The function of our freedom is to free someone else. – Toni Morrison
Her bright smile lit up the small, simple store where she worked in Palestine. She offered us coffee (the kind that you drink like a tequila shot: no sugar, bottoms up). Her name in Arabic means “smiley” and it was true—her light was contagious. She was the manager of the store, a new venture centered on selling goods that the women’s center in the Palestinian refugee camp made to create greater sustainability. The economic reality for residents of a refugee camp is extremely bleak; however, this new endeavor was providing a bit of hope.
Articulate, strong, clear, she shared with us a bit of her story. In 1948, her parents were told by Israeli soldiers that they needed to leave their home in a coastal town near Tel Aviv for several days. Like so many other Palestinian families, they never were allowed to return. Living outside for weeks and months, they finally were moved to this refugee camp and a life they never expected. Our new friend was born and raised in the camp, along with her many sisters and brothers.
The road for her has been long and treacherous, the losses in her family great. Yet, one thing oozed out of every part of our time together—a desire for freedom.
She took us on a walking tour of the camp, her home. Hellos and smiles emerged from almost every crack and crevice as we walked along. We touched the cold walls of housing built on top of each other with narrow alleys and no light peeking in. We saw the bleak kids soccer field, a concrete slab with no balls to be found but kids sitting on steps hoping to play. We heard the sound of a UN truck rumbling as it dropped off supplies.
Thousands and thousands and thousands of people. Men, women, children. Displaced. And they are just one fraction of the many refugees throughout the region.
People who are not free.
They can’t move freely outside of the confines of the wall. They can’t just pick up and find a new place to live because they have no economic freedom. They can’t do all kinds of things that you and I can.
My recent trip to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan stirred up all kinds of big feelings inside, not just about their struggles but the realities of oppression and misused power in our country as well.
There’s no question that the situation in the Middle East is complicated, with no easy answers. Or that issues of generational poverty in the United States are complicated. That inequality and the damage of patriarchy around the world are difficult realities to untangle. That racism and classism and the divides between people are painful and tricky to even talk about let alone change. There are no easy answers for any of these huge justice issues.
But there are ways we can participate in change.
And it all starts with one important reality that in my opinion we must embrace—our freedom is all tied together.
Our freedom is all tied together.
When my sisters and brothers aren’t free, I am not either.
So many need us to fight for their freedom. Many can’t fight. They are trapped in refugee camps, in brothels, in abusive marriages, in housing projects, in poverty, in pain. We have liberties others don’t.
The question is what will we do with our liberties?
The status quo, the system, even some of our churches, will tell us things like, “It’s hopeless. They’ve been fighting for generations and there’s no solution” or “Only God can help them” or “Nothing we do will make a difference.” Or, worse yet, it will send a message that other things are more important—things like being comfortable or finding our happy place or just worrying about our own back yard.
I’m not saying that all of us need to become advocates for Palestine (or for human trafficking or poverty or for racial reconciliation or for ______). Or that if we aren’t championing a cause, we’re not valuable. Sometimes the best thing we can do is work on ourselves and our own freedom first.
But what I am saying is that our freedom is all tangled up together and we all play a part in change.
We are interconnected. We are interdependent. And our freedom is never just for us.
I believe in every fiber of my being that we are supposed to use our freedom to help free someone else. This is why our journey toward greater freedom and security and passion and strength and courage and hope and mercy and love is no small thing.
There are a lot of people who need freedom—in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our cities, around the world.
We are all tied together.
Really, the only thing I can tangibly do for my friends in Palestine and my friends on the margins of life and faith here in the USA is share their story. It doesn’t feel like much, but it does make a difference. So many don’t know what life is like for so many oppressed people, both here and abroad.
When we help people learn, we are participating in freedom. That is something we can all do. We can tell our own stories, our own journeys toward freedom, in all their glory and all their gore.
And we can share the stories of women and men and children we know who need advocates and friends and people-who-care to share on their behalf so that others can join in on their fight for freedom.
Yeah, our freedom is all tied together.
May we keep finding our way toward greater freedom and use every bit we have to help free others, too.
Image credit: Rebecca Dongallo