I am THE refugee: ragtag stories

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Peel back our ribs again and stand inside of our chest.                                                                               Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity on the lips of the found.                                                                                              Oh let us adore the Son of Glory drenched in love.

John Mark McMilan / Skeleton Bones

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tent city. rosze, hungary border

Three Great Reasons To Reject Refugees (and Starbucks)

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DSC_0406Just as the  Starbucks fiasco about those blasted red mugs began to cool, Paris exploded. The Middle Eastern Refugee Crisis came barreling back. This post began as a satirical piece about the red mugs and the refugee crisis and radical Jesus, but with the division in our world right now, I did some editing.  The last thing we need is more cynicism and hate.

What follows are 3 points often given by those less eager to welcome refugees.

I respond with answers based in a core belief that the Christian God that we serve is missional (continuously in pursuit of his created ones), is grace-filled, is just (and that means actively in pursuit of justice for all of his creation), and chooses to redeem the world in synergy with (thru / by means of / together with) his people who are the body of Christ.

I fully acknowledge that from the world’s perspective, this God-activity is nonsensical, radical, recklessly passionate and often extravagant.

I also believe that the world is watching our Christian response and somewhere in every human heart there is a kernel of hope that this Jesus is really who he said he was.

I dislike the lines that we draw so easily with our speech: the believers and the non-believers, the refugees and the safe people, the Christians and the other faiths – as if somehow, we were not all made from the same lump of dirt-grey clay and redeemed by the same blood-stained Lord.

The Refugee Crisis Is A Plot

A mastermind is coordinating the movement of large numbers of non-Christian people into the West as part of a larger plan to transform Europe and North America. 

God, how I hope so.

I hope …  No. I believe – that this unprecedented movement of the Middle East into Europe is a God-plot. Nations where Jesus had to show up in dreams are suddenly present in places where his name is freely spoken. These are God-ordained windows, kairos moments,  where Jesus in the actions and the attitudes of Christ-followers everywhere can be clearly seen.

Nearly 1.5 million people from countries where owning a Bible is illegal or proclaiming Christ as Savior is punishable by death have suddenly shown up on christianized Europe’s doorstep. What an amazing chapter God is writing. Just as Europe and then North America began to see themselves as post-Christian, the Author of our salvation fans the waning embers of our faith.

It is a plot – an incredibly significant movement across Europe. Let us stop crediting dictators and politicians for the uprooting and transplantation of souls into the heart of our homelands. God should get all the glory for this story line.

If you do not like how he is sovereignly scripting the continuing tale of his good mercy, address your complaints to the Author. I strongly suggest that you read the story of Jonah first. (Bring something that provides shade and, dare I say, a red cup with beverage.)

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The Refugee Crisis Will Affect Western Comfort

With so many refugees flooding EU and American systems, household affluence will be affected, social systems compromised, education deteriorate, and crime increase. 

This is possible although there are significant and reputable reports that make a case for positive outcomes for western economies and societies.

Let me be the unfortunate one to ask: Where did we ever get the idea that safe and affluent lives were God’s guarantee or even his plan for us? In fact, if we use the life of Jesus as a template, we should expect to know the instability of life as a refugee, homelessness, poverty, rejection, and death.

Affluence also has a down-side. It nurtures apathy and it has created rampant materialism and individualism with a by-product of loneliness and depression in many cultures. The western church has long struggled with a forgotten ability to live in community with one another – we split over generational music preferences.

In contrast, Middle-Eastern cultures are highly hospitable. Dare I say that they reflect a key component of the character of the God-head and Christ himself, which is radical hospitality?

This is not an either / or paradigm: as in, either affluence or community. The simple point: we have something valuable to learn from the infusion of highly hospitable societies. There is something of eternal wealth to be gained in the meshing of our lives with one another – across cultures, across skin color, even across religious identity. We are richer for our diversity.

Would we be a better reflection of the God we say we serve if we responded to the stranger with welcome? And, might it be possible that God himself has sent the stranger to your door?

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The Refugees Are Radical Extremists.

There are large numbers of young men who will fill Europe and the US from within and then attack – a Trojan Horse. Or, the demands for mosques and Shariah Law will transform towns into Arab communities. Either way, the West is lost. 

It is undeniable that the pilgrimage of so many refugees from the East continues to permanently change the landscape of the West.

It is possible that extremist elements exist amidst the masses.

It is true that radical extremists have vowed to destroy what they see as the ‘infidel west’ and establish a Caliphate.

