By Marguerite Jill Dye
Driving along our area’s roads we are often reminded of Tropical Storm Irene’s devastation, but what I remember most about Irene is Vermonters’ big hearts: heroes rescuing and reaching out to those in need, sharing food, water, shelter, and compassion. Strong, independent, reliable folk, Vermonters care for one another and for this beautiful land with its healing powers that provide balance and rejuvenation to troubled bodies and souls.
As we drove by the Chittenden United Methodist Church, I noticed a sign on its entrance: “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” I felt proud to have grown up Methodist, encouraged to put faith into action. Friday my husband and I were invited to the Congregation Shir Shalom in Woodstock to hear April Baskin, the Union of Reform Judaism’s vice president of “Audacious Hospitality” talk about the sacred work of creating a world of wholeness, compassion, and justice and examining racism and other forms of prejudice that hurt and degrade us all. “Reflect, relate, reform.”
Sunday morning we attended a special service at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rutland where Abi Sessions of the Middlebury UU spoke. There are 65 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide fleeing from war, genocide, and persecution; more than half of them are children, Sessions said. She told us about a Massachusetts couple “that wanted to help,” and initiated a resettlement program helping refugees escape Nazi persecution during WWII through the UU Church in Prague. Since 1941, the Unitarian (Universalist) Service Committee has challenged injustice and advanced human rights by placing people in safe havens believing that all people have inherent power, dignity, and rights.
One such safe haven is Chittenden County where 8,000 former refugees from several countries have resettled over the past 25 years, quickly becoming self-sufficient and contributing their hard work, education, training, and taxes as an integral part of their communities. Of the 3,000 Hindu Bhutanese, 300 now own their own homes. “Beware of the single story,” Abi Sessions said, “and beware of your own expectations.”
We are not all refugees fleeing war and violence for our lives, but unless we are Native American, it is only a matter of how long ago we or our forefathers arrived from afar seeking freedom and a better life. Joining Native Americans who honor this land, and real Vermonters who were born in this state, we have come to Vermont in search of a home surrounded by beauty and nature where we feel blessed and secure, a safe haven in our troubled world.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an author/poet/artist who lives in Killington and Bradenton, Florida. She was a mission intern of the United Methodist Church Board of Global Ministries during the military dictatorship of General Videla in Argentina. The Dream Lodge her father and family built is her safe haven in this world.
Safe haven in the Green Mountain State
By Marguerite Jill Dye