First, before I dive into the thoughts of my mind I should inform you all of Michael. I’ve had the wonderful gift of be able to teach Michael since the first lesson, the Restoration. (though I cannot and do not wish to take credit for finding him….that was before my time here) Michael’s parent’s are from Uganda and he has grown up on the streets of Göteborg. He is a seriously talented hip hop dancer and is obsessed with the NBA (ha! a Swedish first) and wears the baggiest pants in Sweden. (baggy pants in Sweden? another Swedish first) He has truly come to fall in love with the gospel, sometimes coming to the YSA centre during the day just to sit and read from the Book of Mormon. If all falls into place we should be baptized this upcoming Saturday.
And now for the thoughts of my mind:
Every week, there are more and more refugees with all they own in the world in just a few Ikea blue bags sitting at cold bus stops in the pouring rain, lost in this strange new land with no money and absolutely no Swedish. The other day, a family of five young Syrian children lead by one very tired but very strong mother and no father hauled their mere four bags off the train as I boarded. The rain was more of a tempest than anything, and this destitute family of young children and a single mother, coming from terrors I couldn’t dream of certainly in Syria, were standing utterly lost on the platform for an small empty Swedish town in a bitter rain storm. They clearly had no idea where they were supposed to go, and they only had thin donated sweaters not sufficient for the weather. My heart sank seeing this from my warm, comfortable train seat as I sped off to downtown Göteborg. The giant gaudy Christmas decked out malls I walked past once I reached inner city Göteborg, looked a little less attractive with the thought of those freezing young war torn children out in the rain. I see refugees and work with refugees every day. I see sights far more devastating than this one all the time but for whatever reason, this small snatch of memory was plastered across my eyes for the rest of the day. It made me feel so very very powerless. Nothing I could do would adequately help the millions of suffering refugees.
That night, as this hopeless guilt was weighing upon me as I prayed, I received the overwhelming comfort that only comes at such an amplitude a few times in life; the warmth you cannot define as anything but the Spirit. I knew from that invisible hug that, obviously no, I could not save every refugee in this world and fairly give out to their needs, but I’m not expected to. No one is. I’m just expected to do all I can for those within my reach. To go after the one. There is aid that can only be done, and must be done, through governmental and humanitarian organisations…. And just as important as taking care of the large scale needs is also us, the individual, taking care of their individual needs that the much needed governmental programs cannot give. You see, we need both. Cutting the organisations that attend to the masses is stupid. The individual helping the individual alone will not sufficiently attend to even a fraction of the problem. But likewise, only the big organisations will not be enough. These people need a personal helping hand, tailored to them as their unique self. Each one is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven. My responsibility right here and now is to take care of the one. The individual soul. God loves each one of us personally. Jesus suffered the pains and afflictions for each one of us personally. If missionary work is the Lord’s work, shouldn’t it therefore be for each soul at a personal level? Instead of fussing over how to effectively and efficiently get x amount of numbers out of x amount of numbers to produce the highest amount of product x, we should stop and think, “if God wanted the entire population to be humbled to conversion he could do that himself… That is not what I’m here to do. I’m here for the individual. I’m here for each soul personally. I am not here to smartly run a business. Missionary work is not a corporate business. It is a personal relationship.”
But how to attend to each individual? Well that is the tricky part. For it is unique to each case obviously and requires no small amount of spiritual direction. It is something I cannot pretend I have down. It is something I’m learning.
In the very moment all of this was going through my head as I was preparing for bed on Friday night, a member texted informing us there had been a massacre in Paris. A few minutes later it had become several massacres. Six massacres. All of Europe went into a panic. The next day on the streets everything felt and looked different. The newspapers front pages and train tv screens showed the terrors of the night before and the already very quiet Swedes seemed extra quiet. The whole day seemed to have a dark foreboding blanket over it. By that evening, another member informed us the prime minister was wishing to seal the borders from refugees. Several EU countries already had in reaction to the terrorist attack. And thus we see the greatest weapon Isis has; fear. More lives will be lost from us denying refuge for the thousands of asylum seekers than will ever be lost in all the bombs and shootings Isis will ever inflict on European soil.
But what can I do? I can do what I can for those here and pray safety is soon found for all those Europe will now deny. I don’t have a solution for how to resolve this, but I do know what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t let this fear send us down into the pit of bigotry to all immigrants. Then what are we? We will be becoming just like our enemy. How can we combat the bigotry of Isis if we become bigoted ourselves? We cannot waste this time fighting amongst ourselves. We need to love one another. We need to be united! Yes even with the Slytherins. I’m sounding like the sorting hat in the fifth book. But hey, the world is looking rather Harry Potter these days. I could expound on the Ministry of Magic and mud blood treatment metaphor but that would probably get too political for a missionary blog. All I have to say on it is, as a representative of Jesus Chris,t I must deliver his message. And his message to all, whether the disheartened street beggar or the politically charged anti-immigrant member is “as I have loved you, love one another.” The church has released a request to it’s members to do their part for these refugees. Read it. I highly recommend it.
This is a week I will never forget. I’m sure the terrorist attacks in Paris was devastating back home in the USA…. But it was quite a unique experience to live it while in Europe, where the problems are here, the people that ran from Isis are on these streets, and the Paranoia is rich. It was a week that left me with a very very heavy heart. I had a great deal of fun experiences that I wanted to share from this week but I can’t really get myself to type them out. I’m just aching for the world right now. For the people of Paris. For the people of Syria. For the asylum seekers who now only see closed gates.
My mission has definitely changed me. I’m very different from the Erik Scott that left PDX airport almost exactly a year ago. (My year mark is on Thursday!) I have left my comfortable life to be right in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since World War Two. Right in the heart of it. It isn’t just something I’m listening about on NPR news on the drive to Trader Joe’s anymore. This is history I’m a part of, and it has changed me. I distinctly remember as the plane took off from Portland and flew over the then snow covered city, past my house hidden among the white topped fur trees on the edge of the long string of the Columbia river, we swung around Mt. Hood (the first photo on this memory card!) and I thought to myself, “how different will I be the next time I fly over this mountain?” Well, a year later I can say I’ll be very different the next time I see Mt. Hood. The mission has changed me and is changing me. All for the better. Thank you mum and dad for raising me in this gospel. I would have nothing without it and without you.
From the rainy land of Oregon to the rainy land of Sweden I have grown so very much. In my testimony, in the capacity of my heart, in everything.
Wish you all were here and I was there with you all and yet my mission can last forever. It’s just a jumble of feelings.