Oh God, Do You Hear Their Prayers?

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Natalie Patton -Do You Hear Our Prayers3By Natalie Patton | Insta: @naticakes

It’s the middle of the sweltering Bangkok workday, and I’m wrestling with God in the back of a taxi on my way home from prison. I’m slipping around on hot vinyl as my theology gets pressed and squeezed like the limes at the juice stand outside my window.

I’ve just visited my friend Nina.* She used to be my English student, but for the past year she’s been locked up in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Center (IDC) with no end date in sight. I bring her food, toiletries, and crafty things to keep her mind busy which the guards pass on to her. She will need them, as the prison gives her just rice and dirty water. She sleeps on a hard floor with no bed.

Two metal fences separate us. We are both women, the same age, living in 2017. But what keeps her on one side of the fence and me on the other is that I am American and she is Somali.

The immigration police picked her up on her way home from English class over a year ago. Having fled the horrors of war, she found her way to Thailand via the Jesuit Refugee Service and gained her asylum seeker status with the UNHCR. But it is illegal to be an asylum seeker in Thailand, and thus she is criminalized. In a sense, she is being punished for surviving. She will stay locked up indefinitely until her case is accepted for resettlement by another country.

She cries when I see her, telling me how thankful to God she is that I am there. She asks about my children, pantomiming rocking a baby. She tells me about her prayers. Her teenage inmate friends help translate. Their eyes are also heavy with brokenness, but yet they offer big, hopeful smiles. They’ve been locked up two years already.

My other students are also on the run from the immigration police, but they carry on, doing what they can to survive and care for one another. They have so much hope. They are living, breathing examples of the resilience of the human spirit.

Lolly is a single mother who has become a friend to our family. Back in Somalia, Al-Shabaab terrorists slaughtered her entire family, and she, her children and teenage niece were the only survivors. They made it to Bangkok where they’ve joined the long line of people in this world who are in limbo, waiting for a new country. She also cares for a teenager she took under her wing in Bangkok who was trafficked to Malaysia against her will by people in the black market human organ trade. She escaped just before losing a kidney.

Lolly has serious needs of her own with five dependents in her care and the weight of the world on her shoulders. But every time she contacts me with a request, it is never for herself.

She tells me about a woman with epilepsy who has been in the IDC for two years and is giving up on resettlement, about a mother whose child has cerebral palsy and won’t be accepted into any of the schools.

She tells me about Istahil, a very sick woman on the brink of death with a lung disease who’s been locked up for the last year. This has been a major blow to the Somali community. They are so used to death, but yet in the final weeks of this woman’s life, the community—many whom didn’t know her personally—sat by her side in prayer day and night, not letting her go a moment alone.

Lolly later informed me that Istahil died from the lung disease. Her case was already in the pipeline for resettlement, but living in cattle-like conditions, she took her last breath before experiencing freedom. She had no family around, but some Thai Muslims helped send her body back to Somalia.   

As a Christian, it’s theologically perplexing how they are some of the most Christ-like people I know. And yet they are Muslims.

Most of the American Christians I know have a perception of Muslims shaped by what they see on the news. But few can say they’ve made a Muslim friend.

I’ve always been taught how different Christians are from the rest of humanity. Seeing how Christ-like they are, is unsettling. I want to believe that my people are better. It confuses my soul. It confuses my prayers. I find myself crying out, Oh God, do you hear them? They do not pray in the name of Jesus, but do you hear them? Are you near them?

We like to believe that Jesus is on our team, but His word tells us not to crush the afflicted at the gate (Prov 22:22).  Jesus is always on the side of the weak and the oppressed.

When I read the Beatitudes, they are the pictures that come to mind. Mourners who are poor in spirit, meek, merciful, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, pure-hearted and peace-making. I am inspired by their love, their tenderness, their generosity and their humility.

Loving my neighbor as myself takes on a new meaning for me today. It’s caused me to repent from the sins of trying to be the rescuer. They don’t need a pitying or condescending kind of love. They don’t need me to try to mold them into my image. They don’t need my brand of Christianity. My precious Somali friends do not need me to rescue them; they need me to love them as myself.

How do we love someone as ourselves? We eat from the same table. We get to know who they are. We listen to their stories. We find out what celebrations are important to them. We want to discover the happy places of their childhood and their traditions. We want to really see the things of their culture that are truly beautiful.

We love them as ourselves when we are open to learning from them. This is the hardest one for me. My pride has hardened a corner of my heart in the belief that I have nothing to learn from my non-Christian neighbor.

I am inspired by my Somali friends’ faithfulness to pray. I’m ashamed that my children have perhaps seen them prostrate in prayer more than they have seen me in the same posture. I am inspired by their generosity. They have trouble putting food on the table, yet they were the first to visit me when I had my baby, bringing food and gifts.

What a privilege for any country to receive these beautiful people as their own.

It’s my deepest prayer that churches around the world would be united in the spirit of perfect love that drives out fear to say, Come to my house. Sit at my table. Eat my food. You too are loved and worthy of God’s love and peace. I welcome you, and even if you turn out to be a bad egg and do me harm, I’d rather die loving people than living in fear in my holy huddle.

Oh God, do you hear their cries? I believe Jesus is near, weeping along with them.

*Names have been changed.

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About Natalie:

Natalie PattonNatalie is an overly caffeinated, partly cloudy, always scattered wife and mother of three tots living in Bangkok, Thailand. Pull up a chair, and you’ll find she’s part weirdo from being an expat in the Middle East and Asia for the better part of a decade. She’s a proud US Air Force wife who lives with the cognitive dissonance of knowing war but seeking peace. She works with Somali refugees in Bangkok. When she’s not chasing down a tuk-tuk or letting her son sample fried grub worms on the street, she is found with a good book, a good recipe, or a good song. Follow her scattered life on her blog or on Instagram.

 

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  • Deeply challenged by your story.
    Blessings to you.

  • Crying. Tears Is all I have this morning. Thank you for sharing Natalie.

    • Hello beautiful girl! Thank you for reading and sharing, sister. Hugs to you.

  • Melissa Henderson

    Thank you for sharing with us. My heart is truly touched.

  • Marla

    So so so so good. Makes me want to have a two hour discussion on it. Thank you.

    • Thank you Marla. I struggled to write it because of this–there is so much I wrestle with and find myself feeling heretical even thinking about. God continues to surprise me, though, with his mysterious ways.

  • I spent years working with refugees in North Africa and it shattered my theology in ways I’m still trying to articulate. We need to hear, and keep hearing about lives like these. May the Lord be with you in the hard and beautiful work you are in. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Thank you, sister. I have so many thoughts I’m still exploring on this. I sense Jesus wants us to care for the oppressed, not just for them but for ourselves in order to see the blessing in a life that’s stripped of everything and still joyful. They are such teachers to me.

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  • June Patton

    Natalie, thank you for sharing with such honesty and transparency your experiences with these beautiful Somali women. Thank you for being open to learn from them, how are they still care for one another, in spite of the incredibly harsh past they have survived and now equally harsh present that they are living in. It is challenging to hear of their faithfulness to pray and their generosity and warmth and hopefulness, despite such terrible living conditions. Thank you for sharing all of this with us, that we too may reconsider our priorities in life and try to be more Christlike, after hearing of their Christlikeness without even knowing Him. May we keep these women and others like them in our prayers, and seek from God what we can do to help them.