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Today we welcome back JJ TenClay to The Twelve. JJ is a Reformed Church in America missionary, partnering with the Waldensian Church in Italy, who works in the region of Naples, Italy, as a social action worker, developing partnerships with medical, mental health/substance abuse, governmental, and social service entities as well as ministries focused on meeting the physical, spiritual, and socioeconomic needs of the over 500,000 migrants in the area, most of whom are from Africa and the Middle East.
“As I walk this land of broken dreams
I have visions of many things
But happiness is just an illusion
Filled with sadness and confusion
What becomes of the brokenhearted
Who has love that’s now departed
I know I’ve got to find
Some kind of peace of mind, baby”
Do you ever find that your subconscious supplies you with song lyrics, lines from poetry or scripture verses at various times in your life? I know mine does, and these lyrics (along with the catchy music) of the Jimmy Ruffin song “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” have been playing over and over in my mind for more than a week.(Feel free to hum the song in your head as you continue reading.)
I just returned from a two week trip to Scicli, Sicily, to work as a volunteer with the project Mediterranean Hope Casa delle Culture (House of Cultures). It is a program supported by the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy (FCEI) and is largely sustained by my missionary partner—the Waldensian/Methodist Church in Italy. They provide emergency housing for up to 40 immigrants, focusing on those who are most vulnerable (unaccompanied minors, pregnant women or single women with children, and keeping nuclear families together). They also have a relocation desk that provides vital services to the immigrants who stay at Casa delle Culture (medical, psychological & dental services, clothing, assistance with legal documents, developing case plans, etc.) and multicultural events for their guests and the community. The purpose of my trip was three-fold:
- To provide support to the staff & volunteers
- To provide support to the immigrants being served by Casa delle Culture
- To learn more about immigration issues at the point of arrival (Scicli is close to Pozzallo, one of the ports where thousands of immigrants disembark (“sbarcare” is the Italian verb)
It was a powerful, emotional experience for me and I miss everyone I met there already. I typically spent 10-14 hours per day at CdC, cleaning, assisting with medical appointments, translating for the English speaking guests, organizing guest rooms and the clothing closet, learning about immigration policies and paperwork, meeting new arrivals at the port and transporting them to Casa delle Culture, eating meals with the guests, and talking with everyone (staff, volunteers, guests, and members of the community). There were many, many experiences that I will cherish for years to come, but one continues to replay in my mind, along with the lyrics above, simultaneously.
It had been a particularly long and difficult day. When a crisis occurs in a facility that is providing 24 hour care—for any group of people, but especially those who are already traumatized—it affects all who are there. And this day we experienced a crisis. After dealing with the immediate nature of the crisis it would have been easy for me to take a break, go back to cleaning or setting the table for dinner, or various other mindless tasks. But I knew the crisis had caused increasing anxiety for one of the other guests, and I knew in my heart that spending time with her was important. So, I did just that, and was greatly rewarded by being reminded of the power of creating opportunities & safe environments for survivors of traumatic events to tell their stories. This came after sitting for almost 2 hours, not saying anything, listening to this woman tell her story. A story of months of heartbreak, loss, fear, and despair; not just walking a land of broken dreams in her home country of Somalia and throughout her journey from Somalia to Libya, but then boarding a boat of despair to continue this journey over the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. Through laughter & tears, sprinkled with Arabic & lively reenactment of certain events, I saw the beauty of a woman, a survivor, growing stronger with every word. It was later that night, as I was walking back to where I was staying, thinking about this woman’s story, that the lyrics of this song popped into my head. And just as quickly, so did this verse from Psalm 147:3, “He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds.” I found that this experience gave me renewed hope that we, as the church, can be the people, the opportunity, the space to promote God’s healing power to the broken hearted, if only we will use our resources to do so.