What is powerful enough to challenge 60 million refugees's troubles? What emboldens a young man to circumnavigate the planet without using any motors so he can promote sustainability and social justice? Compassion: the kindness of strangers.
Not yet a month ago in our small town in the big western mountains, one long-retired engineer got to his feet (with some difficulty) and declared "I have to do something about all those refugees, even if only helping a couple families." While others incited fear, he saw an opportunity for kindness.
This one person found three others of like mind before the week was out. Week two, there were 15 of us calling ourselves the Kimberley Refugee Resettlement Group and choosing teams to figure out how to move forward. Double that number had come forward by week three, not including others known to be ready, willing, eager but, not unreasonably, "don't do meetings."
Though remarkably selfless by the standards of nihilist politicians and media, we, and millions of others around the world, are learning essential lessons about engaging with refugees. Already climate change is generating displaced persons in the hundreds of thousands. Even with the Paris Agreement, refugee numbers will soon grow by factors of 10, perhaps hundreds, all over the Earth. The current condition allows us to prepare by learning rather than failing to prepare by hiding, pretending, denying or blaming.
Equally significant are the enduring effects that we are reaping from this project as individuals -- and as a community -- strangers to each other as recently as Thanksgiving.
The local Library's offer of neutral space to gather (and waived meeting room fees) brought people in who'd not darkened their doors for years; instead of the daunting task of seeking nonprofit status, a national denomination won some new friends by offering to be our Sponsorship Agreement Holder; the local Credit Union's eagerness to handle our contributions -- keeping our donations here at home instead of some far off corporate HQ's account -- has won it new customers; the City has made itself more attractive to others by proudly signing on; in-kind services from the local Chamber of Commerce and service organizations are enhancing the missions of each and all; and on it goes. Each and all, we're embodying our self-definition as "a good place to be ..."
In our own case, we might easily have missed the chance to engage in conversation with Markus Pukonen, that audacious young adventurer mentioned above. And what a loss that would have been! He's out to support positive change in the entire world and meeting him was a direct result of our small town's eagerness to help relocate refugees. How? Someone I'd not met before the Refugee Relocation Group came together invited us for supper. She wanted her husband -- who works for the Canadian Wildlife Federation -- to tell us about Markus and his Routes of Change. More than just an adventure, Markus is going -- alone -- on a motor-free, five year excursion to find people around the world "who need our support in creating ... a new, sustainable way of life on earth."
Fear of strangers has no place in Markus' vision of the world. Anything but reckless, he is in fact counting on human kindness. He also rejoices that his muscles alone will power him for ±1,800 days through every conceivable environment. Nature's kindness -- sometimes manifested by humans -- are also part of his calculations.
Whether or not you are among those celebrating the birth of a baby two millennia ago to a homeless young couple sheltered among farm animals, we all do well to remember the kindness of strangers. And perhaps we should also listen up for an angel or two of our own, calling to us, "Fear Not!" We're all connected, even to people we have yet to meet, and to a planet we're learning, again, to respect.