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Pass the Oranges

We kept pausing to pass out oranges. Listening to their stories, we were overwhelmed with the horror of what these women had endured. Three years in captivity with militant fundamentalists had etched wounds on both hearts and faces. There were moments of heavy silence, as they seemed to recall stories which could not be spoken. Our team from the peace camp didn’t know what to do with such pain. Yet the sweetness of the oranges was meant to remind us all, in some small way, that life could go on. A taste of hope.

We hadn’t asked them to share. We had come to the refugee camp only to love them, not to re-open their wounds. But we had barely made it through our introductions before they began talking. So we listened, deeply disturbed by the potential of evil to rob human beings of their dignity. 

Yet these women still had such dignity, sitting there, eating oranges. 

We asked one of the younger girls if she would now go to school. She shook her head. Maybe one day. But not yet. She had been rescued only fifteen days earlier. 

In the silence, we heard children playing outside, children conceived in captivity. It sounded like my street in North America. But everything else was different. I have no idea what it’s like to live in a refugee camp in a makeshift tent in the scorching heat. I have never had helicopters circle me with video cameras while my people experienced a violent genocide. I have never become an item in the international news, being known about, but never known, never asked how I was feeling. 

We asked permission to pray before leaving, unsure of how this would be received. But suddenly we found ourselves in a circle, holding hands. They smiled, more than we had yet seen, even as tears spilled down their faces. We lifted our requests to the Father, asking him to bring back their husbands and their sons, asking him to heal their wounds, asking for his blessing. 

My cheeks were kissed more than a dozen times before we left. All of us were embraced, our hands and shoulders squeezed tightly. We didn’t deserve such gratitude, and it made me cringe. What had we given? A listening ear? Empathy? We could barely comprehend such suffering. All we could do was to sit still, witness their pain and pray. Perhaps that was the best thing we had to offer. 

That, and the oranges.

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