Transplants: The Broccoli and the Burmese
This summer I’ve been interning at the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee, learning how urban agriculture can positively impact communities and empower individuals. But the lessons that will really stick with me is how hard it is to grow plants and how hard it is to be a refugee.
It was transplant day in the garden. We met early in the morning, bringing trays full of the baby broccolis and cabbages. As the sun rose on the day the gardeners began to drive in, with their families and Burmese dishes in tow. They set the food they prepared on the table and approached the plant trays to receive their allotment of plants. After receiving their 10 broccolis and 10 cabbages, it was time to plant.
They went to their plots and tilled the soil there, making sure the ground was soft for the young plants. Then they dug small holes, filling them with compost so that there were plenty of nutrients. Then the plant went into the ground, as gently as possible, and dirt was filled in around it, up to the lowest leaf to give support to the fragile stem. Dixie cups with the bottoms cut out were put around the small plants to give them extra structure during the hot days. Then the young plants were watered – a lot. They would need extra hydration if they were going to survive the move. Then some metal wiring was bent at each end of the rows and draped with a thin white netting that would protect the plants from pests and other deterrents until they were strong enough to withstand the elements.
After transplanting was complete it was time to eat lunch. The 24 gardeners and their families welcomed us to the table that was adorned with different varieties of Burmese cuisine. “Jessica, you’ll love this,” or “Jessica, you have to eat this,” or “Jessica, you’ll want more of that,” was repeated as I moved through our buffet line. Dishes with noodles and mustard leaves and kimchi and bamboo shoots filled my plate. After I was done someone handed me a piping hot glass of green tea – perfect for sitting in the midday sun after a morning of intense manual labor. I watched the gardeners all around, laughing and yelling in Burmese, while the children sat in cars blasting Burmese pop music parked around the garden.
We soon returned to work, but the jovial mood did not subside. All of the gardeners worked diligently in their gardens, occasionally taking a break to walk around and encourage their friends, complimenting their beautiful peppers or lettuce heads. "You do a great job!" some would say to me as they walked by my ever-growing pile of pulled weeds.
As I observed it all happening I couldn’t help but appreciate the great metaphor that the garden presented. These gardeners are also transplants here. They are new and fragile and vulnerable to the elements. But the work that is done at CRIT provides a safe place for these people to grow strong and be empowered in their new home. These gardens provide a haven for people who are fleeing danger. This community provides a net of protection to the most vulnerable as they enter into a brave new world.
There are more than 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, and more than 60,000 of them live in my hometown. They have overcome and currently endure things that are far more than I could ever venture to imagine. Even if they escape the heinous tragedy occurring in their homes they are often subject to low-income manual labor, desperate situations, manipulation by those of the host culture, trafficking, and slavery.
The heart of God pursues the minority, the oppressed, the ostracized, the victimized, the traumatized. God is the eternal home of the foreigner. He commands his people to treat them with equality, show them love, bring them into community, and extend the inheritance of God to them.
May of us living in the midst of one of history's greatest humanitarian crises must not turn to hate, fear, or discrimination. The refugee crisis is not merely a political issue, but an opportunity for the people of God to react with love and hospitality to a people longing for welcome. May service, hospitality, advocacy, and prayer abound in the name of God and of the oppressed. May God's people be overcome by the cause to reach the nations, to form a protective hedge around these people, and to lead them to citizenship in a Kingdom that can never be shaken.