Spreading Faith

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By: Katie Huish

“Why don’t we only take, or prioritize taking Christian refugees over refugees of other religions?”

This is a question that since the election has circulated widely. We get this question frequently and often times, by other Christians. To me, in my faith, it is a mandate to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbor, and these mandates do not say “welcome the stranger...unless…” nor does it say, “love your neighbor….unless...:”

Every bit of the word is intentional. So why do so many believers question if God intended the opposite of what is written? If our Lord and Savior commanded us to love and care only for other Christians then I believe we would see it written and it would be bold and it would be mandated to do that. But fortunately, God has a huge heart and so much love for all of his children, not just the ones who are seemingly favored by some of his other children.

“Hate stirs up trouble, but love forgives all offenses.”  Proverbs 10:12

As a Christian and as a person who loves and cares for others, I deem and value all people the same. I don’t think there is anyone in this world worth saving more than others and in a systematic response to this question, the United Nations interviews refugees as they register for refugee status and refers only the refugees deemed most vulnerable, often times prioritizing elderly, families with small children, or single mothers. It is also important to note that nearly 50% of refugees are children. Seeing as there are 65.6 million refugees worldwide it would be not only impossible to pick out the Christian, or seemingly Christian refugees, but it would be wrong to move Christian refugees to the front if they weren’t in that top tier of individuals and families who are most vulnerable. We have to also understand that every refugees situation varies greatly. While some refugees are living in rough tent set ups in fields with little to no access to aid, some refugees are well-off living in apartments in cities, living normal lives attending university and work.

So the question would stand, would you rather resettle a Christian family who is already living not only a normal, but a safe life? Or would you rather settle the nonbeliever family desperately seeking normal, with a father who just wants to make a living to support the needs of his family, a mother who just wants enough food to feed the bellies of her small children and to go to sleep without worry of their home being raided at night, and three small children who all deserve a formal education and a chance to make it in this life just as much as the small children you know here in the states? Because if it were my decision, I would choose to give the nonbeliever family a real chance.

“He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15

Preach the gospel to all creation. If we only took Christian refugees, how would we share the gospel or reach the unreachable?

We have now resettled a three different families into NWI, and not a single one of them have been Christian. Two of the clients in one case have gone to church with some of our Good Neighbors on a couple different occasions. They were able to experience something they had not before and it opened their hearts to it more, requesting to go back again.

Another one of our cases, had been seeing some of our good neighbors regularly and had formed a raw and genuine friendship. In this time, this good neighbor had consoled one of the clients making a reference to his personal beliefs on the situation, as any friend would do in that situation, and weeks later the client had mentioned that he trusted in that thought because God was in control and that things will occur in Gods time.

These were both believers of Islam. Both through natural friendship occurring because of Good Neighbor Teams, they were exposed and had become a bit open to learning more about their friends beliefs. If we only had Christian refugees, we wouldn’t have any chance to spread the gospel. You would be preaching to the choir.

Lastly, during our time in the Beqaa valley we were able to work with a faith based aid organization called Heart for Lebanon which served all Syrian refugees within a given camp setting. This is not prejudiced against any member of any given faith. They believe in first humanitarian aid and education, second in relational engagement, and lastly, reconciliation through discipleship which is ultimately to lead refugees into the arms of Christ. This organization offers aid regardless of participation of its faith based offerings. They create relationships with these people without any expectations or requirements for them to be engaged in the bible study that they offer. They, like us, create genuine relationships and let things to go from there. Through this, they reach those who would not otherwise be exposed to Christians or the gospel by being and acting as the hands and body of Christ.

So my answer to this, is that we are mandated to love all. Refugees of all religion, ethnicities, beliefs. Humans of all walks of faith. God did not discriminate and he mandated for us to love like he does. In order to spread and share the gospel, you must interact with those who are not already believers. On a practical note, think of the situation I mentioned above.. refugee cases vary greatly. The United Nations does its best to resettle the absolute most vulnerable, we must trust in that along with the vetting process that has yet to fail us. 

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Born a Refugee Part II: Hardships

By: Katie Huish

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Last time, in Born a Refugee Pt. 1 I touched on our visit with the many women in one family with the two small infants. Now, take a glimpse into the hardships these families experience.

That day, they continued to share about their experience fleeing their homes and coming to find refuge in the Beqaa Valley. As I complimented the children, one of the women within the group mentioned that they had a sister in Syria who had been pregnant. At that time, all of them were still in Syria but the war was terrible and the regime had control of most areas. Their sister, Yana had been full term carrying her baby. She was having intense contractions and they needed to seek medical attention as it was apparent she would need to receive a C-section as there had been complications. Unfortunately, they would not allow them to get to a hospital for a long period of time. They finally were allowed to take Yana but just before getting to the hospital, they lost Yana and the baby.

Just within months of this happening, their other sister Amena had also been at full term ready to deliver and she also needed a C-section. Many of these women typically just would have midwives deliver in the homes. Amena made it to the hospital and delivered a healthy baby boy. But unfortunately, as they were about to leave the hospital, it was hit with a barrel bomb which was likely dropped by the regime.

Safety has become a huge concern for these women because of various factors whether because of the war itself or because of their access to medical attention.

On a different day, we visited a different camp that was a bit more dense and compact. We were welcomed into a large living space that was again shared by many women whom were related. They shared similar stories of grief and hardship which occurred due to the war. 

One of the main women explained that she had two daughters 12 and 14. These girls had not had proper nutritious meals for months. But also, the 12 year old had just been married for the second time. This is likely partially a result of the lack of resources. These are heartbreaking stories that seem so far and out of reach to us, but to these individuals are very real situations of their every day lives in the Beqaa.

Reflecting upon all of this, it reminds me how small our problems are. As a university student, I often feel as though I don’t have “enough” but realistically, our American idea of not having enough has zero comparison to that in which these individuals are experiencing. The actual lack of running water, of security in the home, shared and few toilets, small rations of food, and no income. That is hardship. 

Even after experiencing the secondhand trauma from taking in these stories, and showing love and compassion to these refugees through their hardships that so many don’t understand why it is happening, I trust in the Lord, my savior, that He has some good to come from this. Hills and valleys, not just valleys. 

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Psalm 13:5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

Jeremiah 29:11For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Born a Refugee - Pt. One Prayers

By: Katie Huish

What does it mean to be born into a refugee camp or in the midst of a civil war all around you? What dynamics do these children face? 51% of refugees are under the age of 18 so what kind of life are these children living as a result of being born into a refugee camp?

A few weeks ago we entered the Beqaa Valley unknowing of what the day would hold. We arrived at a settlement of Syrian refugees whose homes were made from tarps and wood. We were able to speak with many families who were without shame to tell their stories of persecution and war in their home country of Syria.

We first met with a group of women who were all related. Two of the younger women, assuringly their mothers, held small babies, around 4 and 6 months of age.

The babies were very small due to the lack of resources, small amounts of food they were receiving, and the lack of medical support on the ground in Lebanon for these refugee families.

Your first thought is, look at the sweet little baby. Just as though you saw a small child being held by someone here. But then as I took in our surroundings I wondered and I prayed. You wonder what kind of life that child will have - will he or she ever have a “normal” life? One with areas to run and play safely, or with actual toys, rather than scraps found around the camp… You wonder if they will be given enough food - as the aid in the area is fairly sparse and very few organizations are on the ground offering aid. You wonder if they will ever have the opportunity or the access to an education, as there are not any formal schools in these areas for the refugee children, though luckily some organizations like Heart for Lebanon offer an informal learning center. You also wonder what their hopes and dreams will be one day.. In the states you’d think of these as being preference of university or careers, or even owning a home on a lake. But here things are different. Being a refugee changes the dynamics of their lives. The hopes and the dreams of many are to have homes that are all their own, to have schools they can send their children to so that they can actually learn, to have the opportunity to build a career and earn enough of a living to care for your family. These are their hopes and dreams. 

After my mind flashes through all of these questions, I pray.

I thank God that these children, while they may lack many resources, will never lack love and care from their families. I thank God that though many of these children have lost one or both parents, their extended family members swoop them up and care for them as their own. I pray for healing in the heavy hearts of all in this setting. I pray that these children will never face deep illness or death due to the lack of resources or care. I pray for comfort for each and every child in these camp settings, that they will one day see the love of Christ and accept it into their hearts. I also pray that the needs will be met, from food to education to medical care that these refugees will be taken in and loved by groups who are enthusiastic to welcome the stranger. 

1 Thessalonians 5:18: Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (NLT)

Reflections from the Beqaa...

By: Katie Huish

 

The Welcome Network had the amazing opportunity to visit the Beqaa Valley for a few days during our time in Beirut, Lebanon. The Beqaa Valley is between two hills. Over one hill, is Syria - the border just a ten minute drive from the camps we were visiting. Over the other, is Beirut - about an hour from the camp. This experience was surreal, we spent many days in the camp visiting families who welcomed us in with open arms, offering us tea and other beverages as if we were the ones fleeing hardship and loss. Then we explored Beirut on the weekend before we left, seeing Rolex and MAC stores in high end shopping areas. Two hills - that is all that is separating the upper class from the Syrian Civil War. For us, the war in Syria often feels like a concept rather than a reality. Because for us, it is seemingly a world away. But seeing so many individuals turn their shoulder to it while staying in their comfort zones within the borders of Lebanon was astonishing. As an individual living in America, I meet people day in and day out who choose that these people are not our problem and people who allow fear to prevent them from loving and welcoming the stranger. Oftentimes, I meet other Christians who say that they stand for the stranger but do understand the other perspective. I want to affirm that there are no conditions in showing compassion. In fact, the Bible reaffirms that we need to love when it isn't easy. That we must welcome the stranger for we were strangers in Egypt. I don't think that this is any different, and it certainly is not an exception to the rule. After this trip, my prayers are that I don't ever forget this experience - the stories of loss, of hardship, uncertainty, devastation, heartbreak. These individuals just want their basic needs to be cared for and to have a home. We were asked to pray for a family who's 12 year old daughter had eaten nothing but potatoes for months on end as they had no other resources, and another family who consumes nothing besides bread as it's all they have - that they would find the blessing of meals for their family. We were asked to pray for a family who watched their neighbors homes were taken by ISIS and they were then killed - that they may find a home, safe and secure to raise their children in without worry. While shadowing a women's bible study IN the predominantly Muslim refugee camp, in a prayer request circle, a woman prayed for healing as she had lost the twin of her ill baby in her arms and healing for the one she still had who was getting over an illness. We also heard prayers that missing family members would be found. We heard prayers that the Lord would comfort them through the loss and grief that so many of them were experiencing. 

 

These requests would be the same as ours if we were standing under those same tents in those conditions... because they are human. They are like us. They are children of God, who loves them just as much as he loves us and wants them to be welcomed and cared for as they are the orphan, the widow, the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable. 

 

 

As we jump back into our ministry here in NWI, I ask that you pray for these individuals and families. Above, I listed some of the prayer requests which all came from them asking us to pray for them. I also would ask that you pray for the safety of these victims of war and persecution. Pray that they may find a peaceful life one day. That the children will be educated and that the parents are given the opportunity to work once again. 

 

 

Do you have a heart for the vulnerable? Looking for ways to welcome the stranger? 

Sign up to learn more about our volunteers opportunities here! 

 

https://morning-scrubland-42645.herokuapp.com/volunteers/new

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White Evangelicals and Refugee Ministry

By: T.M.

I am one of the 19% of white evangelicals who did not vote for President Trump. From the beginning of the presidential campaign I have closely followed the response of American Christians to President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Since January talk of travel bans and moratoriums on the refugee resettlement program have consumed much of my attention. I have spent hours crafting arguments intended to persuade conservative Christians that welcoming refugees is consistent with both their faith and their politics. My progress has been slow, and I often find myself discouraged by the apathy or outright opposition of believers to loving refugees. But last week I experienced an antidote to that discouragement.

If you regularly read Faith & Forced Migration, chances are that you too are appalled, grieved, and frustrated by the actions and reactions of your fellow believers. Take heart, white evangelicals are actually at the forefront of refugee ministry in America. The media may tell you about the negative response of white evangelicals to the presence of refugees and immigrants in the US.  You may read that white evangelicals have overwhelmingly supported the travel ban. However, these media vignettes and statistics only tell one side of the story.

Last week I attended the 2017 Refugee Roundtable, a conference organized by the Refugee Highway Partnership for Christians who are loving and serving refugees in North America. Over the course of the three day conference I met dozens of fellow believers who love and serve refugees all across the US and Canada. I met newcomers to refugee ministry who are learning how to love the stranger for the first time and desperately want to change the narrative about the Church in America. I talked with veterans in ministry who have been faithfully serving refugees for nearly 40 years, long before it was trendy or so deeply controversial. I heard the stories of former refugees who came to America decades ago and have now dedicated their lives to serving the newly displaced and boldly challenging the American Church to fill the gap that our new president has left.

The media has woven a narrative of hate, prejudice and apathy, while overlooking stories of faithful service and humble ministry. These stories are not often told, because their plots are not shocking, their characters do not seek out the spotlight, and they certainly do not always end happily-ever-after. So, while the voices of those who oppose welcoming refugees may sound loudest they are actually the minority. Active support of refugees speaks much louder than the empty words of the fearful.

It’s natural to feel discouraged when such a vast majority of white evangelicals voted for President Trump, and when we learn that they are twice as likely to support the travel ban as other Americans. But there are also those who, through their quiet, faithful service are seeking to change the narrative about evangelicals in America. I encountered these subversive servants last week at the Refugee Roundtable, and I was honored to join my voice to theirs. Will you join us as well? In the face of your own discouragement will you seek to act boldly and subversively to love your refugee neighbors? For it is only through loving action that we can drown out the noise of bigotry and apathy so that our side of the story is heard.

Greetings from Beqaa Valley (Lebanon)

When I prepare to take a trip to a place like a refugee camp, something inside me braces emotionally. I know that I'm going to hear difficult stories. I know in advance that I won't be able to "fix" anyone's major problems. 

The temptation is to harden, and to glaze the eyes. But our encouragement from scripture is to follow our Lord's lead. Just as God, "comforts us in all our troubles, so...we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
 
We have had an amazing opportunity here in Lebanon to visit several refugee camps and to visit many Syrian refugee families in their refugee tents, and some in their apartments in Beirut. Many of them are filled with hope -- not in the human sense, but in a sense where they have understood God's love for them and have been introduced to spiritual hope in a way that could never have happened apart from these tragic events. God is turning tears to hope. 

As we shadow some great organizations here on the ground, we have had the opportunity to participate in food distribution, observe a dental clinic, help with English classes for Syrian mothers while their children participate in summer camp, observe churches set up non-official educational schools for Syrian children (official schools aren't allowed because Syrians are "illegal" here in Lebanon), and share God's love with people. 

Very importantly, we have helped them feel heard. We listen as they share of not knowing where their fathers are (or even if they are alive).

One young woman shared of her pregnant sister dying as they fled Syria, unable to get medical care because hostile forces that had surrounded their area would not allow them to leave to go to a hospital. Her pregnancy turned too complicated, and without the ability to obtain a c-section, both the mother and baby were lost. 

As she shared her story, one member of our group listened and compassionately shared her own story of loss. The two women related in ways that transcended language and cultural barriers. 

The Welcome Network plans to continue to include a global component in our work. 99+% of refugees will not make it to a third country for resettlement. We will continue to identify, support, and partner with local organizations doing God's work on the ground.

Thank you for your support, partners, volunteering, and partnership! 

-- Tony Burrell
 

A Refugee Mother's Heartbreak

The Welcome Network has recently had the privilege of becoming a Remote Placement Program site of the United State Refugee Program. This means that we help resettle refugees who have family here in the United States.

One of our recent cases entails the broken journey of a mother and her two sons from Yemen. Twenty years ago, this mother as forced into an arranged marriage at the young age of 13, and she had children at the age of 15 and 19. In the years to follow, her husband divorced her. In the cultural norm of her (male-dominated) society, he took the sons and moved away. She not only felt the stigma and shame of divorce and abandonment, but a crushing powerlessness of watching her sons be ripped away. 

War broke out in Yemen, and this ostracized mother did what she could to survive. She was placed into the U.S. as a refugee (traditionally, the U.S. tends to take the most vulnerable cases that the United Nations refers to us, often cases of women and children). 

Meanwhile, the father back in Yemen remarried and left his boys with a distant relative. The boys desperately wanted to reunite with their mother, and fleeing the war in Yemen, ended up in Jordan by themselves. They too were placed in the refugee system, and until today were literally days from being united with their mother abroad.

As part of our role, I visited the mother located here in Indiana. She lives in the town neighboring our office here in Northwest Indiana. She lives 10 minutes from where I grew up. Upon visiting her home, she welcomed me in with baklava and cupcakes and hospitality.

My visit was to ensure a sure environment for the boys, that the mother was capable of caring for them, and that the boys each had a private space and bedroom.  

During the visit, I told her that IOM (the U.N. Migration Agency that works with the United States to run the refugee program) was hoping to send them within two weeks. She placed her head into her hands and started bawling tears of overwhelming joy. She couldn’t believe it! She has been through hell, and felt the clouds parting with the prospect of embracing her sons again.  

The actions anticipated to be taken today in Washington D.C. -- a moratorium and restrictions on US refugee resettlement -- will likely delay this family reunion indefinitely. These actions will continue to delay family reunification and education for the two boys, and will continue to break their mother’s heart. 

When I began working in missions many years ago, I never envisioned myself founding an organization dedicated to "welcoming the stranger," to use Biblical language, but this is exactly why. Vulnerable people do not have a voice! It is up to us to be the voice of the persecuted, the weak, the defenseless. We need to speak where they cannot. Proverbs 31:11-12 commands this, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

We will continue to follow on our path, to be a voice for the voiceless and vulnerable, and to support refugees wherever they come from.

You can be a part of this by volunteering, donating items or finances, coming on trips to serve and learn, by praying, and by taking a few steps out of your way daily to welcome the stranger with your smiles, your words, and your compassion! 

Fight the Fear!

 

Tom Petty is sometimes a wordsmith, sometimes just darned repetitive. “You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.” Sounds fearlessly bold.

Most of us, however, are more easily swayed. Sometimes it takes little more than some rhetoric about a 55-foot wall (or is it 30-foot or 40-foot?) or a vague promise of keeping out immigrants.

The “Vote Leave” campaign, winners of the BREXIT mess in Great Britain, have provided us with a good litmus test for what the results of fear-mongering can bring. So far it’s brought a whole bunch of racism, and a lot of “I didn’t say that."

In general, fear begets more fear:

  • A mom worrying for her late teenager stays up and watches the news or checks cnn.com. This fear-based distraction effort response surfaces even greater worry. 

 

  • A husband, insecure about his wife’s business trip, texts her to assure himself of her safety and fidelity. When the immediate response isn’t returned, the fears kick into overdrive, and he begins searching Facebook or other records for signs of betrayal.

 

  • A middle-class homeowner, whose normally safe town experiences a rash of robberies or an incidence of gun violence, begins to profile seedy individuals in the neighborhood. 

 

This is how the devil works, and it’s also how the political machine works. The solution is to be aware of the sources of fear in our lives (fear of losing security, fear of losing power, fear of losing control, fear of losing comfort, fear of losing love, and others), and to strive to see how ulterior forces act in purposeful ways to get us to succumb to fear and do their bidding. 

The answer? Easy to say, a little harder to do: Surrender the fear patiently, and trust a Greater Plan is afoot. Believe that your feelings of discomfort are a Divine way of showing you something, or growing you somehow. And remembering that in some mystic way, "perfect love casts out fear." Compassion trumps suspicion. Every time.

Swallowing the bait of propagandist rhetoric, or running to surface distractions — those are both the easy way out. But “hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out."

 

 

Tabanovce Refugee Camp Day #1

Today was our first day volunteering at the camp in Tabanovce, Macedonia. This has become the required stop for Syrian, Afghani, and Iraqi refugees as they take their journey from fear, war, and persecution. Anywhere from 500-10,000 pass through here per day, paying 25 Euro each for a 4-hour train through Macedonia. Incidentally, this passage used to cost about 2-3 Euro before the migration began.


Usually they come with a passenger train. But today I met Akram, who with his pregnant wife, son, daughter and 7 other extended family, had been tricked by a criminal in Greece into paying almost 1500 Euro to be stowed away into the shipping container of a freight train. This train actually led to the same place as the normal refugee train. Without having necessary stamps on their documents, however, Akram and his band of 11 family faced the harrowing fact that they now had to return back to Greece to get those proper stamps, and they were now 1500 Euro closer to running completely out of funds.

