God sees the plight of refugees. He hates the injustice that leads to their displacement from home and country. The church, called to emulate God’s character, must also care about the hardships of refugees. One way to do so is to incorporate into a worship service a celebration of God’s just character and a call to care for refugees by performing this drama.
In some Canadian churches, Refugee Sunday will take place on April 6, 2008. Even though your church may not set aside a particular Sunday to remember refugees, any worship service can be a time to focus on God’s love for justice and our responsibility to work for it, to think about the suffering of refugees, and to pray for their deliverance.
Participants: Reader 1, Reader 2, and Refugee (nonspeaking part; performs actions as directed during the readings)
Props: Sturdy but lightweight wooden bench about six feet (two meters) long, two podiums, a table covered by burlap, seven large white candles, matches
Set: Reader 1 and Reader 2 stand behind podiums set on opposite sides of the stage. Refugee sits on bench at center stage. Table with seven unlit candles stands at center stage behind the bench.
Scene 1: Bench as Bed of Visions
Reader 1: I am not a statistic. I am a human being made in the image of God. I am an African refugee. I am from Sudan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea—from places of displacement, war, genocide, rape, torture, bodily dismemberment, and death. God sees me. I am not a nameless one, nor am I part of a nameless mass.
[Reader 1 lights all seven candles during the next reading. Refugee lies down on the bench as if sleeping.]
Reader 2: Once as I slept I had a vision. In my vision I saw God taking masses of paper printed with statistics about refugees—just numbers, not a name among them! He crumpled the papers in his mighty fist. Then he took an immense book, and when he opened it he began to read the names of all the refugees in all the camps in all the nations of the world. As he did so, I heard a lament, repeated again and again without ceasing: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4). Meanwhile God continued to read the list of names. Then I heard him say my name. Instantly I woke from my dream [Refugee sits up and looks up at the ceiling, wiping imaginary tears] and my face was wet with tears. God had not forgotten me, even though many times on my journey I thought he had.
Scene 2: Bench as Seat of Power
Reader 1: Let me tell you my story. Like the stories of many refugees, it all began far from the village where I was born. [Refugee gets up from bench, carries it to the far side of the stage in front of Reader 1.] Men in power and men longing for power sat on their benches [Refugee sets bench down, then walks slowly and fearfully across the stage and cowers in front of Reader 2] in their war meetings, devising their wicked schemes. They wanted land and oil. They wanted guns and diamonds and drugs. They wanted other resources. They wanted women and children to use for their evil purposes—for sex, as slaves, as soldiers. So they left their comfortable benches and put their hellish plans into action.
Reader 2: They were like the wicked the psalmist spoke about: “There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; they have ceased to be wise and to do good. Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong” (Ps. 36:1-4).
Reader 1: Oh, how we cowered when we heard the rumors of their monstrous destruction! Would we ever experience peace again?
[Refugee gets up and blows out one candle; moves bench to center stage.]
Scene 3: Bench as Tree
Reader 1: And so the wicked men came. [Refugee stands bench up on one end, hides behind it.] Soldiers destroyed my village. My family and I fled for our lives, hiding in the forest, praying that the trees would block us from the enemy’s view. But the trees couldn’t block the memories that continue to haunt us day and night, memories of the slaughter, the village burning. Acrid smoke in our nostrils, our crops and livestock destroyed.
Reader 2: Hiding, I cried the psalmist’s words: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me” (Ps. 69:1-4).
Reader 1: Oh, how we trembled as we hid! Would we ever be safe again?
[Refugee sets down bench lengthwise, facing the congregation, and blows out second candle.]
Scene 4: Bench as Road
[As the next section is read, Refugee stands on the bench, bent over as if walking with a heavy load.]
Reader 1: We traveled a long, long time to get away from our enemies. Most of the “roads” we traveled were no roads at all—unmarked ways, forest paths, dried-up streams, desert trails. In the heat of day, in the dark of night, we cried and prayed as we moved forward, carrying everything we owned on our backs. Then we arrived at a refugee camp.
Reader 2: We weren’t the first refugees and we won’t be the last. Always there are refugees. Walking to the refugee camp, I remembered what the prophet Isaiah had said: “Refugees stream to Zoar and then on to Eglath-shelishiyah. Up the slopes of Luhith they weep; on the road to Horonaim they cry their loss. The springs of Nimrim are dried up—grass brown, buds stunted, nothing grows. They leave, carrying all their possessions on their backs, everything they own, making their way as best they can across Willow Creek to safety. Poignant cries reverberate all through Moab, gut-wrenching sobs as far as Eglaim, heart-racking sobs all the way to Beer-elim” (Isa. 15:5-8, The Message).
Reader 1: Oh, how we suffered as we traveled! Would we ever find rest again?
[Refugee steps off the bench and blows out third candle.]
Scene 5: Bench as Material to Build a Home
[As the next section is read, Refugee picks up bench, holding it as if it were building material.]
