I have a story to tell you. It's about a 12 year old girl named Ragad. Her brown curly hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she had greenish brown eyes that took a beeline straight to the heart. Her teeth were slightly crooked but her smile was infectious. Joy streamed across her face but more than anything what she exuded was the feeling of nowness. She was real time and all in. I wish I could show you a picture of her, but that, sadly, is forbidden. For if she were recognized there is a good chance her family back home could be killed. Where is her home?
Yesterday we were guided through the Zaatari Syrian Refugee camp in Jordan by the Finn Church Aid NGO. As we walked up to the gate it truly felt like we were on a movie set because our American brains couldn't compute what we were seeing. The closest thing we could get to it was make believe.
Except it wasn't.
Our first stop was at the girls football (⚽️) practice. It felt strange to be on the sidelines, so I ran onto the field to join in on the warm-up. That's where I met Ragad. She immediately befriended me, not by words but by her eyes and her smile. She touched my hair and my face and I could feel her sweet curiosity through her finger tips. She put me on her team and as we began the soccer drills, she taught me each of the girls names so we could cheer for them. More girls followed Ragad's lead, some with ponytails, some with hijab, and with smiles, giggles and hand holding, they let us know we were truly welcome. We did yoga with them. Held them in handstands. Played with them. Laughed with them. When it was time to go, no one wanted to let go. But as we exited the field each one of us walked away in awe of their resilience and inspired by their joy.
From there we visited a beauty school where women were learning to do hair. We visited English classes for both younger and older girls. We were shown a facility in the camp where women were learning computer technology and we attended a focus group discussion facilitated by one of our guides named DaNa. Through her we listened to their journeys, their struggles and their fears. When we asked about their hopes, they were much less vocal. The privilege of hope is that the future is implied. Theirs is not. All they have is now, which is likely where sweet Ragad acquired her presence... Her mother.
We ended our visit at "circus" class which was exactly as it sounds. The girls were dressed in clown costumes, twirling, tumbling and juggling... a few even riding unicycles. We cheered and clapped with a joyful fervor at their fantastic display and as I left I prayed that every day, until they leave the camp for a sacred and stable home, they know this kind of joy.
The people along side of us in this photo are members of the FCA NGO. All I have for them is the utmost praise, respect and gratitude for the work that they are doing to ease the burden on these families. Please look them up and if you feel called, please support them in some way. Special thanks to DaNa and Bashar Miina Olli and Tareq for your unwavering support and kindness.
This small story is part of a much larger article I'm writing about the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Sadly much of that story is not as joyful as this one. More, God willing, to come.