 

On top of that, most of their belongings had been lost at sea during a near-deadly boat crossing from Turkey into Greece. During this experience, the boat motor died, and the boat itself literally broke off on one side. At some points during those three hours of hell in the water, they were literally up to their necks. Somehow they made it to the Greek island of Lesbos. 

 

The rest of the day at camp was more "normal", with a train of 400 refugees arriving. The organization through which we are volunteering, along with about a dozen others, combined forces to provide food, water, shoes, clothing, warmth, and a little bit of emotional comfort. Some of the camp workers were there specifically to give the women and children a few moments of rest and distraction.

 

Within an hour of the train arriving, 90% of the 400 refugees were beginning their walk - a 4 mile hike to the Serbian border crossing. In the dark. With bags strapped to shoulders and spines. Many with babies, toddlers, and other kids. One of the women had a one-week old baby.

 

A Mercy Corp volunteer was there to drive those too frail to walk - both the elderly and those who had been injured during their countries' civil wars. 
 

When Jesus said, "As you cared for one of the least of these my brothers, you cared for me" - when He said this...if He didn't mean people like Akram, then I'm at a loss as to whom He meant.

 

Akron telling his story. 

Akron telling his story. 

A young boy loading up for his 4-mile walk to the border. 

A young boy loading up for his 4-mile walk to the border. 

A woman with a week-old baby born along the journey.

A woman with a week-old baby born along the journey.

A train with 400 refugees arriving. 

A train with 400 refugees arriving. 

Epiphany

"Feeling’ my way through the darkness, guided by a beating heart. I can’t tell where the journey will end, but I know where to start…all this time I was findin’ myself and I didn’t know I was lost.” — Avicii

 

 

“We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we’ve traversed so far.”


I met a man the other day who introduced himself to me in a thick African accent. He said, “Hello, my name is Michael, and I am a missionary to America.” He went on to explain to me that he had come from Africa to America to reach out to immigrant communities with the gospel. As we spoke together, he confided in me that he doesn’t understand the American church’s complacency (and even some vitriol) concerning the stranger. 


I forgot the conversation, to be honest. Until I was taking some time to read the Christmas story, and came across the Wise Men from the East. Then for some reason my heart turned to Michael.


What if we are the ones who are a bit lost and stranded right now, and some of these people from the East can bring some “wise love” to our churches in America? 


What if our American attempts at security, safety, identity, and control are actually thwarting the plans of God in our individual lives and in our country? 


What if the refugee families coming through our doors — 45% of whom last year were from a Christian faith background, many of them coming due to martyr-like persecution in their home countries — what if they have much wisdom to give us here in our secure lives?


It seems as if each generation, the Church has an opportunity to respond to a crisis. Sometimes we step up. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we recognize the chance the Divine is giving us — as the apostles did. Sometimes we bow to fear as Herod did. What will be the choice for this generation, our American church of the early 21st Century?

Death's Dark Shadows

"Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and Death’s dark shadows put to flight….O come Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our King of Peace." -- O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

 

Tucking my kids in last night, they asked for a Christmas song. I began to sing, and they quickly overruled, “No Dad, on the phone.” So I pulled up the above version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

 

As I cuddled with them and listened to the song, I grew sad. The hearts of all mankind are not bound together. Our sad divisions have not ceased. Even though Emmanuel has come, the peace He left is still inner, and not universal. It is still partial, not total. It is still mirrored, not pervasive. 

 

Sad divisions have caused 300,000 deaths in Syria over the last six years, with estimates being that about 200,000 of those are civilian deaths. The United Nations is no longer tracking the number of civilian deaths. 

 

Sad divisions are also preventing us in the Church (big “C” meaning the worldwide network of Christians throughout the Earth) from giving refuge to those fleeing this tragedy.

 

During this season of Advent, let us the Church become a people whose hope softens our hardness; whose peace overcomes our panic, and whose souls rise above our desire for security; lest we, as Christ warned, lose our lives by saving them. 

 

May we be a people of God who help to put Death’s dark shadows to flight. 

What Jesus? Huh?

"I am a stranger in this world just passing through." -- Anthem Lights

I’ve been wondering a lot lately about Jesus’ words, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me...[when] you did it to one of the least of these my brothers." 

