Dostoyevsky in Djibouti

“The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom…it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Djibouti Refugee Camp

Ali Addeh Refugee Camp, Djibouti

Mankind – made in the image of God. We are told this in the first chapter of the Bible. In Genesis 1:26 God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” Not only this, but God also blessed mankind and gave mankind a mandate. In Genesis 1:28 God says, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Be fruitful. Have dominion. This is the purpose set out for mankind by God in the beginning.

What does this mean practically for the way we live in today’s world? Specifically, what does this mean for Believers who not only bear the image of God as all of humanity, but are also remade in the image of Jesus Christ? At this stage of my life on a broad scale this means for me to take the gifts, skills, knowledge, and heart that God has given me to further God’s Kingdom here on earth. To have dominion and rule over the earth means to work on this earth in a way that furthers God’s kingdom.

When I try to narrow this mandate down to a more specific and granular level I begin to realize the brokenness within myself. I begin to see my inability to truly carry out this mandate on my own. I experienced this more recently on a research trip to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

I was working on my master’s thesis, which was titled “Gaining Water for Life: Water Provision for Refugees in Djibouti.” My thesis not only was for academic purposes, but the final report would offer recommendations to a humanitarian organization working in the country. All of the research I had done leading up to the trip was deeply challenging me. The refugees in this particular camp – Ali Addeh were living off about 12 liters per person per day (the UN standard for refugees is about 20 liters per person per day – we typically use 20 liters in 2 minutes of showering). The data was shocking me, hurting me, and depressing me. My heart was breaking for the women and children who spent most of their day collecting water, carrying heavy jerry cans back and forth from their tattered, unsanitary shelters. Water was not the only problem these refugees faced – it was just one of the many: fleeing war, loved ones killed, disease, starvation, rape. How would I react when I actually arrived if I already had trouble facing these facts?

The day finally came when after arriving to Djibouti we drove to Ali Addeh. With a group of four others in a Toyota Jeep we rode out into the desert. The purpose of us going to the camp was for me to collect data on the water situation at the camp. I had found some data through my research, but there were a lot of holes. Driving into the camp I began to realize that I was actually here. I was standing in the midst of the place I had researched, seen pictures of, thought about and cried over for the past five months. I looked around and I struggled to take in the amount of people with looks of hopelessness on their faces. My heart sank deeper; I was going to help save these people?

Dostoevsky_140-190_for_collage-Wiki-Cr.-CommonsAlthough Dostoevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov in November of 1880, his insight into the human mind is still relevant for today. The quote above is from a dialogue between a monk and a doctor. The doctor is the one being quoted. It is the job of the doctor to save people – he went into his profession to do just that. I placed that quote above because is resonates with what happened to me in the Ali Addeh refugee camp in February of 2015.

After arriving to the camp and seeing what I felt to be my calling to love this community and do them justice with my research and work, I begin to be pulled into the reality of life as a refugee. As I went around to collect data I grew increasingly frustrated that there were not any consistent answers to be found. I struggled to believe what the director of the camp was telling me because it was inconsistent with my previous research. I struggled to believe the answers individual refugees were giving me because I felt like they just wanted to get something from me. I trusted my translator, but another Djiboutian that worked at the camp and spoke English followed us around and seemed to be feeding the refugees we interviewed answers that were probably not true. The situation was desperate – there is no doubt of that. However, it was as though they we trying to ensure I realized it was desperate by not providing straight answers, which only left me without good data and even more irritated.

I loved the refugee community. My heart broke for those who had lost everything only to be put into a situation where they had nothing. But when face to face with a Somali man telling me one minute that the pipe system works and the next minute that it doesn’t have power – I was angry and love was not in my heart.

Each of the refugees bears the image of God – they are all made in His likeness. I can say that about any community, any people group and any sub-culture. I hear Christians like me saying all the time that we need to love the Muslim community, love the gay community, love the homeless community. The problem is are we actually loving individuals in that community? Are we actually being fruitful in uplifting God’s image and cherishing God’s image in others? Are we being fruitful in spreading the image of Christ through love to an individual person?