Their stated purpose is Armageddon.

All true.

Terrorism is now our reality. This is nothing new for Christianity, it is just new for western Christianity.

So, we would be wise to understand the full arsenal of weapons that come against us.

We spend a lot of time worrying about a number of extremists mixed into the general refugee population but we ignore a much more powerful threat.

When desperate people run from a radicalized war zone towards the ‘Christian’ west and they find christians unwelcoming, harsh, hateful, fearful, and suspicious, what happens? When they find barbed wire and fences? When they see self-preservation get in line before compassion? When they read Facebook posts? And, they do read English. What better means of radicalizing a population could there be?

What better means of radicalizing young people including western young people?

To strip away the last hope that somewhere in the world, radically self-giving, recklessly passionate, and extravagant Love exists …

Somewhere in the whisper of our history is the voice of Ghandi, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’

Perhaps that Trojan Horse is a little less obvious but so much more effective.

A Jesus Response

Can I be honest for a moment?

This post is not for the people applauding the 30 governors who closed 30 American doors.  These words will not change their minds.

This post is not for the politicians or the leaders of countries. Their ears will never hear my tiny chirp.

This post is to honor the journey of courage that so many have set upon – to honor their intense pursuit of hope and their determination that people are still good.

This post is for Jesus-believers of every color and language. Let us be the Church – known by our love.

This post is for those who do not believe in the Christ that I proclaim. There is room at our table – no coercion, no manipulation. We are many who would love to simply walk with you as friends – hear your story as our toddlers play together and our coffee grows cold.

This post is for my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren who will inherit a world from us. I want them to know, long after my smile has faded, that I raised my voice for the voiceless and my feet journeyed beside the weary traveller. I expect you to do the same.

This post is for my Lord because I believe that a radically self-giving, recklessly passionate, and extravagant Love exists … and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.

Thank you Jesus for giving this refugee a home.

#refugeeswelcome

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six ways your church can make a difference in anti-trafficking

The Blue Bird Cafe

The Blue Bird Cafe

coffee anyone?

coffee anyone?

The Blue Bird Cafe is tucked into Budapest’s historic Jewish Quarter. It is Euro-whimsical with spirally staircases and bird-infused wallpaper percolating caffeinated warmth. Tourists like its vibe. Locals like its roast.  The beat of old school music can almost erase the memory of the 1940’s when the place of this cafe was a hell-hole of dying. Almost, but not quite.

Evil tapped a victory dance and the Nazi war machine devoured people. Thousands. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Here where the Blue Bird sings today. I used to say that if I had lived then, I would have raised my bony fist and screamed down the gates of tyranny.

But, I no longer voice that sentiment not since a Christian friend working for a secular, cross-governmental, anti-trafficking organization mentioned that he meets a lot of people like me. 

“Many people tell me what they would have done in another period of history, as if it would have birthed a different response in them. I tell them, ‘No you would not have.’ 

He says it matter-of-factly, “If the story of the current 32 million slaves in the world does not move you, neither would any other plea from humanity.[Tweet this @TSunberg]

In patient tones, I explain that the Church feels helpless. “Our hands are tied.”

“Like a 12-year old trafficked and sold for sex?” 

He watches me shift uncomfortably and then he implores the Church to act. Governments, NGO’s, and even global partnerships are not enough. The Church is uniquely situated to win this war and without an intentionally focused Christ-body, this generation loses the fight for freedom. 

we can do something

we can do something

 SIX WAYS YOUR CHURCH CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN ANTI-TRAFFICKING

1. Be aware of vulnerability

The plight of trafficked millions entered the global stream of consciousness at the turn of the 21st century. Today, there is issue-based recognition but, the root of dismantling the industry lies with creating awareness that prompts community development. When businesses, neighborhoods, organizations and churches begin to harness the power of their presence for active prevention, then, awareness becomes real power.

Multiple layers of society need to be educated about awareness. That education looks different for each group.  

Everyone must learn to spot and protect vulnerable people.

Vulnerable people, such as children, the impoverished, the neglected, must learn how to recognize and to reject exploitive persons. 

Those who would become exploiters must be aware that they have other economic opportunities.

2. Be present in difficult places

Governments and NGO’s have money, but often lack grass-roots infrastructures for effective prevention and rescue. The Church, however, is present at an unprecedented, hands-on level in communities across the globe. 

A strategic Body can root itself into a community and become that layer of protection to identify the next girl to be prostituted and the next boy to be pimped.  Being present to develop economic options that remove vulnerability and to establish financial independence is crucial.

