Former refugee, Adrienne Carter with colleagues at the Centre for Victims of Torture, In Jordan. The headquarters for CVT is in Minneapolis, but has branches in many different parts of the world, including Jordan.
Former refugee, Adrienne Carter with colleagues at the Centre for Victims of Torture, In Jordan. The headquarters for CVT is in Minneapolis, but has branches in many different parts of the world, including Jordan.

When she was 12 years old and living in Hungary, no one would have guessed that Adrienne Carter would one day be an expert on the refugee crisis we now experience around the world. Or that she’d be at the forefront of helping them reclaim their mental and physical well being, as well as rediscovering meaning in their lives.

After fleeing from the 1956 Hungarian revolution, Adrienne’s family was eventually resettled from a refugee camp in Austria to Vancouver, where life was very different. Adjustment to a new culture was yet another hurdle they faced. With little support to help her or her traumatized family, she felt isolated by both language and culture. She describes it as her “dark night of the soul,” a reference to a poem by 16th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. At one point, she became ill with stomach pains that were unexplainable by the doctors, who instead of treating the pain, advised counselling. However, her parents refused – afraid of the stigma she might endure by being considered “crazy.”

But despite all this, Canada gave her a gift – a safe place to make her own inner journey of healing – travelling slowly from hopelessness and fear, to hope and meaning. It also offered her something not available in a secular communist country: the freedom to discover a spiritual path, and through that, a stability that she had always intuitively felt would bring the healing and wholeness she so deeply desired.

During this time, Adrienne searched for answers to her deep and painful questions about life and spirituality. Eventually she found both answers and healing through the Bahá’í faith, which offered her a view of humanity that was not separated or confined by colour, ethnicity or religion. Rather, it was defined by a sense of universal oneness that had its source in the Divine. And  This connection with the Divine also helped her when dealing with the stories she heard from refugees. Whenever she feels at a loss as to how to help an individual, she prays. “I give it all to God,” she explains. “I just want to express Him in all I do. And the answers always come, and the refugee clients are on their way to healing.”

In her work, Adrienne has learned that what’s most important is for the refugees to rediscover meaning, and a sense of purpose in their lives. She’s also seen that there are many theories as to how to help refugees find stability in their new country as well as recovery from the mental trauma. Some theories propose economic success as the key; some, that medication is a way to address their problems. Yet, Adrienne has found that endless patience, a willingness to listen, and deep compassion provide the most effective way to healing. “They need to feel their stories are heard; and so rediscover meaning in their lives. Even their religious beliefs are challenged. They feel that they have lost everything that mattered to them.”

Many who have experienced varying degrees of that “dark night of the soul” can empathize with what it feels like to lose one’s sense of purpose in life. However, those dark nights can also be an opportunity to discover a spiritual source of stability and new meaning.

A friend of mine shared her story about just such an experience. Rachel’s dad was an alcoholic and abusive. Finally she and her mum fled, moving frequently, staying with friends so that her dad could not find them. She felt afraid, displaced and disconnected from any sense of community. However, one day she ran across an article that looked at the plight of refugees from a very different standpoint – a deeply spiritual one. It said:

Their security, viewed spiritually, derives from the infinite all-presence of God, which assures us that we can’t be separated from Him. It’s impossible to be a refugee from God. No one can be displaced from his or her status as God’s image and likeness.

The article, (see here), continued, by saying that everyone has value and worth in God’s eyes.

For Rachel it was an entirely different way to see God, as having unwavering love – not just for her, but for everyone. Gradually, as she thought about these ideas, she gained not just a more stable sense of her own identity, but also renewed meaning in her life. From that point on, she decided to dedicate her life to helping children who had been displaced from their homes because of family difficulties.

I really love both Adrienne’s and Rachel’s stories of discovering that unity with the Divine that brings a stability within, and renewed purpose to help others. No matter what our nationality or religion, we all have the opportunity and right to heal past fears and hurts. We can look to the future with hope and new confidence grounded in divine Love’s power to show us our wholeness. And we can do that together.

*Adrienne Carter is currently working with other volunteer crisis counsellors to set up a Refugee Mental Health Centre in Victoria and Duncan to assist the refugees who are planning to settle on Vancouver Island.

This article was published in the Times Colonist HERE on April 6 2016

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