QUITO, Ecuador — In my work with refugees, I’ve realized that sometimes simply creating spaces for people is a powerful way to change the human experience.
These are spaces where people feel a sense of belonging, where they can recreate traditions and create new memories to begin to heal their wounds and trauma.
Does this erase the past or bring things back to normal? No. Much of the damage caused by war and displacement will never fully be repaired. But improving the present is a worthwhile task and can give hope for the future.
This year, the team at Quito Mennonite Church’s Colombian Refugee Project, where I’ve served for four years through Mennonite Mission Network, decided to create a Christmas celebration space for refugees in an attempt to provide enjoyment in the midst of tough circumstances.
Add to that space a healthy-sized guest list, some Christmas decorations, a touch of Colombian Christmas music, a splash of Christmas foods, a pinch of games for kids, and you have yourself a recipe for what we experienced as a few hours of Christmas joy in what otherwise would have been a bland and tasteless Christmas season for many.
We shared a delicious meal together. We talked about how the natilla, a custard-like Colombian Christmas dessert, tasted just like Colombia. We sang traditional songs together, laughed together and learned to know each other better. The children went home with a small gift.
Together, we made the Christmas season a little bit more joyous for everyone, even if it was just for a few hours.
For the first time in four years, I saw some Christmas cheer among the faces in the crowd and heard positive comments from people who were thankful for a space to belong and celebrate.
And that, for me, was a great Christmas gift.
At Christmas and through the year, I hope we all will be aware of those in our communities who need our presence, our friendship and our generosity — those who are waiting for us to create a space for them.
Just as loneliness, despair and hunger know no boundaries or holidays, may we, too, live each day with our eyes open to see and our hands ready to create spaces for the children of God who have been pushed to the margins.
David Shenk is a mission worker in Quito, Ecuador, with Mennonite Mission Network and Virginia Mennonite Missions.