A Newsletter of the Ecumenical Network of churches in solidarity with people compelled by sever political, economic and social conditions to leave their land and culture.

Uprooted People
Issue 9 october 1999


International News

Network News Reflection

Contact WCC International Relations Staff

Uprooted people are those who are forced to leave their communities: those who flee because of persecution and war, those who are forcibly discplaced because of environmental devastation and those who are compelled to seek sustenance in a city or abroad because they cannot survive at home... World Council of Churches policy statement, 1995.

Meetings... Meetings...

September and October are traditionally "months of many meetings" and this year was no exception. WCC’s Central Committee was followed a few weeks later by the UNHCR’s Annual Executive Committee Meeting which, as always, provided the occasion for many related meetings, ranging from the Assembly of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies to an informal meeting of ecumenical partners. Meetings in the Middle East and Asia, together with several meetings on Europe and Africa, made for a rich month of ecumenical encounters.

Although the issues differ from region to region, common themes emerge everywhere of growing assaults on international principles of refugee protection and increasing difficulties for other people uprooted by economic and political conditions. The outpouring of international support for refugees from Kosovo half a year ago continues to have its effect on ecumenical partners throughout the world as resources are in short supply. Like Kosovo, the crisis in East Timor raises questions for the international community ... and for the churches ... about the use and legitimacy of "humanitarian intervention." This is an issue which WCC will be following closely in the months to come.

Elizabeth Ferris

International Meetings

The World Council of Churches’ Central Committee met in Geneva from 26 August to 3 September 1999. This was the first meeting of the Central Committee elected in Harare in December 1998 which will serve for the next seven years. The Central Committee declared an Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence and set priorities for the Council’s work over the next six years. The Decade will be launched in January 2001 and will challenge churches to reflect on how they can overcome violence in their own societies ... whether civil wars, ethnic conflicts, or urban violence. The Committee devoted particular attention to Africa, recommending further work on the impact of war and conflict in Africa, economic justice, the effects of economic globalization on the continent, and the "promotion of ethical values that enhance life with dignity."

The Central Committee adopted a "Memorandum and Recommendations on Response to Armed Conflict and International Law" which calls on churches to be "agents of reconciliation in a troubled world" and to commit themselves "at an early stage to prevent the escalation of conflicts." The World Council of Churches was asked to conduct a study on the ethics of "so-called" humanitarian intervention to be presented to the next meeting of the Central Committee in January 2001. A minute was also adopted on Nigeria, encouraging the churches to be a prophetic voice in the nation and offering them support as they pursue reconciliation in their country. A minute on peace and reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea noted that churches and religious groups on both sides "have formed religious committees to promote a peaceful solution" and conveyed to leaders on both sides the encouragement and support of the churches. The status of Jerusalem was the subject of another minute which reaffirmed the WCC Assembly’s "Statement on the Status of Jerusalem" Another minute focused on the escalating violence in East Timor and urged the United Nations to extend its presence "until security there is resolved."

The Central Committee also decided to put significant resources into developing the concept of an "ecumenical space" to provide opportunities for churches to come together to discuss difficult issues that threaten to divide them. It was announced that the "Special Commission" on Orthodox and Protestant dialogue in the WCC will hold its first meeting in December 1999 in Geneva.

Representatives of WCC Commissions and Advisory Boards were also named by the Central Committee. The newly-constituted Commission of the Churches in International Affairs will be chaired by Ambassador Bethuel Kipligat from Kenya and will have its first meeting in January 2000.

UNHCR-NGO Pre-Executive Committee Consultation

This year’s UNHCR-NGO "Pre-ExComm" meeting was three full days long ... longer by a day than previous meetings. This enabled extensive discussion on the issue of protection, always a burning issue for NGOs and extended discussions of regional issues. Among the many issues raised were the growing crisis in Colombia. Some 1.5 - 2 million Colombians have been displaced by the war where they receive little protection or assistance. Representatives of GAD (Support Group for Organizations of the Displaced) indicated that Colombia’s borders are becoming militarized and that Colombians seeking to flee the violence by crossing into neighboring countries are turned back. In the session on Africa, particular attention was focused on Angola, where an intractable civil war has created 2 million internally displaced and 200,000 refugees in neighboring countries. Angola receives little attention in the international press, resources to sustain the displaced are lacking, and the logistical difficulties in delivering assistance are monumental. According to UNHCR, 70% of the aid does not reach those in need. Meanwhile conditions of sanitation and nutrition have deteriorated dramatically. Two hundred people are dying of hunger every day.