 

They don’t make much sense. In the context of the Scripture, Jesus aligns Himself with the stranger, the sick, the prisoner, and the poor (those without food, water, or clothing). Pardon me, but what do these groups of people have in common with the Savior of the universe? A prisoner is at best unlucky and at worst a bastion of evil. The poor are down and out. The sick are weak and helpless. The stranger is…well…unknown and strange. Why would Jesus identify with these quality traits?

 

I was talking today with a client of our Immigrant Legal Clinic. She came to America over 25 years ago. She has faced spousal abuse, racial discrimination, and severe health issues. She is also a strong Christian. As she was speaking to me, she looked at me and poignantly spoke the words in a beautiful African accent, “I have not arrived. I am not home yet. Never think you have arrived.”

 

A gentle electrical warmth spread through my chest. I knew Jesus was speaking to me through this stranger. A woman from a small island off the coast of Africa, brought to America on a journey almost three decades ago, was the mouthpiece of my Lord for me today. 

 

What does she have in common with Jesus? In John 18:36, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He would often get away to solitary places to pray. He broke norms. He experienced moments of having to live in shadows to survive. He longed for His real home. His missed His real Father. He experienced brokenness. He was affected by sin. He longed for justice. He knew deep loss, having “emptied Himself,” to take the form of a servant. This parallels the life of a stranger, a refugee, an immigrant. 

 

I long for connection with Jesus. When I welcome the stranger, and pause to give that person occasion to speak into my life, my cores begins to identify with that person. In doing so, I experience encounter with the Lord. And then I remember more easily that I am also a stranger, and the kingdom to which I truly belong is one where we are all simply strangers welcomed home. 

 

#peacebethejourney

“I’m not trying to stop a hurricane, I’m not trying to shake the ground below. I’m just trying to find a way to make it back home.

I’m not trying to part the ocean waves, I’m not trying to overthrow the throne. I’m just trying to find a way to make it back home. I’m just trying to get home.”

I will run down that long-hearted, treacherous road to get home!”

— American Authors

 

With the Paris attacks, and the political posturing surrounding the current refugee crisis, I finally found the impetus needed to start a blog. My writings will be an effort to convince you to “welcome the strangers” who have lost the concept of home.

On one hand, “home” is an illusion. Home is based on the idea of security and belonging, companionship and unconditional love, warmth and comfort. The problem is that, of those words I just used to describe home, every one of them is temporal — subject to change, subject to end. One day I’ll write about illusion. 

One another hand, home is a beautiful dream. Since the 1970’s, the United States has become the land of dreams for over 3 million individuals and families who have been settled safely by our refugee resettlement process. Each of them was vetted, a process which become much more thorough after 9/11. The overwhelming majority of these 3 million people simply want to find home for themselves and their children. To reference the song above, they aren’t trying to shake the ground or overthrow any throne — they are simply trying to get home. And almost all of them have walked a treacherous road to get here. Each and every one of these men, women, and children are made in the image of God. That fact gives each and every one of them the immeasurable value of human dignity. One day soon (and maybe many days after that), I will write about dignity. 

I use the phrase “overwhelming majority” because there may be a bad apple in the bunch. It is important to point out that of the 3 million refugees resettled over the last 4 decades, there hasn’t been even 1! At least regarding terrorist-related activities. The vetting process has been that thorough. But let’s assume a bad apple gets through. We still need to rely on the phrase repeated again and again throughout the Scriptures: “Be not afraid.” I will write often about overcoming fear. 

Having lived 6 years in the Balkans — known for decades as a place of ethnic and religious tension and backward Communism, but currently transformed into the migrant highway toward the West — I affirm that this crisis is global. Many ex-pat friends who still live where I lived have seen the short-term mission and goals of their NGO’s shift from whatever they were sent to do, to caring for the needs of sojourners who simply need a smile, an apple, or a pair of shoes to continue that treacherous road. These friends are living out lifestyles of compassion daily. I will write about compassion. 

So this blog will be about home, illusion, compassion, dignity, fear — and welcoming the stranger. In the meantime, the organization I direct, The Welcome Network, has begun to assemble online resources and articles which may be helpful. You can find them at www.thewelcomenet.org/refugees. To borrow the hashtag of one of my friends in Macedonia (one of those giving out apples, shoes, and love)...

#peacebethejourney.