To intentionally live and work with vulnerable people will develop relationships that can strangle the trafficking pipe-line.  This war will be won in a one to one, every boot on the ground battle. Effective anti-trafficking will not be sanctioned by government, or cured with programming alone. The end to slavery will happen when holy people, in combination with government and programs, are motivated to be actively present in hell on earth.

3. Step away from the church culture

For so long, Christians have enclosed themselves within the safe walls of the church and developed a vocabulary and culture that can sound odd to others. Secular organizations can be hesitant to partner, fearing manipulation or poor practice until we learn to communicate in authentic, professional and intelligible ways that are free of the christian dialect.

Healthy evangelization means working with secular people for temporal good absent of the pressure to lead them to Christ. Focus on building healthy relationships of respect and be ready to give witness when you are invited to do so. Pray.  Learn to see people as people, not as salvation projects. 

Trusting the Holy Spirit is not an abdication of our Christian responsibility, rather, it is a reliance on Grace to open doors and hearts.

4. Change the boy culture

Historically, the Church has focused on teaching women to dress modestly for the sake of her male counterparts. We heap guilt and responsibility on young girls to prevent men from being led astray by sexually suggestive clothes.  We have a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality that leads us to say much less to men and with much less fervor about their responsibility to submit their thought life and sexual practice to Christ.

Comparatively, Sweden has one of the most effective anti-trafficking cultures on the globe. Law enforcement prosecutes those who pay for sex, not the prostitutes and pimps. By targeting those who create demand and bypromoting media campaigns that create a culture of shame around paying for sex, the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality is crumbling. 

5. Stop sexualizing wealth

Sex sells – in the media, in sports, in fashion, in food, in cars, in video games. Sex is everywhere and men are inundated with warped messages of masculinity, power, and wealth. Culture perpetuates greed and lust. Breaking the connection between sexuality and material happiness demands that the Church takes a hard look at the idolization of money and wealth – inside and outside of her walls. 

6. Create economic alternatives

Statistics show an alarming rise in forced labor, with 50% of all human trafficking now the exploitation of people, including children, for work.

Just as sex sells, poverty creates disposable people. In his book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, author Kevin Bales explains that the situation for a 21st century slave is graver than his 19th century counterpart. ‘Humans are  easily used up and discarded by those who exploit them. Today, an average illegal child laborer can be purchased for $90. At that cheap price, the smartest business decision is to simply use up a person and then buy a new replacement.’

Profit margin based upon cheap labor drives the industry but faith communities can create economic alternatives. How can you work with a pimp to create other employment options? Are there creative ways to help businesses be financially profitable without exploiting people?

Long before the Nazi war machine roared to life, Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ [Tweet this @TSunberg] Painful words, Mr. Burke. Some two centuries later, German theologian and anti- Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, echoed Burke. ‘We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.[Tweet this @Tsunberg] Bonhoeffer must have pictured Nazi tanks as he made his plea. 

Our call is to go beyond patching wounds. The ‘spoke in the wheel’ that Bonhoeffer refers to is our life. Today, the Church is called to rise up, to move in and to speak out as the Jesus-body for this generation.

Pick up a spoke. Stop the machine.

so many people

so many people

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Jenna poses behind bars in a memorial to Auschwitz

i need a church

IMGP1268It is early morning. Too early. The February freeze won’t loosen its grip and it creeps into this dark, before-the-sunrise home. Its cold, sharp fingers burn as I kiss Jay goodbye. He’s got a plane to catch. Bulgaria. More than half of my heart explodes as he closes the door.

Into the emptiness of the sleeping room, I tap out Ed Sheeran i see fire ukraine revolution and he sings me a song for this generation. A song that seems a prophetic voice for the revolution that is Ukraine right now. There are images of Maidan caressing his smooth voice –

honest, raw. war. our reality. pain. blood and death. fire. ice

This is the global neighborhood that I call home. Continue reading

something we all need

IMG_0084The unheard melody of honesty dies like the last breath between now and eternity. I open my mouth, but the words will not dance, they will not perform their pretty pirouettes. They are ill-behaved, ill-timed, irreverent. Because nobody likes to admit their need.

I am sitting in a neutral coffee zone and meeting with a woman who directs a Hungarian ministry to prostituted girls. ‘We ask all of our volunteers to go through vulnerability counseling. You open up and share your weaknesses – in front of everyone. You go through the course with the girls who have left the life of trafficking. Almost every one has an addiction that they must beat.’