Reader 1: In the refugee camp we received tree limbs and other materials to build a hut like the simple ones we had in our native land. But even then we didn’t feel safe. People in the refugee camp were suspicious of us. We didn’t speak their language. We didn’t wear the same type of clothing they wore. Some thought we had been involved in political activity back home that had injured people they loved.
[Refugee sets bench down and kneels beside it.]
Reader 2: When our hut was built, I prayed to God: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Ps. 61:2-4).
Reader 1: Oh, how our hearts ached from homesickness! Would we ever be able to go home again?
[Refugee gets up from kneeling position and blows out fourth candle.]
Scene 6: Bench as Table
[As the next section is read, Refugee sits on the floor by the bench as if at a low table. Grips stomach as if suffering hunger pangs. Looks left, and then right, as if gazing compassionately at the children.]
Reader 1: There was never enough food for our table. We were always hungry. To see my children go hungry was a kind of death for me.
Reader 2: I remembered that the psalmist David said, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Ps. 37:25). As my stomach growled, as my children’s stomachs growled, we clung to the Bread of Life [Refugee kneels in prayer] asking him to provide us with our daily bread and never to forsake us.
Reader 1: Oh, how we longed for full bellies! Would we ever be satisfied again?
[Refugee gets up and blows out fifth candle.]
Scene 7: Bench as Sick Bed and Coffin
[As the next section is read, Refugee sits on the bench as if it is a bed on which a child is dying; pantomimes rubbing sick child’s back.]
Reader 1: My child, my precious child, became ill. We watched helplessly as he wasted away. And then he died. [pause] Everything we had faced thus far—war, escaping from our countries, fear, traveling dangerous paths, oppression, and hunger—all these things were nothing compared to losing him. I made a small box and placed his shrunken body in it. [Pause as Refugee lifts bench and carries it as if it were a coffin.] We took him to the cemetery at the entrance to the camp where piles of stones marked the graves of others who had gone before him.
[Refugee walks across the stage, sets bench down in front of Reader 1. Covers head with hand to protect from the sun; uses other hand to wipe away tears.]
Reader 2: Standing there with the blazing sun beating on my head, I remembered what the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah, “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jer. 31:15).
Reader 1: Oh, how our tears flowed! Would we ever laugh again?
[Refugee leaves bench and blows out sixth candle.]
Scene 8: Bench as School Bench
[As the next section is read, Refugee returns bench to center stage; sits as if a school-aged child reading an imaginary book.]
Reader 1: I sent my other children to the school in the refugee camp. A thousand children in simple thatch-roofed buildings sat ten to a bench in front of long tables, their little bodies pressed against each other as they tried to learn. With hardly any resources, the principal and the teachers did what they could. I wanted my children to have an education. But I knew that education wasn’t the hope of their future. Look at all the people in power, the ones who use power against those who are powerless! Has the education they received made our futures any brighter?
Reader 2: I knew that following God’s path was the only hope for my children’s future. I wanted them to learn to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8).
Reader 1: Oh, how I hoped for a brighter future for my children! Would they ever experience such a future on this earth?
[Refugee gets off the bench and blows out seventh candle.]
Scene 9: Bench as Cross
[As the next section is read, Refugee stands bench up, leans slightly forward with bench resting against back. Arms extended; head droops to portray Jesus on the cross.]
Reader 1: There was a church in the refugee camp. On the wall, I saw a wooden cross with a carving of Jesus’ body on it. Seeing the cross reminded me that every day Jesus meets us in our suffering.
Reader 2: I remembered that Jesus too was a refugee. When he was very young, “an angel of the Lord appeared to [his father] Joseph in a dream. “‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him’” (Matt. 2:13). Jesus and his family had to escape their homeland, just as we did.
Reader 1: Oh, Jesus, how you suffered!
[Refugee sets bench down.]
Scene 10: Bench as Bed of Visions
[As the next section is read, Refugee lies down on bench.]
Reader 1: At the end of each day I was exhausted. Before I fell asleep, I wondered: Would I spend the rest of my life here in this refugee camp, waiting, waiting, and waiting some more? Would my native land ever be safe again so I could return home? Or would someone in a faraway land help me to leave the camp and start a new life? The questions weren’t answered, but by some miracle, I slept.
Reader 2: And I had visions, each different from the next. I already told you about the one in which God called out my name. I didn’t always understand my dreams. But the one about the trees made sense to me: There is a tree and I am hiding behind it. It is a small tree that cannot shelter me from the enemy’s eyes. I try to shrink so he will not see me. But he is coming! I am trembling. I know I will die. But suddenly I am in another place, by another tree. The small tree is gone. The enemy is gone. I do not know how I know it, but I am certain of what I know. The tree I am looking at is “the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).
[Refugee sits up on bench, expresses joy and amazement. As the next line is read, stands up and raises hands in praise.]
Reader 1: Yes, the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations!
[Refugee leaves bench to light the candles. When the candles are lit, he/she takes two at a time and places them on the bench, starting at ends and working inward. Lifts seventh candle—a symbol of Christ—high and sets it in the center of bench. Candles symbolize redemptive hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.]
[Exit Reader 1, Reader 2, and Refugee.]
[Moment of silence]