Seeing the Need, Serving the Stateless

September 28, 2015

Ashley al-Saliby

BEIRUT: “Head and shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes!”  The children giggled as they bent down and straightened up, bent down and straightened up. This time with Gladys, Noelle, and others from the Baptist Children and Youth Ministry (BCYM) on Friday mornings is special to the kids gathered in the activity room at the orphanage where they live. A few minutes later, they settled quietly into a circle on the floor (well, as quietly as wiggly six and seven year olds can be!) to listen to the Bible story. Gladys’s gentleness and affection is a refreshing gift in their lives.

Seeing the Need, Serving the Stateless

The BCYM team engages some of the youngest children at an orphanage they visit each week. (Photo: Jessica Sebali)

On another day, members of the BCYM team visit the orphanage to spend time with the teenagers who have found a place of refuge there. Again, their presence is welcome.  They come with games to play, a keyboard for praise songs, a Bible for encouragement and truth, and an arm around the shoulder. But the most impactful gift is the time BCYM invests, and the relationships that are cultivated through it.

The women and men who serve with BCYM spend their lives reaching out to many groups of children in a variety of contexts. What makes this opportunity to give love in Jesus’ name unique? Although the children at this particular orphanage are well cared for by the tireless service of the orphanage’s full time staff, their day to day lives are characterized by a lot of empty hours and, potentially, some nagging hopelessness. That’s because access to the school system isn’t a privilege they enjoy. In fact, many of the rights and privileges other children can take for granted worldwide are inaccessible to the kids at this orphanage because of one word that describes their reality: statelessness.

Older children get to express their creativity through an art project during BCYM's weekly programming.

Older children get to express their creativity through an art project during BCYM’s weekly programming. (Photo: Jessica Sebali)

To be stateless means that you’re not legally claimed by any country. Lacking “nationality,” a “stateless person is seen and treated as a foreigner everywhere, as a national nowhere.” It can be hard for many of us to imagine the implications of existing without the documentation and rights that we’ve never had to question, but several million people worldwide navigate their lives with seemingly insurmountable obstacles through no fault of their own. Statelessness can result when the nationality laws of two countries conflict, leaving an individual or family in a legal “no man’s land.” It can happen during the chaotic formation of a new nation, when documentation that will affect lives and families for generations can easily slip through the cracks. Sometimes it comes about as a result of discrimination, as minority groups are refused nationality, or when laws do not permit a mother to pass on her nationality to her child. In this case, if a father is not present to grant nationality to the child, or when he himself is stateless, a new human life begins with no government feeling any obligation to him or her. This prevents access to the resources that only citizens enjoy, which often involves exclusion from education. [1]

MEBO’s partners making up the Lebanese Baptist Society addressing issues of Educational and Social crisis in Lebanon (LSESD) are uniquely equipped and positioned to work, in Jesus’ name, for the good of the diverse human stories being played out in Lebanon today. The genuine care of the LSESD staff and volunteer teams, like those who serve children and youth with BCYM, is demonstrated through their willingness to engage and innovate when they encounter a unique need.  Whether it’s winterization packets and food gifts to refugees, advocating for and resourcing kids with learning differences, or training the leaders of the church in the Arab World, LSESD, led by Executive Director Nabil Costa, sees the complexity of the needs around it and mobilizes the Church to serve in tangible ways. Statelessness, a widespread human rights issue in urgent need of resolution around the globe in the coming years, is an issue touched by the extensive vision of this team. Does the consistent love and attention of the BCYM team address the systemic injustices and neglect that cause statelessness? Not directly. But if your stateless reality means being invisible in so many crucial aspects of life, there’s a far-reaching value when someone stoops to look into your eyes, listen to your story, and commit to be part of it long-term. There’s hope to be had when a group like LSESD, with the capacity and desire to serve strategically and compassionately, sees your need.

[1] Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, “The World’s Stateless,” http://www.institutesi.org/worldsstateless.pdf. Accessed September 8, 2015.

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