An exodus of Roma leaving Kosovo for Macedonia was reported by Dennis McNamara, UNHCR Special Envoy in the Balkans and Director of the UNMIK humanitarian operations. The violence against the Serb and Roma populations continues with minorities murdered every day. The winter will be very difficult for the Kosovar returnees as it is recognized that the winterization programme will not be completed in time, leaving many without warm shelter. The ACT (Action by Churches Together) programme reports that while they anticipate completing their objectives of winterizing homes, there are many other homes in the province where repairs will not be completed in time.

UNHCR announced a new "Afghan Women’s Initiative" to be carried out both inside Afghanistan and in the neighboring countries of asylum. An informal discussion on refugee women was held during the pre-ExComm meeting in which some of the lesson learned in previous Women’s Initiatives ... in Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo ... were discussed. UNHCR also introduced the new Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children, Christina Linner and announced the appointment of Joyce Mends-Cole as the new Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children.

UNHCR also reported on plans for their 50th anniversary, centered around a global television broadcast on 14 December. Rather than focusing on UNHCR, the theme of the 50th anniversary commemoration will be on refugees themselves and UNHCR plans to emphasize a "gallery of prominent refugees," emphasizing the contributions which refugees have made. UNHCR will be producing a number of resources for the year, including a special edition of State of the World’s Refugees, and an interactive CD-ROM. UNHCR is also seeking support a refugee education endowment fund which will enable refugees to pursue their education at the secondary and tertiary levels.

UNHCR Executive Committee

Mrs Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, opened the Executive Committee session by stating that this "has been a year charged with fresh conflicts and refugee crises, in which civilians have been increasingly targeted....Refugee movements have also become a major source of instability and conflict: hence a demand for rapid solutions, sometimes at the expense of humanitarian and refugee protection principles, and sometimes requiring UNHCR and it partners to work rapidly and simultaneously in countries of asylum and of return. Both our mandate and our traditional operational responses are thus affected. " Like other ExComm participants, she focused on the effects of the Kosovo crisis and East Timor. She stated that "the Kosovo crisis is not over. Almost a million people have had their houses destroyed or damaged...Forced displacement continues to be a reality for the Serb and Roma minorities of Kosovo...there are now some 700,000 refugees and displaced people from Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Kosovo in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia...and 1.5 million people from Bosnia and Hercegovina and Croatia have not yet returned home." With respect to East Timor, she emphasized the importance of the Indonesian government providing security guarantees to both refugees and humanitarian agencies and the need to ensure that solutions are found for those displaced must be "free and informed, impartially ascertained, respected and fulfilled."

The situation in Liberia is also compelling as rebel groups have launched attacks in areas to which refugees have returned and there have also been "worrying cross-border rebel attacks into Guinea ... a country which should not be paying such a price for continuing to generously bear an enormous refugee burden."

In Central Africa, "in spite of the Lusaka Agreement, the extremely complex pattern of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a fertile environment for the outbreak of smaller, violent sub-conflicts, likely to cause further population movements...The situation in Burundi is very fragile, as seen by fresh episodes of violence. Repatriation from camps in Tanzania ... still hosting 260,000 Burundian refugees ... has virtually ceased. Conflict in Angola has pushed more refugees into neighboring countries, and worsened the catastrophic situation of internally displaced people ... perhaps the single worst humanitarian crisis in Africa."

She expressed concern about the worsening situation on the southern border of the Russian Federation where fighting in Daghestan has displaced about 33,000 people and in the South Caucasus. "Well over one million people are refugees or internally displaced in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. I regret that addressing these situations has ceased to be a priority for the international community, at a time of other, more pressing crises." She noted that in Afghanistan, the "situation of population displacement is becoming more complicated" with 150,000 internally displaced people and some repatriation from Iran and Pakistan and said that "the Afghan refugee problem, one of the oldest and largest in the world, continues to receive far too little attention.".

The question of detention of asylum-seekers was one of the most controversial issues in the Executive Committee. This had been a main issue at the June Standing Committee and NGOs were worried about a possible weakening of the fundamental principle expressed in the 1986 conclusion which states categorically that "in view of the hardship that it involved, detention should be avoided." However, at the Executive Committee meeting, the Turkish government raised objections and specifically called for linking the question of detention with that of exclusion (which refers to denying refugee status to terrorists, war criminals and other groups.) Turkey insisted on linking these two separate concepts in the same paragraph, even though UNHCR officials warned that it could have the effect of associating refugee claimants with terrorism. When the Turkish delegate refused to yield, and it was clear that no consensus would be found, the chairman decided to drop the entire detention clause.

Anders Ladekarl, ICVA Chair, delivered the NGO statement to the UNHCR Executive Committee, urging governments to support UNHCR in developing partnerships with NGOs and avoid the kind of bilateral arrangements that undermined UNHCR’s efforts during the Kosovo crisis. Among other issues addressed by the statement were early warning, access to asylum, security, standards-setting, statelessness, and internally displaced persons. The full text of the statement, as well as relevant UNHCR documents, may be found on the ICVA website: www.icva.ch.

Special European Council Summit

Meeting in Tampere, Finland from 15-17 October, the Special European Council Summit considered the questions of developing common judicial and immigration policies for the European Union. On the issues of refugees and migrants, the EU meeting agreed to:
  • introduce a common asylum and immigration policy which will be based on the 1951 Convention and which will ensure "that nobody is sent back to persecution"
  • give those granted asylum the same status in every EU country
  • give legally resident third-country nationals most of the rights of citizens, perhaps including the right to vote and for office in local elections
  • set up a system for managing migration flows, with laws to curb the smuggling of people and trafficking of women and children into prostitution rings.
  • establish a financial reserve to help states faced with a sudden influx of refugees (as Germany was during the Kosovo crisis earlier this year) without, however, indicating a specific amount for the fund.
The purpose of this summit was to set out the broad policy lines for a common EU policy on asylum and migration, but the details of this policy remain to be worked out in the coming years. Although pleased at the affirmation that the common asylum system would be based on the "full and inclusive application of the Geneva Convention on refugees," European NGOs must still monitor the way in which the new policy is developed. There is still concern that in harmonizing European asylum policies, the "lowest common denominator" will become the European standard.

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles organized a parallel NGO meeting to the Summit in which they developed specific points for consideration by the governmental leaders.

UN Commission on Human Rights

The UN Commission on Human Rights named Gabriela Rodriguez as the new UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. She was the former director of ARMIF, the regional coordinating body in Central America of organizations working with the uprooted and is presently serving in Colombia with the International Organization for Migration. Information concerning the human rights of migrants can be sent to Ms. Rodriguez at fax at +41 22 917 9006.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is also soliciting input from NGOs as well as from states and intergovernmental organizations, for a comprehensive follow-up report on the problem of violence against women migrant workers. Information should be sent to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN office at Geneva, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland or by fax to +41 22 917 90 10).

International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA)

The International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) held its Assembly in Geneva from 2-3 October. ICVA is presently constituted by 78 member agencies from North and South who seek to work together on issues of humanitarian response, refugee and displaced concerns, and sustainable development. This Assembly, held every five years, brings together all ICVA members to review ICVA’s activities and to plan its work for the next period. This Assembly differed from previous ICVA Assemblies in that it largely a working business session to consider and to approve changes in the way in which ICVA functions. Over a hundred participants from 65 NGOs participated in this year’s Assembly. ICVA’s Chair, Anders Ladekarl (Danish Refugee Council) opened the Assembly by briefly recalling ICVA’s recent history. In May 1997, facing serious financial debts, administrative difficulties, and an overly-ambitious work programme, ICVA’s Executive Committee had reluctantly voted to disband the organization. But ICVA’s members protested and a number of committed Executive Committee members agreed to put together a "rescue package" to enable ICVA to continue. After a lot of hard work to sharpen ICVA’s priorities, to pay off the debt, and re-structure the organization, ICVA’s financial situation is now "cautiously optimistic." Among other issues, the ICVA Assembly heard updates on ICVA’s new information policies (which increasingly rely on electronic communication and an interactive website), the Advocacy Project, and ICVA’s financial situation. The Assembly also unanimously approved revised ICVA statutes to streamline governance structures and to increase both the transparency and accountability of ICVA operations. A new Executive Committee was elected. Anders Ladekarl of the Danish Refugee Council was re-elected as chair of ICVA, Beth Ferris of the World Council of Churches and Roswitha Dinger of the Lutheran World Federation were elected respectively to the positions of vice-chair and treasurer. Other Executive Committee members include the Association of Voluntary Agencies for Rural Development (India), the Christian Relief and Development Association (Ethiopia), the Dutch Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, the International Catholic Migration Commission, InterAction, and World Vision International. Two additional member agencies will be invited to sit on the Executive Committee to ensure regional representation.

UNHCR’s Reach-Out Process

In March 1999, UNHCR initiated a "Reach-out" process to work more closely with non-governmental organizations in the area of protection. The initial meeting of the Reach-Out process was held with directors of large international humanitarian and human rights NGOs meeting in New York. The New York consultation adopted 39 recommendations for enhancing UNHCR-NGO collaboration in protection and created a Steering Committee to work to implement these recommendations. Since the March meeting, the Steering Committee has met several times, most recently in Geneva on 27 September. The Steering Committee, co-chaired by Erika Feller, UNHCR Director of Protection and Beth Ferris of the World Council of Churches, has in turn created six task forces to deal with particular issues, including:
  • sharing of sensitive information between NGOs, particularly on human rights violations observed by humanitarian organizations,
  • operationalizing protection in the field,
  • capacity-building for NGOs to be able to play a more active role in protection,
  • standard-setting to advocate for greater NGO access to UNHCR procedures,
  • accessions in order to advocate for more governments to ratify relevant instruments of refugee protection, and
  • advocacy on protection issues.
The September Steering Committee meeting focused particularly on the proposal from the Operationalizing Protection task force to develop a training programme for NGOs in the field of protection. This proposal was approved (with some changes) and efforts will now be made to secure the necessary funding to implement the training programme.

Reach-out consultations are now being planned in Bangkok (8-11 November) and Nairobi (probably January-February 2000) with additional regional meetings planned for the Middle East and Latin America.

Network News


An important meeting between agencies and representatives of the WCC/AACC refugee programme was held in Morges, Switzerland from 3-7 October to consider the future of this refugee programme. Following a long period of declining agency support for refugee programmes of African churches and ecumenical agencies, an October 1998 meeting between the agencies and African had led to a moratorium on the agencies’ financial support in 1999. For the past year, the four sub-regional AACC/WCC working groups ... in East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa ... had worked hard to consolidate their subregional structures and to develop carefully-formulated project proposals to submit to this meeting with the agencies. The meeting affirmed the progress made by African partners in conceptualizing both their individual projects and their sub-regional structures and further agency commitments are expected. One of the highlights of the meeting was a presentation by Swiss churches on the actual situation facing African and other asylum-seekers in the country.

They said that they are concerned that the legal restrictions placed on asylum-seekers and the growing xenophobia and racism in Switzerland which influences their capacity to settle, creates psychological depression , undermines the dignity of the asylum-seekers, takes away people`s capacity and right to support themselves thereby forcing dependency, generates delinquency and thereby further perpetuates xenophobia and racism. What was equally interesting is that the other European and North American agencies stated that what was reported by the Swiss churches reflects the situation in their countries. The following issues were highlighted for follow up action.

  1. The question of impact of the programme is central to the ministry with uprooted people and should be taken very seriously. A deeper reflection on this issue need to be made.
  2. The Norwegian Refugee Council’s proposal for training of NGOs who are working with internally displaced people is very important and they should be challenged to extend their training to the churches involved in the ministry with uprooted people.
  3. A question of ownership of programmes on ministry with uprooted people by the local churches is critical and must be encouraged at all levels.
  4. Advocacy and networking in the ministry with uprooted people should be enhanced between partners in the north and south and reciprocal visits should be encouraged.
  5. A need to link partners with the regions to enhance collaboration is encouraged.


The Christian Conference of Asia, in collaboration with WCC, held a consultation for Asian church leaders on the "Rights of Internally Displaced People and Challenges to Churches in Asia," in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 11-16 September 1999. The 36 participants from 16 countries spent two days before the meeting visiting camps for internally displaced people in three different parts of the country. Between 700,000 and one million people have been displaced in Sri Lanka as a result of that country’s 17-year old civil war between the government’s military forces and the Tamil Tigers. These exposure visits set the tone for the meeting as participants reviewed the situation of displaced people throughout the region and analyzed the reasons for the wide scale of internally displaced in Asia.

Representatives from Cambodia spoke about the 660,000 officially-registered people still displaced in Cambodia ... 6 years after all the refugees returned. The presence of landmines throughout the country is the main cause for their continued displacement. In other countries, such as Sri Lanka and Burma, ethnic conflict is the main cause of internal displacement. Governmental development policies, particularly the construction of dams, are a major cause of displacement in countries such as India, Bangladesh, China and the Philippines. The displacement of aboriginal peoples from their traditional lands is a major cause of displacement in countries such as Taiwan, Thailand and Bangladesh.

After keynote presentations on the causes of displacement, the "guiding principles" on internal displacement and humanitarian assistance, as well as Bible studies and country reports, participants developed a set of recommendations for the churches and for regional and global ecumenical bodies. Participants called on the churches to do more to meet the basic needs of internally displaced people and to raise awareness within the churches about their plight. They also emphasized the importance of advocacy and networking with partners in other regions to address the causes which force people to leave their countries.

Participants in the Consultation also approved three resolutions, calling on the Indonesian government to do everything possible to bring an end to the violence in East Timor, asking both t the government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to resume negotiations for a peaceful settlement of that conflict and calling for an end to the war in Sri Lanka and increased support to the people displaced by the war.


Ecumenical agencies participating in INTO ... Integration of Refugees into Europe ... met in Santa Severa, Italy from 24-25 September. INTO is a joint initiative of six ecumenical organizations working for integration of refugees in four countries ... Austria, Belgium, Greece, and Italy. Begun in 1997 with funding from the European Union, the six agencies have developed projects to help refugees adapt to their new countries, including counseling, employment, education, housing, schooling, language training and networking. The meeting brought together about 60 people around the theme "Integration of Refugees/De Facto Refugees: The legal framework - support or obstacle." Sessions were organized on the churches’ responsibility for refugees, the Amsterdam Treaty’s provisions for integration in Europe, ‘globalization, migration and human rights’ and boat people in Italy as well as updates on legal issues in the four countries.

Two important meetings were held in which the question of European churches’ work on behalf of uprooted people was considered. Following several months of work, a proposal had been worked out between WCC, the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Churches Committee on Migrants in Europe (CCME) to transfer the work of the European Churches Working Group on Asylum and Refugees to CCME. The Central Committee of CEC, meeting in Denmark in September, approved this change as did the General Assembly of CCME, meeting in Finland in early October. These actions clear the way for the development of new working groups on uprooted people and on racism/xenophobia to be set up by CCME and for CCME to implement a new work programme which implements its new mandate. All three organizations hope that this will strengthen the churches’ witness on refugee and migration issues by consolidating the work into a single organization. Both WCC and CEC were represented at the CCME Assembly and will be represented on CCME’s new Executive Committee.

