Learning from Artists and Olympians

During a recent trip to Ethiopia, one of FH’s largest fields of operation, I purchased a postcard by local artist. The painting on the card featured an Ethiopian Airlines airplane full of passengers that were clearly Ethiopian themselves. You can see it here.

I thought it was pretty cool. I really liked the style of the painting and I know that it is a proud thing for Ethiopians to be one of the few countries on their continent that has a national airline. I wanted to celebrate the successes of Ethiopia, even as I wanted to join hand-in-hand with FH’s Ethiopian staff who are seeking a better future. Purchasing this little postcard seemed like a good way to enjoy one of the many beauties that Ethiopia has to offer. I still think it’s a cool piece of art.

But I didn’t really “get” the painting…until later. Looking at the postcard more closely, I saw that the painting was titled “Diversity Visa.” Additionally, at first glance, I had noticed the traffic light standing in front of the plane. It was strange to have a traffic light represented on an airport runway. What was it all about?

Maybe you know what a Diversity Visa is. Maybe not. Ethiopians, on the other hand, know what a Diversity Visa is. It is the visa that is granted by the U.S. Government to 55,000 individuals every year. It’s a ticket to becoming a U.S. resident.

If you’re thinking about U.S. Immigration policy now, please stop for a moment. Regardless of your views on immigration, think about this: what if the country you lived in (and maybe this is already the case) was represented by a piece of artwork showing your national airline loaded up with people who are trying to leave? What would this symbolize to you? How would it inform your thoughts about your future?

Ethiopian boy looks out over countryside

An Ethiopian boy looks out over the countryside.

This year, during the London Olympics, we witnessed again athletes who have “gone missing,” apparently with a goal of settling in a new land. They may need protection from tyrants or they may be seeking better opportunities. Either way, they took the chance and left one country for another. Whether they will be found and received in a new country remains to be seen.

Since the Cold War the Olympics has always had this side-story of possible defections.

A few generations ago “my people” were also seeking better opportunities in a new world.

I don’t have lots of answers about immigration. But, I do think that many of us who have power to inform immigration policy and foreign assistance policy live in a context of looking out from the receiving end—from a country that people want to immigrate or possibly defect to.

Jesus was a refugee at one point in His life. Can we appropriately represent—and be transformed by—His compassion without putting ourselves in the shoes of the person who is seeking a “green light” to leave? Can we identify with this complex situation without pondering the lives of Olympians who’ve disappeared?

As we are informed by the compassion of Christ and His identification with people in these kinds of life circumstances, we can:

  1. seek just immigration policies that serve citizens of the receiving country and are generous to those in need;
  2. work for transformation in communities all around the world so that the opportunities now sought by leaving can be found in staying.

In church last Sunday we prayed, “Lord, hasten the coming of your kingdom.” That means, Lord we are asking you to have your Kingdom come speedily. How do you think the values of God’s coming Kingdom could be manifested in immigration and poverty alleviation matters worldwide?

About Eileen O'Gorman

Sometimes I think I am incessant middle child. I find myself in the middle of things a lot. Right now, in particular with my work in communication for Food for the Hungry, I find myself in the middle—maybe a bridge builder—between “worlds.” However, what seems like many worlds all occupying one planet, is actually one grand world that God created. I just can’t get a handle on that! Mostly I hope that my work helps bring reconciliation in this world and that, by grace, we can see good things happening – on earth as it is in heaven.

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