges and sandy ravines. The way was lined with unending rows of square bamboo and tarp huts. I had asked questions, listened to stories, taken photos, and shared hundreds of smiles and handshakes with those who live there. Two aspects of that experience still live with me powerfully today, Good Friday.
The first is how it felt to witness human suffering on an overwhelming scale. Hundreds of thousands of people call that camp home. I walked many miles each day and still only saw a fraction of the camp and was able to speak with dozens of people daily through interpreters. All of them told a variation of the same story: they lived peaceful lives in small villages until one day the military arrived and started burning their homes and shooting people; they ran; it was the last time they ever saw their homes, or many of their loved ones. Now they are stuck living in makeshift housing; food is scarce; residents are not allowed to leave the camp to search for work. Most of the housing doesn’t have electricity and most of the children don’t have schools to attend. Many children didn’t have clothing. The absence of hope was astounding. It felt like there was no future beyond camp or plan for a different life on the horizon. Returning home, integrating into the country where the camp is, resettling in a third country like the USA — none of these felt like viable options. Two years later their situation has not changed.
The first few days wandering those hot dusty hills, I heard stories of trauma that shook me to my core. I found myself praying, repeatedly, “God, where are you?” That’s the same prayer another sojourner prayed many Good Friday’s before: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” It’s a good prayer. It’s an honest prayer. And it’s a prayer that many of us are praying right now as we witness the unchecked ravages of the Coronavirus. God, have you forsaken us? If that is the only prayer you can muster this Good Friday, then pray it with all you’ve got. You are in good company.
The second aspect of my Good Friday experience surprised me(actually, still surprises me)—I felt a sense of someone’s presence. There were throngs of people everywhere, so it wasn’t just a sense of another person’s physical presence. What I felt was a sense of companionship, of solidarity, and I felt that His presence was not with me but with them. It dawned on me that Christ’s presence was in the camp powerfully—almost tangibly. And it wasn’t that he just showed up when I got there. It was a sense that Jesus had been there all along. A sense that he lived there and it had simply taken me, the outsider, a few days to become aware of it.
When I departed that Friday afternoon, part of me felt sad to leave something of Jesus behind. I realized I had been walking on holy ground. Those dusty trails bustling with barefoot children also bore the footprints of the Son of God. As scripture repeatedly affirms, Christ is close to those who are the least, the lost, the lonely, the suffering. I witnessed it firsthand. I felt it.
Whether you read this as a refugee stuck far from home, or someone stuck inside of your own home, know that you are not alone. The same Son of God who suffered on the cross that first Friday also suffers with you…indeed, he suffers for you. For this reason—even in the midst of a global pandemic—we still call this Friday “Good.”
Mark Finney | 4/10/2020