Indonesia: Hospitality as a remedy

13 June 2013|Indro Suprobo

Refugees deserve hospitality in the face of adversity.

Bogor, 13 June 2013 — Conflict and armed violence in many parts of the world has caused millions of deaths and situations of displacement throughout the decades, forcing children and civilians to bear incomprehensible suffering. Indonesia’s 4,239 refugees and asylum seekers are no exception.

Refugees served by JRS Indonesia often wish to share their life experiences with someone who will listen with an open heart and mind. With accompaniment at the core of our work, JRS Indonesia strives to always provide this for the urban refugees in our outreach project in Cisarua, West Java where I often lend a hand.

I do this because I believe that storytelling builds peace. Storytelling passes on inspirational humanitarian messages to motivate us to take steps for peace and justice in a simple but concrete, way.

We can only receive these messages however, when we are prepared to welcome refugees into our society with open arms. The JRS Hospitality Working Paper insists that hospitality is a way of recognising the inherent worth of the individual.

It is “a ray of humanitarian value that recognizes one’s rights, not because he or she is part of our family, community, race or faith but solely because he or she is the same human creature as us, who deserves proper reception and honour,” said Adolfo Nicola´s SJ, the 30th Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

How do we engage in hospitality? It is like inviting a stranger into our own house which we have just built for someone we love.

A shelter in exile. We have the power to provide a shelter for refugees — who are often scared in an unfamiliar country— by welcoming them with friendship, as warmly as we would do for friends and guests. This is how any of us can encourage and revive the living spirits of those whose light has been dimmed by flight, suffering and abuse.

Parents’ hearts break as they watch their children’s childhoods snatched away by the atrocities of war, while children growing up during conflict experience abrupt shock, trauma, loneliness and isolation, from losing parents, caretakers and loved ones. These unnecessary miseries leave deep wounds and scars on the bodies, hearts and minds of the displaced.

Yet, just as refugees are compelled to abandon their villages, they must also let go of anguish and wounded hearts in order to survive. Their only hope is to find a new, peaceful life and to pursue a brighter future despite the trauma of the past.

In a safe shelter, those who have constantly suffered in their ventures for life, at last discover an environment where they can stand up as people with dignity. Ordinary kindness rekindles mutual trust and respect— both of which lead to greater understanding and compassion between host and guest.

It is in this environment that JRS Indonesia is thankful to have the opportunity to receive refugees and help them recover their dignity through our hospitality, which can be found in all cultures.

Different cultures embrace hospitality. In nearly all cultures and religions, hospitality is a basic value. In Ignatian spirituality, hospitality towards strangers is a way for a person to detach from inordinate attachments, which include distrustful and insecure feelings, the tendency to stereotype other people, and regarding people we do not know or understand as menacing enemies. These are all obstacles that prevent receptivity to the appreciation of another human being.

Hospitality paves the way for self-emptying and detachment. Other Christian traditions state that acts of hospitality are not forgotten, and “some, being not aware of it, have entertained angels.” [St Paul’s Letters to the Hebrew 13:2]. Even God, in the tradition of Christianity, identifies Himself as a stranger who is inviting our hospitality: ” .. I was a stranger and you invited me in” [Matthew 25:35].

In Islam, Surah An Nisaa’ orders the Muslim followers to show kindness to relatives, orphans, strangers and travelers (ibnu sabil) [4:36]. Taittiriya Upanishad in Hinduism declares that hospitality is like welcoming a guest as a Divine creature. In Jewish teachings, hospitality (hakhnasat orchim) toward a guest or a stranger is an obligation. Jewish principles additionally encourage followers of Judaism to accept any strangers whom they have previously treated as their enemies as their new comrades (Eizehu Gibur M’ha’giburim).

In our world today, which suffers from war, conflict, xenophobia and judgmental stereotypes, the consequences are heaped upon the shoulders of refugees, worsening their plight. It requires hospitality as a remedy.

We hope that JRS’s direct, concrete and modest advocacy, service and support for refugees, can be a token of hospitality to heal wounds. We aspire for the warmth of hospitality to melt the social freeze that hardens communities against newcomers, including refugees. Hospitality in society — through the friendship and kindness offered by individuals — has the power to break through the chambers where political policies towards refugees are formed, and transform society into a place of peace and shelter.

Indro Suprobo, JRS Indonesia