by Hija Yu
One year in December, I was surfing the Internet to find an appropriate image to put on the coming week’s church bulletin cover when an unusual image caught my eye. It was a drawing of three men, popularly known as the three kings, on their camels’ backs, stopped by a tall wall blocking their way. I was curious to know who created the drawing, but there was no credit. Whoever the artist was, it made me realize something I had not thought of previously.
Often we are told what a wonderful century we live in, and what progress we have made. In many ways, this is true. But the drawing made me realize what we have lost—the freedom to travel without constraints. According to biblical scholars, these men probably lived in present- day Iran, known as Persia at that time, and had traveled to Bethlehem. They traveled through lands governed by different rulers, but they didn’t need permission. The Bible also tells us that Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and baby Jesus. No passports. No visas. Definitely no walls to stop them. What about the first European settlers in the Americas? When I was growing up in Korea, we learned about the Japanese occupation of Korea and some Koreans going to China to live and some to organize the defeat of Japan. They didn’t get permission to travel from government authorities.
Walls to stop people we do not want have been around for a longtime. The longest and the most elaborate one is the Great Wall of China. But, ultimately, that great wall could not stop the fate of the country. The Berlin Wall was built to stop the exodus to West Germany, but people still crossed over, risking their lives. In the end, we witnessed its demise.
Can any wall stop hope for a better life? Maybe temporarily. Human beings seem to have an infinite capacity to come up with solutions when a problem exists. For some people, it seems no other reason than the fact that an obstacle exists provides the motivation. In a book entitled Into Thin Air, the author describes the deaths of climbers on Mt. Everest. These people spent a great deal of money and effort for this highly risky adventure. Why? Simply because it was there.
Whenever I see the ruins of what were considered glorious structures in their time, I have often wondered: What would have happened if the money had been used to help people rebuild their lives? What if the money needed to build the wall now is used to provide grants or no- or low-interest loans to help people to build a better life where they are now? Wouldn’t that be a win-win solution?
When I explained my idea to my sister, she thought I was being too idealistic. But, isn’t it true that often new ideas have been dismissed initially for the same reason? I remember the time when the idea of lowering the curb on the streets to help physically handicapped people came out. Initially the voices of opposition were loud, citing the costs involved. But, the idea won the day.
Now we don’t even think about it; it is a routine matter. Moreover, we had unexpected beneficiaries: the parents with babies in strollers and bikers.
Why not learn from history? Can anything stop hope for a better life? Why spend enormous amounts of money to build a dead wall when that money could be used to build a better life for the living? This essay was originally published in the Montgomery Magazine, Dec/Jan 2018 issue