The book Little Bee tells the story of a young woman fleeing Nigeria after her family is murdered. She seeks out a woman in the United States with whom she has had some previous contact. That woman’s husband has just committed suicide and she is in a crisis situation as she mourns and tries to single parent her little son.
I’ve written before about making a text whether it is an artwork, a film, a book or a news story meaningful by establishing three connections -personal, another text and the world. Reading the gripping story in Little Bee by Chris Cleave it wasn’t hard to make those connections. The personal one might be that the book was a gift from my friend Meena. Meena was a colleague when I taught in Hong Kong and we were in a book club together for six years. Meena’s son and his family live in Winnipeg so she visits regularly and when we get together our conversations always include sharing our book recommendations. This time Meena brought me a copy of her latest find, Little Bee by Chris Cleave. So while I was reading it I was thinking of Meena and why she might have liked the book so much. What made it even more personal was that Meena’s little granddaughter had done artwork on some of the pages. One of the main characters in the book is a small boy about Meena’s granddaughter’s age so her art added another personal touch. The other text I thought of immediately was The Boat People by Sharon Bala because like Little Bee it tells the story of a new immigrant trying to gain refugee status fearful they will be sent back to their own country where they are sure to face imprisonment or death. I had recommended The Boat People to Meena on a previous visit and her book club had read it and loved it.
The connection to our world was easy to make even though Little Bee was published over a decade ago. In fact in 2008 when Little Bee hit the book stores there were only 42 million refugees in the world. Now there are 66 million. That makes this story of a young desperate woman seeking asylum even more relevant than it was when the book was written.
I’d be curious to hear about your three connections if you decide to read the book.
Finding the Three Connections
Hong Kong Guests
The Boat People
You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19
In the 1920s my father’s parents arrived in Canada from Ukraine. They were frail after surviving a famine and penniless after losing everything to marauding bandits. They couldn’t speak English. Canadians took these strangers in. They received transportation loans. People found jobs and homes for them.
Recently my husband and I took my father to a party hosted by the son of a family my parents sponsored to come to Canada from Cambodia in 1985. Everyone in the family calls my father “Grandpa”. The family has grown, its members have prospered and have become valuable contributing citizens of Canada in many different areas. They still include my widowed father in their social gatherings because they have not forgotten the help my Mom and Dad gave them when they were strangers in a new country.
A couple from Rawanda that Dave and I helped sponsor to come to Canada
Like my father, many of my grandparents’ children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have been very active in supporting refugees. I think we are all motivated at least in part, by the thought of what would have happened to our grandparents if they hadn’t received assistance when they were strangers in a new country. Helping refugees is part of our family’s legacy.
Some fifty Scripture passages reference the need for a generous attitude to strangers. In Deuteronomy 10:19 God reminds the children of Israel to show kindness to strangers because they were once strangers themselves in Egypt. In Matthew 25:38 Jesus says that when we welcome strangers we are really welcoming him. Romans 12:13 lists hospitality to strangers as an attribute of the faithful.
According to United Nations data there are more than 65 million refugees in the world today. There is no lack of opportunity for us to act on the Biblical imperative to love the stranger.
Standing Up For Children
Supporting Refugees Before It was Trendy
Thoughts on Refugees
Children do not choose to be refugees or immigrants. They accompany their families seeking shelter, freedom from persecution, and opportunities to contribute to society. Before leaving their home country, many children and their families experience violence, hunger, separation and other atrocities that may have long-lasting effects on their health and development. Children must be offered protection, care and support to live healthy, meaningful lives.
That’s the first paragraph in a very timely and important statement issued on Monday by the Canadian Paediatric Society. I am proud to say my daughter-in-law serves on their Board of Directors. The stand these Canadian doctors have taken is admirable. In light of the American president’s recent executive order they are calling on the Canadian government to………
- Increase the number of refugees who will be accepted to Canada in 2017.
- Increase the number of privately-sponsored refugees from Iraq and Syria who can come to Canada in 2017.
- Continue to ensure that Canadians with dual citizenship from one of the seven countries affected by the U.S. ban are able to cross the U.S. border with a valid Canadian passport.
- Suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, so that refugees refused entry into the United States can come to Canada.
- Lead a global response to refugee resettlement.
You can read the entire statement here.
Thoughts on Refugees
My parents have sponsored many refugees. Thirty years ago they provided financial support so a family of six from Cambodia could come to Canada. My parents have assisted them in many different ways over the years. Mom and Dad became honorary grandparents to a Cambodian family they sponsored, playing an important role in family weddings, graduations and other celebrations. Although my Mom has passed away, my Dad continues to be a part of their lives today and the grown children from the family still call him “Grandpa.”
Mom and Dad also sponsored a young couple from Croatia to come to Canada. My parents were their primary source of financial and social support during their first years in Canada. That family lives in Ontario now with their two nearly adult children but remain in regular contact with my father. I’ll never forget our first Christmas dinner with them when they told us they had lived in a car in Croatia and their Christmas dinner the year before had been a loaf of bread they shared with eight other people.
Three female-led families from Sierra Leone were also recipients of my parents’ generosity. Two had relatives here in Canada to give emotional and social support to augment the financial contributions of my parents, but one family needed ongoing help in a myriad of ways and my parents worked together with another couple from their church to provide it.
Mom and Dad supported many other immigrant families either with their money, their time, produce from their garden, their friendship or their advice.
In the midst of the Syrian crisis sponsoring refugees is becoming popular for churches, individuals, neighborhoods and organizations. That’s great! My parents like many other people have been sponsoring refugees for decades. They have always thought it was the right thing to do.
Thoughts About Refugees
What Will You Be Building?
A House Built From Grain Elevators
Filed under Canada, Family
My husband Dave’s grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger were refugees who arrived in Canada in 1924
I am from a refugee family. My grandparents and my husband’s grandparents were refugees who came to Canada from Ukraine. Having just lived through the violence of a World War, a civil war and raids by ruthless bandits on their homes and communities many were traumatized. They came to Canada without money and only a few belongings. The Canadian Pacific Railway had to finance their trip. They had survived a recent famine in Ukraine so their state of health was less than ideal.
My husband Dave’s grandparents Heinrich and Gertrude Enns were refugees who arrived in Canada in 1925
They were Mennonites, a religious sect often misunderstood by their new Canadian neighbours. Here was a group of people who insisted on speaking German, wanted their own private schools and refused to serve in the military.
My grandparents Diedrich and Margareta Peters on their wedding day shortly after arriving as refugees to Canada in 1923
Yet they were accepted into Canada and their descendants have served and enriched this country by making outstanding contributions in almost every area of Canadian life and culture.
My grandparents became prosperous Canadian farmers whose fifty-four descendants serve their country as school administrators, speech therapists, nurses, media personalities, pharmacists, professors, physicians, professional musicians, agriculturalists, journalists, service managers, postal workers and teachers.
I’m so glad the government of Canada accepted my family when they were refugees. What if they hadn’t?
On My Grandparents’ Farm
School for the Deaf- My Father-in-Law’s Birthplace