Friday, January 15, 2016

Refugees: An Uncomfortable, Relevant Issue

Lately, the dire struggles of refugees have been ever present in media and in corporate prayers. Children and teens are interested in these migrations because they are compelling stories that directly relate to the status of children & youth in general. Moreover, immigrant children are in many classrooms and churches so avoiding this difficult, controversial subject doesn’t make sense. 
Picture books offer an opportunity to present uncomfortable issues to children and teens in a non-threatening story context. With sensitivity to your audience’s maturity and perspective, you can intelligently encourage faith development that is meaningful and current. Besides, the scriptures are clear that this issue is important.

I recently heard an interview on my favorite podcast, On Being. Krista Tippet’s guest Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a retired leader of British Judaism said, “…the one command reiterated more than any other in the Mosaic box (36 times) is 'love the stranger, for you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt.'” Then he offered a contemporary version incorporating the Great Commandment. “Love the stranger because to him you’re a stranger.”

Here’s another scriptural argument for treating refugees with loving intention: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for therefore some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2)

In Matthew 25, Jesus explains that when we welcome strangers, we welcome Jesus. It seems clear to me that we are being asked to welcome and help, though I realize, such gestures and positions can be very complicated and risky.

Here I offer 3 books about refugees and 3 very difficult migrations. There will likely be more picture books published about this issue so don’t consider this an exhaustive list but rather a small sampling.


I recommend prayerful discernment when choosing the appropriate book and the position you put forth. Note the appropriate age recommendations. Be sensitive when delivering the material and supplemental activities you design. I'm glad to help you with that for a small fee. Just contact me via a comment. Help your children and youth connect to these issues by exploring what they have in common with the characters. Be sure to end with a hopeful tone and a sense that your church, either globally or locally, is trying to be Christ for these people because they are Christ to you. 

The first PBT offering is a new book that involves a young daughter and her father traveling through Mexico into the US. There is danger and boredom here. The images are quite realistic and the child is quite young. The two rabbits are symbolic of freedom at the end, but no resolution to the family's need for freedom, work, and safety are given. This story is about the journey and the longing. There are some remarks about refugees in the back.
Picture Book: Two White Rabbits
Author: Jairo Buitrago
Illustrator: Rafael Yockteng
Original Publisher & Date: Groundwood Books, 2015
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 6 and up, 1st and up
Formats other than Book: None at present

Next I offer a Coretta Scott King Honor book. Here young boys are alone and fleeing their war-torn homes in Sudan. As they travel, their numbers grow, eventually reaching a refugee camp where they meet Tom, an American. Going to school in that camp is highlighted. Because of war in Ethiopia, they must leave the camp and cross a river. This is frightening, but they are all reunited with friends and Tom. After many years, they are told they will travel to America. There is an inspirational element to this book, including references to prayers, which makes it all the more appealing for a faith-based context. An Afterward offers background information and details for the Lost Boys Foundation.
Picture Book: Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan
Author: Mary Williams
Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
Original Publisher & Date: Lee & Low Books, 2005
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 7 and up, 2nd and up
Formats other than Book: None at present

This last book has been around for a while. Traditionally it is a book with the Thanksgiving holidays in mind, but it can be read any time of year. It is likely this family is from Cuba since they travel to America by boat. Their motor breaks though and they must sail for a long time. They are robbed by fellow seafarers and given food by a military contingent. Eventually they reach the shores of America and are welcomed in, another reason why these are likely Cuban refugees who, unlike those from other countries, are allowed to immigrate if they reach US soil. The Thanksgiving meal at the close is particularly meaningful to the refugees who have now found a new home. 
Picture Book: How Many Days to America?
Author: Eve Bunting
Illustrator: Beth Peck
Original Publisher & Date: Clarion Books, 1988
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet