Beyond herself

Chapel at the Ecumenical Centre, where staff gather for morning prayer each day. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

She was asked to lead us in prayers for the people of the Balkans, especially Kosovo and Albania. Before praying, she shared a bit of her story. It was an important story, for she was living in another European country and her story intermingled with others who could easily have slipped through the cracks.

The story was about two families in her hometown comprising migrants. Even though the story predates the rising tide of xenophobic tensions, which have swept the European landscape in the last decade, the life these families had built for themselves over the years in that little town was being threatened.

It mattered little that they had assimilated and were positively contributing to the community. Their legal status meant they always were at risk of being invited to return home, unless someone was willing to advocate on their behalf. She was asked to cover their story (for that is what she does, she helps us to see beyond the façade which many of us don daily).

From her reflection, I understood that Roma is a four-letter word. To be Roma means one is automatically susceptible to being cursed and presumed the worst of. But what about being Roma and Refugee – double jeopardy.

And one family had the trifecta of them all. It was a single parent household, led by – you guessed it – a young woman. Assumptions come to mind that people might make about her source of livelihood; especially as a Roma woman. And then the other details came. The mother in that family was a victim, trying to become a survivor, of severe domestic violence. Returning home would have double victimized her. She was not fleeing war, but she was literally running for her life!

Being a single displaced woman is fraught with danger. Being forced from one’s place as a mother with nowhere to turn is life-threatening. In that woman’s story I heard Hagar, I heard the Levite’s concubine, and the girl who was trafficked for soothsaying in Acts. But I also heard more modern stories. Of women and men attempting to eke a living for their families and themselves and being told that because of their race, nationality, their faith, their inability to quickly assimilate (language, culture and other), they were not welcomed to stay.

In Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean … Australia.

I saw Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the modern refugee camps for Yemenites, Syrians, Somalians, South Sudanese, Haitians, Burmese, Dalits, Mexicans and Latin American people, and so many others; being refused entry. By us. The church. Because they didn’t fit the profile. Because we have too many of them in our country and they are so lazy, ignorant, difficult, Other.

She brought me back to reality with her heartfelt prayers, spoken to One with whom she was passionately familiar. She helped me understand how to walk in the shoes of another. As she continued to make a difference in this country, one story at a time, one life at a time. For better. For God’s glory. May we all be like her in looking beyond herself to impact transformation for others.

About the author :

Rev. Nicole Ashwood serves as WCC programme executive for a Just Community of Women and Men since 1 November 2018. She is a minister of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, a graduate of both the Bossey Ecumenical Institute and Eden Theological Seminary (USA). She has experience in forming regional ecumenical partnerships that address domestic violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.