Amman Process
A meeting of churches from Southern Europe and the Middle East met in Santa Severa, Italy from 15-17 to continue the "Amman process" of consultations between churches in the Mediterranean area on issues related to migration. Around 25 participants from Austria, France, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, Palestine, Portugal, and Spain, as well as CCME, MECC and WCC attended the meeting. Participants shared particular concerns from their regions -- including the impact of sanctions on Iraq, the situation of Palestinians throughout the Middle East, the reality of displaced people in Lebanon as well as European concerns about forthcoming harmonization of European immigration and asylum policies. The "Amman process" began with a meeting of churches in 1996 (in Amman) and has met every year since then. The meeting adopted a number of recommendations intended to strengthen the collaborative process, including proposals to increase Catholic participation (particularly in Southern European and North African countries), to seek representation from churches in Albania and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and to strengthen ties with intergovernmental organizations such as the International Organization for Migration. The group also agreed that the objectives of the "Amman process" are to:

  • share information with each other on current and potential developments in the region and on best practices
  • to develop common analyses about the causes and consequences of migration in the Mediterranean region, and
  • based on that analysis to formulate common advocacy strategies and concrete projects to: a) address the causes in order to enable people to remain in their communities, and b) to ensure humane and just treatment for refugees and immigrants who do arrive in other countries.
Participants also agreed to work on two concrete proposals (and to seek European Union funding for them) in the areas of the voluntary repatriation of Palestinians to the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan; and to develop ways of sharing accurate information about the situation of migrants in Europe to be shared with potential migrants. The report of the meeting will be available soon from the Federation of Italian Protestant Churches or from WCC.

Middle East

The Middle East Working Group on Refugees, Internally Displaced People and Migrants met in Amman, Jordan from 4-8 October. This annual meeting brings together representatives of churches throughout the Middle East to share information and to develop ways of strengthening the churches’ advocacy and service to uprooted people. This Working Group heard reports from the countries represented, including displacement in Iraq and Lebanon, the situation of the 3.5 million Palestinians throughout the region, the estimated 4 million Sudanese in Egypt, and migrants and refugees from other countries throughout the region. In particular participants noted that the difficult internal situation in Iraq, largely due to the sanctions, has led hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to leave their country, most of whom live in uncertain and undocumented conditions throughout the Middle East and Southern Europe. Participants from Italy, Greece, and Turkey were able to complete the picture of refugees and migrants from the Middle East by reporting on conditions facing asylum-seekers and refugees in their countries. During the course of the meeting, representatives from the Jordanian government, UNRWA and IOM addressed the meeting and participants were able to visit a Palestinian refugee camp.

The Working Group adopted a number of recommendations for the churches on responding to the needs of refugees, internally displaced people and migrants to encourage greater engagement of Middle Eastern churches with uprooted people and to build their capacity so that they are able to respond. Among others, the Churches Commission on Migrants in Europe was asked to advocate with European governments not to close doors to Iraqi refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced as long as the sanctions on Iraq remain. MECC and WCC were asked to collaborate with AACC and churches in Sudan to speed up the peace process.


The following reflection was developed by Sudanese refugees living in Egypt and shared with the Middle East Working Group on Refugees, Displaced People and Migrants by Father Cosimo at their October meeting in Amman.

"The Ragman"

Some time ago, I saw a strange sight. I stumbled upon a story so strange. Nothing in my life had prepared me for such a story. Listen now, be quiet, and I will tell you this story.

One Friday morning, just before sunrise, I noticed a young man, strong and handsome, walking towards Beweyale village. He was pushing an old bicycle laden with clothes, all bright and new. He was calling in a clear voice..."Rags! Rags! New rags for old! I will take your worn-out rags! Rags!" ‘This is amazing, a marvel,’ I thought to myself. A man like this, so tall, so strong, arms hard and muscular, selling rags. Is it possible? He looked so intelligent as his eyes flashed from side to side. Could he find no better work than this...selling old clothes...a Ragman? Is he drunk? Or mad? My curiosity drove me to follow. I was not disappointed.

Then the Ragman saw that woman...you know her..the war widow, the refugee. She was sitting outside her shanty hut. She was crying bitterly and weeping into her cloth. Her shoulders shook as she wept. Her heart was broken. He stopped and placed his bicycle against a tree. Quietly, he went to the woman and placed his hand on her shoulder. "Mama, give me your rag and I will give you another one." Oh how gently did he slip the cloth from her eyes and again, oh how gently did he lay a linen cloth, so clean and new, across her hands. She looked in amazement from the gift to the giver.

