Displaced or Misplaced?



Displaced… but not Misplaced…



So often similar words can sound alike but mean totally different things. One word can soothe, while a similar word can irritate and divide.

On my first trip to Asia, I quickly learned that there is a word you don’t want to use.

It’s a word called “refugee…” According to the UN, a refugee is a person who has crossed a national border to escape war, famine, or natural disaster. A person who is still in their country but has moved due to the above factors is considered a displaced person, not a refugee. Government officials are very sensitive on this issue. They are displacees not refugees. Where they live is called a Displaced Person’s Camp or “DPC.”

Back in 2002 I stood amidst a dusty, hastily built DPC in the floodplain north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Our host, Mickey, kept reminding us not to call it a refugee camp.

During our trip to the tsunami areas we visited many Displaced Person Camps. Some were pretty nice while others were primitive and unsanitary.

Those who fled Katrina and then Rita were called evacuees even though they were displaced persons. Don’t ask me the difference. But they weren’t and aren’t refugees.

However, there is a point of clarification I wish to make. They have been displaced. But they have not been misplaced.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines misplaced as “put in a wrong place” or “place (something) where one cannot find it again.” It means to put something somewhere and forget where it is.

As I’m writing this tonight I cannot find my truck keys. They are misplaced somewhere. Later on I do find them… right where I had misplaced them while I was preoccupied with this story.

However, the term “displaced” carries a completely different connotation. It means moved but not forgotten or lost.

We can all be displaced and it doesn’t take a hurricane or tsunami. A job change, a family tragedy, an illness, a financial setback, persecution from without or even within. All of a sudden we realize we are somewhere we did not expect to be. We’ve been displaced.

Many Katrina evacuees sat shaking their heads as the 17th Street and New London Ave. levees flooded New Orleans on Tuesday. That morning’s headline read, “New Orleans dodges bullet.” The cold, chilling report that the city was slowly but surely flooding brought sadness to the faces of these strangers who would soon become our friends. Where only hours before they were planning to return in several days to their neighborhoods, they now saw those plans drowned under the murky waters from Lake Ponchartrain.


They were displaced… No home to return to.

For now at least…

And maybe forever.


Being displaced is bad.

It is tough.


But it is not the same as being misplaced. If I misplace you, I forget where I’ve “laid you down.” If I displace you, I’ve moved you but I know exactly where you are.

I want to share a story from the Scriptures that illustrates the difference between these two similar but diverse words.

One of the greatest heroes of the Old Testament is Daniel. He is an example of courage, coolness under pressure, and commitment to his own value system. Daniel has been displaced. That is the main story of this book in the Bible. As a young boy, his homeland of Israel is overrun by the Babylonians and Daniel is exiled to live in a foreign kingdom.

Except Daniel never forgets where he came from. His belief in God and commitment to do what is right is shown in all he does. This leads him to advance to the inner circle of the Palace. When the Persian King Darius overthrows the Babylonians, Daniel’s character endears him to the new ruler.

In Daniel chapter 6 he becomes the victim of an evil plot by jealous associates of King Darius. Daniel breaks the king’s edict that no one can pray to anyone but him. Daniel, committed to praying three times daily, is arrested and thrown into the den of lions.

Now, you talk about displaced! He has come from his boyhood home, had his name changed to the beautiful tongue twister of “Belteshazzar,” gone from one kingdom to another, and now is thrown into the den of lions. But he was only displaced. Not misplaced.

God allowed him to be displaced. Now don’t ask me to explain all about the “permissive will” of God. I do not understand why God allows his people to be dumped right in the middle of the most terrible situations.


Displaced but not forgotten


The next morning when Darius, who has fasted and prayed, comes running to the lion’s den, Daniel is safe and whole. Daniel’s reply is all about displaced but not misplaced: “My God sent his angel, who closed the mouths of the lions.”

Yes, God knew right where Daniel was. And as always he was faithfully there. As we’ve watched the evacuees struggle through this terrible ordeal, we’ve seen that Daniel-type faith shine through. They’ve searched (and are still searching) for the direction to go… rebuild or move on… Hang on or let go… Displaced, yes. But no, no, no…not misplaced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *