In the days when the EU and nation states ruled there was a war raging in the land and a certain woman, Naomi and her family lived in Aleppo. But the husband of Naomi was killed when a bomb destroyed the family’s business. Her eldest son had married a woman called Orpah but was shot dead in a sniper attack. Her youngest son had married a woman called Ruth but was forced to flee to Germany to avoid being conscripted into the army. So the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.
Naomi decided that she would leave the country of Syria and head for the country of Germany for she had heard in the country of Germany that God had had consideration for refugees and had given them food and shelter. So she set out from the place that had been her home, she and her two daughters-in-law. But she stopped and told her two daughters-in-law to return to their mother and father’s houses saying may God grant you security and a new future, each of you. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her saying,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge,
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
where you die, I will die –
there will I be buried.” (Ruth 1: 16 – 17 NRSV)
Naomi saw that Ruth had set her mind to go with her so she said no more. So the two of them travelled by bus and on foot through Turkey and were smuggled across the Aegean sea in a small fishing boat until they reached the island of Samos in Greece. They came to the island of Samos just as many thousands of refugees were arriving and the Greek people welcomed them with a smile, a hot meal, some clean clothes and a place on the quayside to sleep for the night.
Then an official asked them which country they had come from and where they were going and told them that the borders had been closed and they could travel no further. The official offered them a place in an official camp with doctors, food and sleeping bags provided. The women had no choice but to go with the official. Once inside the camp surrounded by fences and razor wire they were told that they would be detained there for up to 28 days while their paperwork was processed.
Inside the camp there was a man Boaz, also from their home town, who befriended them and made sure they got enough food and drink and that none of the younger men took advantage of them.
Naomi, her mother-in-law, said to Ruth, “My daughter I need to seek some security for you so that all may be well with you. “Now here is our countryman Boaz who has been looking out for us. Now wash and tidy yourself and go to the place where he sleeps at night.”
“When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.” (Ruth 3: 4 – 5 NRSV)
So Ruth lay with Boaz who ensured that Ruth and Naomi’s applications for re-unification with their husband/son in Germany went to the top of the priority list. The 28 days of detention came and went and Ruth’s belly begun to grow large with the child growing inside her. Ruth and Naomi are still on the island of Samos waiting for their application to go to Germany to be reviewed.
Unlike the seemingly happy ending in the Biblical story of Ruth and Naomi where at least their future is secured, our story of a contemporary Ruth and Naomi stops abruptly, waiting for the EU and its nation states to process papers and to decide what will happen next.
So why did I chose to retell the story of Ruth and Naomi for this contemporary context?
Because of the numbers of Ruths and Naomis we met in and around the refugee camps in Greece. Because of the number of pregnant women we met. Because of the number of young and very vulnerable women who were travelling on their own.
Because of the stories we heard of women deliberately getting pregnant in a desperate attempt to have their paperwork processed more quickly. Because of the stories we heard of women being trafficked for sex or organ donation and of babies simply disappearing.
In honour of these women I am retelling the story of Ruth and Naomi, two courageous women who leave everything behind in order to survive and who are willing to do whatever it takes to seek a new future and some security for themselves.
Photo: Esme Allen