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What’s in a name?
I confess: I’m terrible with names. When I meet a new person, their name is likely to slip from my mind like the wind tumbles the autumn leaves. I have to work hard to recall the proper moniker for a familiar face, often with terribly embarrassing result. Just ask my wife!
This is especially distressing because names are so important to people- especially the refugees we work with. They have often lost everything: homes, families, jobs, belongings… even names. They become a number on a statistics chart or find their precious family surname changed on official documents and applications. When we encounter someone new, it is doubly important we at least affirm the dignity of trying to accord them their true name when we can.
So why do we keep writing stories and blog updates with pseudonyms and false names? Because the name is precious and the people are precious. In a very small way, it is an effort to protect them and their story. It allows the broader world to peek into a displaced life, without totally exposing them to the potential indignity of becoming known for displacement. When you meet Hasan- which I hope you someday do- you won’t immediately apply all the labels and stories of “Zakir” and put him in a box before you know him.
More importantly, in this age of connectedness and technology, someone drifting through the alleys and byways of cyberspace won’t stumble across “Zakir” and make quite such an easy connection to Hasan. These are the stories of men and women fleeing for their lives, seeking peace and safety, often making new and bold choices in a frightening world. Maybe even embracing a new faith. When “Zakir” is ready to tell his family, or his fellow refugees, or his tightly-knit Muslim community that he’s seeking Jesus or spending time with Jesus-followers, that is his choice not mine, his story. I won’t spoil it for him.
In the meantime, I will work hard to remember names. And I will work hard to protect those names. Even while I am inviting you into the story!