“Where are you, God?” It’s likely a small number of us that have actually verbalized this thought, but who could honestly say that they haven’t thought it? Our world is broken, severely imperfect, and it seems that society often waits, refreshing news apps each minute, for the next tragedy. Each time thoughts and prayers go out, the thought undoubtedly comes back: “where are you, God?”
Centuries ago, living in Egypt, the Israelites found themselves to be a persecuted people group. The new king in power, who feared the Israelites as a threat should war break out, ordered his people to deal shrewdly with the Israelites. Over time, they became slaves, forced into harsh labor in the fields and in construction within the city. (Exodus 1) In those trying days, the Israelites surely asked, “where are you, God?” God spoke to Moses, promising to deliver the Israelites from their situation, but the Israelites were so discouraged from their circumstances, that they did not listen. Despite the answer being right there, they asked, “where are you, God?”
Recently, a GoTEN team member in Phoenix took a couple of visitors participating in a short-term trip to practice citizenship with a student, Jaz. She and her husband Mo, refugees from Myanmar, have participated in GoTEN classes for 2 years and through friendship connections made in class, we’ve learned that their story is full of hardship. On this visit, Mo recounted their story to our teammate and the visitors she brought with her as they shared tea in Mo and Jaz’s one-bedroom apartment. The story begins with Mo having to flee Myanmar, leaving his wife and three sons behind, because his life was in immediate danger. He fled to Saudi Arabia for 6 years before having to seek refuge in Malaysia as he was no longer welcome in Saudi. He spent many years alone in Malaysia before finally being able to send for his wife and three sons to come join him. When he saw them again, it had been over 15 years of separation, and he was devastated to realize his sons no longer recognized him in the least. Life in Malaysia was terrible – he shared about many instances of being treated inhumanely, and he summarized it by saying that “when you are refugee, you are like a dog.” While they were living there, his middle son was killed in a motorcycle accident. And when he and Jaz were finally accepted to be resettled to the US, both of their remaining sons had aged out (were over 21) and had case files completely separate from theirs. They remain in Malaysia, working and waiting, hoping to be able to join their parents here one day.
As the wait wears on, so does the discouragement. All Mo wants is to have his family together in one home, around one table, but he fears that may never be a reality. Mo feels that despite being a man in his 60’s, he has nothing to show for his life, and grieves that he feels his hard work has been in vain. About a year ago, Mo was hospitalized with Covid-19 and spent time on a ventilator. “I can’t die. My wife will have nothing and no one. She can’t work. And she doesn’t speak English. I must recover” he thought. Miraculously, he did recover! He fully recovered, and now he works regularly as a security guard, providing for their family. However, during their visit, our team member mentioned God’s hand in his recovery, and the conversation with Mo took a bit of a turn. He looked at the group sadly and a bit defiantly and explained that he no longer believes in God. He has seen too much evil in his life to believe. He lamented, “I see children starve and die when other people have food. Where are you, God? People treat other people like animals. Where are you, God? I work hard for 20 years and my children don’t even know me. Where are you, God? War wages and no one cares. Where are you, God?” All the team could do was sit with him in his pain, trying to be empathetic. Truthfully, many of us haven’t experienced the pain that refugees often do. Imagine having to endure these experiences without the promises of God’s peace and love through Jesus. All we can do is pray for peace, and gently remind people like Mo of what God can do.
Let’s revisit the Israelites in Egypt. After Moses accepted God’s command for him to confront Pharaoh, a series of natural disasters occurred in Egypt known as the 10 plagues, as God responded to Pharaoh’s refusal to release the Israelites. God showed up. (Exodus 8-12) When the plagues had finally taken their toll on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, he agreed to release the Israelites only to change his mind shortly after, ordering his army to chase them to the Red Sea. It is at this barrier that God, working through Moses, parted the sea and delivered the Israelites to safety. “Where are you, God?” There He was. (Exodus 14)
This same God, the God that showed up, still does so today. Circumstances often seem dire, and for refugees, the suffering may be worse than any of us can imagine. Despite the harsh realities that this hurting world faces, we faithfully ask God to show up, believing that He will. We ask on behalf of Mo, we ask on behalf of Jaz, we ask on behalf of the father that works 2 shifts back to back in a warehouse to provide for his family that is still scattered across the world. God, we know you are here.