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I set out on a mission to use the position God has given me in this world, not only intellectually and materialistically but spiritually with my salvation in Christ to bring a solution to the refugees in Djibouti. Instead I became self-righteous and bitter, unable to love because I did not rely on Christ to help me fulfill the mandate God has given me.

I have great regrets over the attitude I had while at the refugee camp. After returning, my heart was a wreck trying to reconcile the differences between the comforts I have and their desperate situation. I am trying now to wrestle through what it means for me to feel called to fight against the injustices of the vulnerable and bear God’s image in the process. Not only that, but how do I learn to love people who are made in God’s image up close rather than loving them and being invested in their cause only from afar? If I am to bear God’s image on this earth, to be fruitful in my outward expression and extension of Christ, and to allow His image to rule through me each day, then I must learn to love truly and serve my neighbors also created in God’s image.

How do I love the people who are up close in my life right now, even the ones who manipulate and deceive me?

 

Baylee Molloy works in international development and is a participant in the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.  She has a Master’s from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.

Images (thumbnail): Vasily Perov [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Tim Hilliard

    Baylee, thank you for sharing these reflections. In addition to your questions about how we are called to love people who are part of communities that can be described as something other than explicitly Christian or subgroups within the Christian community, your particular story taps into some of my own questions about the world and discerning our mission field or fields within it. I question where I am called to serve. Of course there is brokenness in refugee camps across the world just as there is brokenness in our own backyards, and without presently having a sense of my calling, I believe that even if God calls us to serve many communities in many places, He also gives us an understanding of our limits and equips us with many different gifts as part of one body. To add on to your question of How Do We Love, I guess I also ask Where Do We Go?

  • Katelyn

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a personal God we serve. Yes, sometimes he is the God that feeds his people with manna and quail. But sometimes, he is the God who steps down from heaven to walk among us as Jesus Christ, who breaks bread to feed the five thousand gathered in our midst. God provides, from up close and from far away.

    And just as we are made in his image, we are called to love others in his image. For these refugees, work must be done both up close and from afar. Both are necessary, valuable, and honorable. It’s good work either way. Laboring in the presence of these people is not inherently more important, but it might be the thing that is more Christlike. It is the more personal work, and as such, it is the work that requires more development of the heart. We are certainly called to be imitators of Christ, and Jesus was a man who went straight to the people in need, though they often spurned him. But then that doesn’t mean that work from afar is less valuable. God worked in both ways, and I think it’s neat that he has given you the opportunity to have both experiences and therefore labor in the image of God for the glory of God.

  • Morgan Sharpe

    This morning on my drive to work I was listening to Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken. Hillenbrand’s central character, Louis Zamperini is a prisoner of war in Japan during WWII. Up until this portion of the book, Zamperini’s will to live has been unfaltering. However, as a POW Zamperini is stripped of his dignity and subsequently begins to lose his will to live. Hillenbrand explains:

    “Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it.”

    I was reminded of this while reading your post. I wonder if the folks you met in Djibouti need dignity as much as they need water. I wonder if the inconsistent answers you received were a result of fractured dignity, of people clamoring to be heard, to have some “data” to share when in reality they may know little to nothing about your research. If a refugee had “data” to share then he or she is helpful, useful, and worth listening to–dignified.

  • Michael Abrahams

    Thank you for your thoughtful essay.It is a challenge for us all to view others as God’s image and still harder when their behaviors are outside our comfort zone. The difficulty you experienced in getting answers to the questions you posed may be in part because the people you were speaking with were answering a different question than what you thought you asked. Perhaps not terribly different than an American asking another American, “How are you?”– we are not really asking how they are but are acknowledging their presence. Americans are often taken aback when they ask the same question of someone from another country, Russia for example, and they actually get a long answer detailing the condition of the person at that time. It would, I think, also be almost unavoidable for the people you were speaking with to try and use their answers, in the best way they know at that point of time, to obtain more water. or to simply provide an answer that they think will make you happy, rather than answer accurately,