Last summer, when my husband Craig and I announced our round-the-world (RTW) trip, people thought that we were crazy. After letting our family and friends know about our plans, we got a lot of questions. And, after 12 months of answering similar questions from people we met while traveling, we got pretty good at giving our standard answers to what we were doing, why we left, where we were traveling, etc.
One of our common refrains for what we would do when our year of travel was over was — if we found something that we were passionate about and the ability to do something about it, we would stay.
Despite the fact that I said this dozens (or maybe hundreds!) of times over the past year, I’m not sure if I actually believed it. I figured at the end of a year of all the craziness that RTW, long-term travel brings that I would be done. I’d be ready to come back to the U.S. and rest for a bit, to be in one place, to spend time with family and friends, and to jump right back into my life stateside. But, as our trip drew to a close, I found that this was the opposite of what I wanted.
Over the past year, I have had some of the most amazing experiences of my life. I’ve visited wonders of the world, walked an ancient pilgrimage route, trekked to Everest Base Camp, been in a parade, crashed a wedding and a baptism, celebrated the birth of Jesus in the town where he was born, built a network of friends around the world, eaten amazing food, and everything in between.
Amid all of these experiences, I’ve also seen the bad. I’ve seen abject poverty, the lasting impact of war and genocide, bribery and corruption, child labor, and desperation. I’ve visited and worked with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profits addressing the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized in India, Nepal, Turkey, Israel & Palestine, Jordan, and Cambodia. And, along the way, I found myself unable to leave.
One cause that has become particularly important to me is the Syrian refugee crisis. (You can read my article on the crisis entering its fifth year for The Huffington Post here.) During the past four and a half years, more than 4 million people have fled Syria out of fear for their lives. They have run to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and other countries in the region. These countries struggle to meet the needs of a growing refugee population. Hundreds of thousands have sought to continue on to Europe or the U.S. where they can begin to rebuild their lives. But, often they have found closed borders and hostile communities. In addition to those who have fled, more than 12 million people are in need of assistance within Syria. Ongoing conflict has made it difficult and, at times, impossible for aid agencies to reach some of those in need. Many people are without the food to eat, without shelter to protect them, and without hope. Almost four and a half years after violence began, there are no signs that the fighting will cease and that those who have fled will be able to return home.
How could I return home and resume my life when there is so much work to be done and perhaps I could do some of it?
So, after talking about it for a year while traveling, Craig and I have decided to make a jump…again.
This time, I’m moving to Amman, Jordan.
This past Sunday, I arrived to Amman where I will be working with a NGO focused on helping both Syrian refugees who have been forced to leave their homes due to conflict, as well as poor and vulnerable Jordanians who are in need of assistance too.
After a year of travel, it was hard to believe that an opportunity such as this one presented itself. I will be working daily on a cause that I’m passionate about, living in a country that I love, figuring out what being an “expat” is all about, and learning more about relief and development along the way. While it wasn’t an easy decision to go, I know that it is the right one.
After struggling where I should be, what I should be doing, what I’m called to do, and everything in between, I know that returning to the U.S. is not an option now. I can’t not respond to needs I’ve seen. I can’t not respond to the suffering I’ve found. I can’t not do something when I (think and hope!) that I have the ability to make a difference — to manage projects that fill gaps in humanitarian assistance, advocate for the marginalized, empower the powerless, and be a voice for those who have been unable to speak for themselves and share their struggles. How could I not go?
Some of the most meaningful time I spent while in the U.S. earlier this month was with my family. Just hanging out as my impending departure approached. One of the most meaningful things anyone said to me was said by my grandmother. She doesn’t talk as much as she used to as she continues to recover from her stroke, but she’s a strong 92-year old! As I said goodbye to her before I left, she told me something that I’ll never forget. “I’ll miss you,” she said. “But, I know that you have to go.”
So, go I will. To be with the poor, with those who mourn, with those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, with those who are persecuted, with those who have lost hope. These people are not alone. Their hope cannot be lost forever. While the challenge sometimes seems insurmountable, I have hope that my work will make a difference…even if it’s just a small one…in the needs of those who have lost so much fleeing from Syria into Jordan.