Then he did a strange thing. As he moved away, pushing his bicycle, he put the stained cloth to his own face. He began to weep, to sob just as she had done. His shoulders shook. That woman, the war widow, was left without a tear.

This is amazing, I said to myself. I followed the sobbing Ragman...I couldn’t turn back.

"Rags! Rags! New rags for old," he continued. The sky was getting gray as the Ragman came across a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage. Blood soaked the bandage. Her eyes were empty. She was only 12 years old...a little slave girl, captured from her home and sold for a gun with some bullets. Blood ran down her cheek. The tall Ragman looked at the little girl with pity. From his box he took out a beautiful yellow bonnet. "Give me your rag," he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, "and I will give you mine."

The child could only look as he loosened the bandage, removed it and tied it around his own head. The bonnet he gave to her. I could not believe it...with the bandage went the wound. Against his brow ran a darker more substantial blood...his own.

"Rags! Rags! I take old rags" cried the bleeding strong, intelligent Ragman. The sun was hot now. The Ragman seemed more and more to hurry. "Are you going to work?" he asked a man who stood by the mango tree. The man was quiet. "Don’t you have work to do?" "Are you crazy?" sneered the other. He pulled away from the tree, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket ... flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm. "So," said the Ragman, "give me your jacket and I’ll give you mine." Such quiet authority in his voice. The one-armed man took off his jacket...so did the Ragman. I was shocked at what I saw: for the Ragman’s arm stayed in the sleeve and when the other put it on, he had two good arms. The Ragman had only one. "Go to work," he said.

After this, he found a drunkard lying unconscious beneath an army blanket. This man had AIDS and was rejected by his community. His body was "slim," wasting away and he was very, very sick. The Ragman took his blanket and wrapped it around himself. For the drunkard he left new clothes and a blanket.

Now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. He moved with a terrible speed, even though he was weeping uncontrollably, bleeding freely from the forehead, stumbling with drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old and sick....I wept to see the change in this man. I grieved to see his sorrow. I needed to see where he was going in such haste...what was driving him thus. The Ragman came to a lonely place, I wanted to help him, but I delayed. I held back and hid myself. He climbed the steep hill. With great pain and tormented labor, he cleared a little space on the hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on the cloth and jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.

Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I threw myself down in grief. I wailed and mourned like a person without hope. I had grown to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, yet he died. He was dead! I sobbed myself to sleep.

I did not know ... how could I know? ... that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night too. But then on Sunday morning I was awakened by a startling light. It was a pure, hard, demanding light. It was slamming against my face. I looked and saw the last and first wonder of all. There was the Ragman folding the blanket most carefully. The scar was on his forehead...but he was alive. He was healthy. There was no sign of sickness or age. All the rags that he had gathered were shining clean.

I lowered my head. I was trembling with all that I had seen. I walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name. Then I took off all my clothes and pleaded with him. "Dress me, I give you old rags, you give me new ones." He dressed me. My Lord, he dressed me. He put new rags on me and was transformed. The Ragman! The Ragman! The Christ. My Lord and my God!

And so in turn began my journey through paths in the valleys and hills. As I went I cried out "Rags! Rags! New rags for old! Give me your old rags and I will give you new ones."

Because of the Ragman, my life will never be the same.

Contact the WCC International Relations team

E-mail addresses:
Dwain Epps, coordinator: dce@wcc-coe.org
Salpy Eskidjian: sej@wcc-coe.org
Elizabeth Ferris:egf@wcc-coe.org
Mariette Grange: mgm@wcc-coe.org
Geneviève Jacques: gej@wcc-coe.org
Clement John: cj@wcc-coe.org
Melaku Kifle: mk@wcc-coe.org
Gail Lerner: wccia@"undp.org

Uprooted People provides coverage of information and action relating to refugees, migrants and internally displaced people. It is published every three months by the International Relations team of the World Council of Churches. Email us or write to us by post:

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