There are 20 million refugees in the world at this moment, more than at any other time in history. This news is, and ought to be, deeply distressing. There are 20 million human beings fleeing for their lives.

The summer I turned 11, there was a war in Jordan, where I lived, and my parents — being in religious work — decided not to be evacuated as the inevitable conflict loomed. The U.S. Embassy advised my parents that we should act as if no one was home. So we hid. I knew enough to be frightened when the bombers screamed over and the anti-aircraft guns across the street blasted into life.

We lived for most of the summer in the hallway and under the dining room table, not using any lights or making any noise, sleeping on two twin mattresses put end to end and playing word games in the dark.

Dad announced, one day, that we must prepare to leave suddenly. He gave each of us kids a paper bag to put beside the door: “Whatever you could put in this bag, you can take with you. Get it ready and leave it by the door.” I struggled to figure out what I wanted in my bag: my guitar books, a doll, a special box of trinkets? None of it made sense. Finally, I settled on shirts, underwear and socks.

One day, a phone call came. Under the cover of darkness we scrambled into the back of a truck — holding brown towels over blond and red heads — onto a cargo plane and out of the country. I think we took our paper bags, but I don’t really remember.

I know a family who left Iraq with literally nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Some Syrian families left with one backpack of medicine, plastic-wrapped phones and currencies and a pair of shoes, ready to toss it overboard if the boat got too full. What matters at a time like that?

It bears asking, in our Elon University community — if you had to leave suddenly, with one small backpack of belongings, what would go in it? What matters enough for you to lug it over a border?

Think about it. Too many of our sisters and brothers in the world are making these decisions.

7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16 in the McBride Room, Peace and Conflict Studies offers a faculty panel on the migration crisis. That evening, we will announce an initiative to help refugees. A little backpack empathy will go a long way toward opening our very fortunate hearts to those who are carrying backpacks of socks halfway across the world.

Jan Fuller is Elon's University Chaplain.