When the Refugee Crisis Costs Me Something

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leah-kostamos-learning-to-love3

“Your turn,” Asha called from across the lawn.

She hoisted herself out of the peddle car she had been “driving” around our large circular driveway, then lifted her four-year old from the back of the contraption. He’d been clinging to his mom while she zoomed down the driveway.

I made my way past the old farmhouse and onto the pavement. Then I climbed into the driver’s seat. Asha set her son Imar on the make-shift passenger seat. This time he clung to my neck.

I started peddling in a leisurely fashion.

This is so fun, I thought. Sun shining. Little Syrian refugee child hugging me as we tool around the driveway. Life is full of meaning and grace.

And then.

Bam!

We were speeding down the driveway, Asha running behind and pushing the peddle car for all she’s worth. This would have been fun too (in a more exhilarating way), but for the fact that the peddles of said car also served as the front wheels’ axel–meaning, the peddles spun as fast as the wheels were spinning.

My feet couldn’t keep up with the axel’s sudden warp speed.

“Whao, Whao!” I shouted (which I suspect in Arabic translates into something like, “Faster, faster!” because we picked up speed.)

Sensing impending doom, I wisked my feet off the peddles and up into the air. But my reflexes are those of a middle-aged woman, and I was too slow.

My left foot got caught in the whirling axel.

And that’s when we came to a screeching halt, my ankle serving as the emergency brake.

The pain was immediate and nauseating. I couldn’t speak. Asha seemed confused, not understanding why we’d stopped.

I tumbled out of the car and lay panting on the pavement. Realizing what had happened, Asha was mortified and apologetic. Imar, my special friend, was all sympathy and gentleness, patting me on my head and murmuring comforting sounds.

When I started to crawl toward my house, Asha attempted to hoist me onto her shoulder in a fireman’s carry. (Something she learned in the war?) I found this utterly terrifying (what if she dropped me!?) and insisted on limping home, one of my arms around her shoulder so that she bore most of my weight, the other arm resting gently on Imar’s shoulder.

Like this, they shepherded me home.

That was six months ago. My ankle still hurts. All the time.

The doctor says it’s a soft tissue injury. The physio, after treating me for several months, says I’m fine, but it will hurt for a while yet.

So much for my rosy vision of hosting a Syrian refugee family on our farm. When my farmmates and I said yes to hosting this family, I envisioned hummus and olive-laden picnics on the lawn; English language lessons at their sun-splayed kitchen table. I imagined meaning and, dare I say, fun.

Nevermind that it rains most of the time in Vancouver, making sun-dependant opportunities scarce, this family’s presence has actually cost me something.

Of course, a sore ankle is a pitifully small thing compared to the suffering of losing homeland and loved ones. The point is, identification with those in pain has meant my own pain. (Small as it is.)

Which caused me to ponder: If this family’s sense of belonging in their new home depended on my own injury, would I accept the trade-off?

My point here is not to whine. My point is that true compassion, acted out in practical ways,  will cost us something. Sometimes convenience; sometimes time; sometimes physical comfort.

The allusions to the season of Advent are obvious. Jesus emptied himself (a la Philippians 2) and became a helpless babe. Because of his presence amoungst us, he was subjected to suffering and humiliation. In saying yes to the incarnation, Mary eventually suffered the loss of her beloved child. Joseph suffered the humiliation of a pregnant fiancé. And the list goes on. The compassion of God costs God A LOT.

I have a sore ankle. It causes a limp–ever so slight–that reminds me of the price of compassion. Saying yes to God’s call to be physically present to the least of these, has meant damage to the soft tissue of my body.

But it also means the soft tissue of my heart will soften yet more. It means I’m learning just a little bit what it means to live with the compassion of Christ. It means I’m learning to love.

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Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo is the author of Planted: a Story of Creation, Calling and Community, a book Eugene H. Peterson called “remarkable” and Margaret Atwood called “clear-sighted and humorous.” She likes to read (and write) wise and winsome stories that inspire people to be the change they want to see in the world. She can be found online leahkostamo.com and @leahkostamo. She ministers with the Christian conservation organization, A Rocha.
Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo

Latest posts by Leah Kostamo (see all)

  • Love this Leah: “But it also means the soft tissue of my heart will soften yet more. It means I’m learning just a little bit what it means to live with the compassion of Christ. It means I’m learning to love.” As I am tempted to despair while watching the reports coming out of Aleppo, this reminder that we are each called to compassion and to love – despite the cost – right where we are feels much needed, like the quiet call of God. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Leah Kostamo

      Yes, me too, regarding Aleppo. That’s where our Syrian friends are from. I keep imagining them there and what they would have suffered if they had stayed (and what so many are suffering even this very day). Lord have mercy!

  • I work with refugees in North Africa. Anytime we work with vulnerable populations or love people who are dealing with trauma there is, as you say, a personal cost. But what is the cost if we don’t? To humanity and our own souls? I thank you for sharing these thoughts and spurring this conversation about the importance of our efforts to serve refugees. I, with you, believe that we can’t afford not to. Especially if we claim to be people of God. All the best to you, thanks.

    • Leah Kostamo

      Amen a thousand times to all you’ve written, Beth!

  • You’ve transported me right into the middle of your story, and I’m thankful for this parable about the cost of compassion.

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Michele! 🙂

  • Amy Chumbley

    I love how you linked suffering and compassion! On December 4 I wrote in my journal, “Our sufferings are His and so when I enter into the suffering of others I am entering into His sufferings just a Philippians 3:10 says! It is compassion. It is love.”

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks for sharing your journal musings — YES, we are mysteriously united with Christ when we suffer for righteousness sake. 🙂

  • Oh Leah, thank you. Whether it is time, comfort, or loss – being a peacemaker costs. Thank you for being willing to bear the cost and spurring us on to do so!

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks for your kind words, Nicole. Blessings..

  • Helene Burns

    Wow Leah… these words say it all and they speak so profoundly to me too through your story of compassion…
    ‘But it also means the soft tissue of my heart will soften yet more. It means I’m learning just a little bit what it means to live with the compassion of Christ. It means I’m learning to love.’

    Thanks for sharing your heart and wisdom. xo

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Helen, for your affirmation. Blessings to you this Advent! xx