Under God’s Wings of ProtectionMonday, June 17th, 2013
“He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge,
you will not fear the terror of night..”
This verse from Psalm 91:4-5 on God’s protection does give empowerment to and becomes a reality in the life of Refugees and Asylum seekers on the Cipayung, West Java, highlands. What the Psalm author is convinced of is also experienced by the Asylum seekers, who have forcefully fled their homes, villages and their loved ones to acquire a peaceful life they have been dreaming.
It’s Otang Sukarna, a 50 year old resident of a village on the hills of Cipayung, West Java, who sincerely put this Psalm in the daily life. He’s just a modest villager who befriends the Refugees and Asylum seekers. By simple but real ways, he motivates his fellow village residents, mothers and children to show kindness and friendliness to the Refugees and Asylum seekers living nearby. This honest and sincere friendship and mutually supportive attitude makes up the real kindness and also protection that gives them the feeling of security.
While in other places the Refugees and Asylum seekers have to face rejection, suspicion, negative stigma, expulsion and isolation, Otang Sukarna and hios fellow villagers, in contrast, offer their modest but comfortable shelters for their stay, friendly and passionate relationship, useful joint activities and real helps that boost their spirit.
“These immigrants are good persons. They’re not criminals or people who incite trouble. They have come here just to discover peace as their countries are in chaos,” says Otang to express his understanding. Although he has never read any documents on Refugees, he is able to explain his understanding on this issue with a modest but communicative formulation which all residents of the village would easily understand and accept.
Otang Sukarna has his own basic reason to be kind and friendly towards the Refugees and Asylum seekers. “They are people, who, like us, have children. They are facing hardship like I am. So, we should be kind and help them. Even, whenever we could, we should protect them as we and they are just the same human beings,” he explains. Immersing oneself, understanding and allowing oneself to be touched by others’ experiences is an exercise of emphatic awareness. This awareness creates a concrete involvement.
When the mass media report about the rejection and expulsion of the Asylum Seekers, Otang Sukarna and the local Village Head opt to go around the village to give them some encouragement. “I’m going around with the Lurah (village head) to meet them one by one and try to convince them and the landlords that they should not be afraid, because this village has been secured of its peaceful condition” he explains enthusiastically. Even the Lurah restates his assurance of protection,” If someday some parties from outside come here to disturb their lives, ask them (refugees) to move to my house. I will myself give them protection,” he adds quoting the Village Head.
Otang Sukarna has an effective but simple way to more closely bonding the friendship between his fellow villagers and the Asylum Seekers. The daily life is the key. “I often invite them to attend wedding parties and funerals. Some of them even take part in carrying the coffin to the cemetery,” he says. Their presence and involvement in the locals’ activities is a sign, tool and proof of their willingness to be part of the society. This has made their ties closer and friendlier. They become part of the village and no more strangers. “Due to the extremely close relationship, one of the immigrants has been persuaded by a family to marry a local and become one of its members,” adds Otang.
Religious celebrations, too, are used as tools to share. On the 10 Muharram (Assyura) the villagers and Asylum Seekers hold a joint religious ceremony. “The village head donates a sheep for the event. And they are very thankful.”
During the early time of the influx of Asylum Seekers, English lessons for children are held for some time. Through this activity the villagers and the Asylum Seekers could learn from each other. The local children learn English while the Asylum Seekers learn how to live the local daily, routine life. “Yes, in the past a lot of our children took part in the English class. Almost three class rooms were always full of students.”
Thanks to the close ties, it’s no strange if in some road corners and eating kiosks we can hear laughs and chats of the Asylum Seekers and villagers killing their times of rest. Otang Sukarna and residents of the Cipayung hills are like God’s wings that give the Asylum Seekers kindness, protection and security. Through them God fully shelters the Refugees and Asylum Seekers with His wings. ***
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