“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, we can work together.”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s from the Chastain’s! We are praying that everyone is enjoying a joyful and peaceful Christmas week.
A lot has happened since our June Newsletter:
- Miki has graduated from Asbury Seminary and, in July, started her appointment as Associate Pastor at Acworth UMC.
- Isabel, Jasper, and Celia started American school in August. This transition has been tough, but we feel like they have recently turned a corner.
- I (Charlie) have been slowly moving into new spheres concerning global migration, along the way gaining new glimpses into the incredibly vast expanse of this issue.
In September, I spoke at the “Immigrants In Our Backyard” seminar hosted by Trinity UMC in Dalton, GA on supporting migrants and refugees and their families. I was asked to present the “global perspective” on the refugee crisis for the gathering. During that time, Miki and I met with colleagues working within the refugee crisis from UMC local churches, regional educational institutions, immigration law firms, and UMCOR (The United Methodist Committee on Relief).
In October, I attended the Red Letter Revival in Goldsboro, NC, where I had valuable meetings with pastors, aid workers, and activists addressing the issues of refugees and migrants from various perspectives. While there, I connected with folks working directly in “red zones” along the U.S./Mexico border and with others who are committed to addressing the more systemic issues feeding the crisis, including U.S. spending/consumption habits, political scapegoating and white supremacy. I found it so important to be there surrounded by like-minded believers with experiences and convictions similar to our own.
Trips to “hot spots”
In August, I had the opportunity to spend some time working alongside local churches tasked with aiding the families affected by the ICE (US Immigration Customs and Enforcement) raids that took place in multiple sites in central Mississippi. To this day, it is considered the largest raid of its kind, and it affected hundreds of families. I was glad to be there for some of the long-term planning and to offer encouragement and advice from my migration aid experiences in Europe. The effort there is still ongoing: children (who are US citizens) are still without their parents. Deportation litigations are pending. These churches are providing food, shelter, and love for those still affected.
Guatemala and Mexico
In October, I joined a task force from the United Methodist Church on a trip covering 180 miles of the famous “caravan” through South America to the US border. I began my journey in Guatemala City, Guatemala and took the same route that nearly a million refugees have taken into Tapachula, Mexico. I was shocked to see so many similarities in the camps and squats there like the ones in which Miki and I have worked in Europe. The conditions were similar: lots of women and children sleeping in the rough- many fleeing violence, famine, and war. All in all, we met migrants from 22 different nations along the southern Mexican border. Many told of the heartbreaking losses they had experienced along their journey coming through the jungles of Panama into Columbia (considered one of the most dangerous stretches of land in the world). Sadly, these stories will increase as this caravan becomes one of the most popular refugee highways in the world. This first visit was for fact-finding, and I am planning some ways to assist these communities in the near future.
Upcoming trip to Lesvos, Greece
One of the hardest challenges of moving to the USA has been the increased difficulty in responding to the needs of our partners in Europe. With that in mind, I am making plans for a trip back to Moria Camp in Lesvos, Greece in February. In the past year, the population of that camp has doubled, and is currently sitting close to 17,000 people. At the same time, rules around the number of volunteers allowed in the camp have tightened so that only a handful are able to serve each day. For this reason, the conditions for those who we know who have continued to work in this camp have become more challenging with each passing season. I’m looking forward to my visit.
I was recently talking with someone who is a licensed counselor about the very real difficulties that a lot of folks seem to have in looking at this issue directly. I said to her, “When we begin to talk about the issues that we’ve seen with refugees and refugee work, what we’ve found is that many people really do not want to know about these things, and it’s hard for us to understand that.”
She answered without hesitation, “People don’t want to know about these things because people don’t want to hurt. They don’t want to feel pain, and looking at these suffering families and suffering children causes pain.”
As I’ve thought more about her words, I’ve had to acknowledge the weight of her point – this work does cause pain. It causes deep grief, and heartache, and even rage. Especially as we’ve been walking through “reverse culture shock” these past several months, trying to find our footing living again in the U.S., on more than one occasion I’ve been tempted with the question, “What if we’d never gotten involved in work with refugees? What if we never made that first stop at that tent city near the train station in Belgrade, but just kept on driving that day, down to our next hotel on the way to a missions conference?”
Oh the pain we could have avoided.
The long trips away from one another and our children. The weeks spent in filthy apartments and hostels with our kids in border zones, including that one Christmas we spent in a hotel in Thessaloniki with our little plastic tree and the stockings Miki had brought from home so we could serve meals in refugee squats. The months and months of working on marriage issues as Miki and I spiraled with undiagnosed issues stemming from PTSD and depression. The recurring nightmares and insomnia, which persist today.
And the guilt. The pounding, unrelenting guilt that begins to pervade every single part of every day, so that even the taste of the first sip of warm coffee in the morning brings with it this unrelenting conviction deep within our bones that even as we serve meals to moms and dads and children in these squats and camps – somehow, through systems and injustices that we may not even see, we ourselves are responsible for their being displaced from their homes at all.
But then I think about the aid organizations and volunteers who we’ve met through this work, who’ve become such dear friends and colleagues. I think about the rich memories made with our children, which have worked to shape their views and lives in ways that I can not even imagine. I think about the depth of the conversations I now have on a regular basis with Miki as we have seen healing and growth in our marriage through an ongoing commitment to counseling and prayer. I think about the renewed sense of gratitude that the Lord has given me through this work for the gifts He gives us every day – every day anew the gift of life.
And of course, we know that the battles and struggles will keep coming as we continue to navigate my new role with TMS Global consulting on Refugee/Migrant affairs. But I just wanted to let you all know as we’re approaching a new year and a new season that even with all of its challenges and trials, I am so grateful to be able to serve you all and the incredible families who are experiencing displacement from their homes around the world. It Is a privilege for me to be able to continue to serve as the Lord leads and provides in coming seasons.
Finally, an additional point of ongoing stress through this season has been on catching up financially from a hard 2 years of international moves: not just the unexpected move to the U.S. from Italy, but also the move from Estonia to Italy. This has left us with a lower than normal account balance at TMS Global, which limits our ability to respond when new migrant crises arise. If you recall from the last newsletter, I had plans on visiting Jordan and Brazil in 2019. However, we decided it just couldn’t happen yet until we were able to get our account balance back to a healthy level.
With this in mind, If you would like me to come visit you or your congregation, please let me know. I would be very happy to come and talk about the needs we are seeing worldwide and how you can help.
Also, please consider us for your end-of-year giving and 2020 charitable plans. We would love to get back into a healthy position that allows me to give more “yesses” when our partners send out needs requests.
You may also continue to lift up our family in your prayers for:
- Guidance for travels/connections in the coming season
- Continued support and grace as we and our children navigate “reverse culture shock” and try to find our community in the U.S.
Thank you so much for your years of encouragement and support.
With love and blessings,
Charlie, Miki, Isabel, Jasper, and Celia.
Ways to donate to this ministry:
By Check: Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/0322” in the memo:
P.O. Box 936559
Atlanta, GA 31193-6559
By Credit/Debit Card: Go to: https://www.tms-global.org/give
In the box noting: “Give to a Missionary”, fill in the amount and 0322 for the “Four-digit Missionary ID#”
To give to the special projects account, please specify “Chastain Special Projects”