We are going to be okay.
This is what I knew—a knowledge of otherworldly conviction—as I packed up our tables and left National Cathedral Saturday evening. I had been awake since 4:15 that morning and on my feet, only sitting to pee, since 7:30. 11 hours later, my feet felt like they might fall off, my neck and forearms were sunburned, I had sweated through my t-shirt. Still, I was euphoric.
This past Saturday, I had the honor and joy of representing Threads by Nomad and The Off Ramp at the second annual One Journey Festival. One Journey amplifies refugee voices and enhances public awareness of refugee talents and contributions. The organization and the festival strive to build enduring allies for refugees and use cultural and technological tools to facilitate human connections between refugees and their host communities.
When I read about the growing global refugee crisis or see photos of the horrors happening at the border, I will admit to falling into despair. Unhelpful as hopelessness may be, I feel paralyzed, my efforts appearing pointless.
That is, until this past Saturday. Until the One Journey Festival. This Saturday, I knew we were going to be okay.
I left the festival feeling more encouraged and inspired than I have, truthfully, in years. I left knowing, with peace beyond understanding, that we are going to be okay. Perhaps not tomorrow, perhaps not next year or even in the next decade or two. But we are going to be okay and the work to get us there—what some might call kingdom work—is being done.
How do I know we are going to be okay? For these five reasons.
First, I was heartened by the fact that 6,000 people came out in 100-degree heat (and some in an afternoon downpour) to celebrate their refugee neighbors as well as their important contributions to our communities. Many of the event's attendees were already involved in one or more of the relief organizations represented at the event. Others just wanted to come out and support the cause and learn more. People care and want to help. People ARE helping!
Oftentimes at Threads events, I struggle to communicate what it is that we do and why; it's so foreign to so many. Here, however, I gave nothing more than my "elevator pitch," and the festival's participants not only got it, but thanked me for our work and wanted to know how they could support us. They shopped in person that day, shopped online later that weekend, signed up for our email list, and took our business cards. This is the first event I have EVER run out of business cards—an indication of how excited festival-goers were to have us there and learn about our brand and mission!
Second, I was encouraged that National Cathedral—a very public symbol of systematized religion— would offer all of its resources and political weight for this cause and event. It made me proud, and after seriously doubting that there was anything redemptive left about the Church for many months, it comforted me.
Third, three friends—Bethany, Kim, and Dave—joined me for a total of six hours on their day off, again in the heat, to help. They brought me food and caffeine and water. They medicated me when I got dehydrated and could feel a migraine coming on. They sold our products when we got rushed so I didn't lose out on sales. They helped me set up our tent and pull everything back in quickly when it started to storm. They encouraged me, and promoted Threads, and told everyone who walked by that they needed to spend money. This work can feel lonely sometimes, especially since I live half a continent away from our studio in Houston. Saturday, I wasn't lonely. Saturday, 6,000 strangers and 3 close friends were in it with me. Grateful doesn't even begin to cover it.
Fourth, I was astounded at the level of creativity and talent that was on display both in the artisan market and on the stage. The artwork was powerful, and the performances made me dance, laugh, and cry. The food was extraordinary (there was a West African food truck!), and the range of hand-crafted products of superior quality and beauty made a serious but worthwhile dent in my bank account. My only regret is that I had to work the event, and couldn't take it all in!
Perhaps most importantly, the One Journey Festival was different and encouraging in one final way.
Often, refugee relief work is birthed from a "white savior complex." For example, at events of this kind, it is not uncommon to see the only refugees present on stage and for there to be zero diversity among the onlookers. While raising awareness is important, doing it in this way misses the point.
At the One Journey Festival, individuals of all backgrounds and origins participated at EVERY level. Indeed, two refugee women launched the organization itself! Refugees were involved in the organization and execution of the festival. They attended, vended, and told their stories. The One Journey Festival was not for a single moment about how "we" can help "them" because there was no us and them. The One Journey Festival was and is about how we can support each other; it was and is a celebration of differences and a reminder of their importance to everyone's success. There were so many times that I thought, "Heaven isn't then. Heaven isn't later. Heaven is now. This is heaven."
We are committed to continued partnership with the One Journey Festival and its leaders. We are looking into the possibility of carrying a number of the products I fell in love with on Saturday—be on the lookout for Turkish linens, delicious vegan treats made with dates, meditation pillows, and hands down the best candles ever made. (No, that is not an exaggeration.) I have sent out emails to a dozen different organizations I connected with, and we are working on finding unique and new ways to collaborate and move our mission forward.
The world is terrifying. There is so much suffering, so much fear. I am in no way denying that. But I am no longer willing for it to render me hopeless, because there is also beauty and love. Instead, I will draw from the energy and work of One Journey, and will carry their light forward.
Please join me in supporting One Journey, and perhaps even in attending the One Journey Festival next year!