She pauses as if to gauge my reaction. She has done this before – met for coffee with a pseudo-interested do-gooder and watched them exit at this very point.

Admit my vulnerability? Talk about my addictions? Lay my shadow in the peering, probing, bright sunshine of observation? No thank you. I just came to offer my time. Volunteer. Do my part for the social fabric, you know? I’m here to rescue and rehabilitate girls who have been abused, sold, beaten, raped – administer the medicine of healing.

Because, that is what the Church does.  We are the hospital where the lives get patched and the wounds are soothed. We give. They receive. That’s the system. The hierarchy is happy.

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But sometimes, the world beyond our walls is relatively untouched, unimpressed, or un-impacted by what we have to offer. It is a head-scratching puzzle.

Why don’t they fill our pews on Sunday morning?

Why don’t they drink our small-group coffee in our cozy homes?

Why do public officials, and school administrators, and teachers seem ultra-wary when we offer our help?

There is a sweet group of faithful women in my community who meet every Thursday to pray over the items that needy folk post on the Facebook page. Normally, I don’t share prayer concerns, mostly because I have my act together – at least, that is what I tell myself. The truth is, I do not want to air my proverbial dirty laundry. Nobody does.

But, my stress levels were so high on Wednesday, I threw my prayer request into cyber-service before my sweet friend, Katy Beth, had even opened up the prayer chain.

I worded it nicely, acceptably, like Christians should do. But what I really could have said, if I were being vulnerably honest:

Help! Today kicked my but and if something doesn’t change, tomorrow will do the same. I am hanging onto a ledge by a little finger. I’m cracking up here.

Have you been there too? Ever feel like,

My ‘to do’ list is out of control.

My house is a trash heap.

My refrigerator is empty and the bank account is flirting with zero.

My kids are sick with 6 different maladies.

My dog ripped open the trash and it is all over the yard.

I forgot an important meeting and let someone down.

No matter what decision I make, it will be wrong.

I am the worst mom, the worst wife, the worst friend, the worst preacher, the worst student, the worst husband, the worst son, the worst missionary, the worst Christian that ever walked the planet.

And, I have a nasty headache.

And the company arrives in 36 minutes.

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Or, to be even more vulnerable …any one of us could be honest and say:

I do not like to lose control so I uber-organize every day and obsess about details.

Or,

I struggle with jealousy and it manifests itself in materialism.

Or,

I am afraid of growing old and irrelevant.

Or,

I am afraid of getting cancer, ebola, or a thousand other diseases that might change my comfortable existence.

Or,

And the list just keeps going because all of us struggle with baggage. But, we in the church rarely talk about the true vulnerability that builds a stage in our hearts and directs the production that the world sees.

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…

said our dear Mr. Shakespeare.

IMGP1268So, I am sitting here, backstage, wondering if the most powerful, world-changing, soul-purifying, healing, response to a world on the brink of war, and societies that are cracking up, and neighborhoods that are imploding, and marriages that are gasping, and teenagers that are using, and sexing, and pimping, is for the Church to be like this,

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross

A vulnerable Jesus, who wept, and bled, and felt pain for us, so that we might see God.

We know how to entertain, and tell stories, and dialogue, and welcome, and host, and play, and forgive, and preach, but do we remember how to lament?

To mourn.

To cry.

To weep.

To suffer with.

To raise our puny fists of fury to the doors of heaven and pummel it with ‘why?’

To flood the feet that brought us Good News with the tears of ‘when?’

To own our own vulnerability with one honest expression of, ‘This is how I prostitute my soul to the world, so that I can wear the mask that gets me through today’s performance.’

My best guess?

If We, the Church, the Body, were able to admit our vulnerability in a world that knows the dirty side of the night, they would join us on our journey to a Savior.

#flattenthehierarchy

#bevulnerable

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5 practical ways to grow your church

In the Dohanyi Synagogue Museum, Budapest

In the Dohanyi Synagogue Museum, Budapest

In the Synagogue’s museum, there is a photo of a Jewish man and boy behind a fence in the Ghetto. A sign reads, ‘No Christians beyond this point.’ The irony of that sign punched me in the stomach yesterday, because, if there is anywhere the Body of Christ should be, it is beyond that point, right there with the hurting, the hated, and the walking dead.

I understand the cultural context, how that sign made sense to the ones who posted it, and perhaps that is what makes it all the more frightening. It made sense to the Nazis. It made sense because anytime we use ‘us and them’ as language, we enter into dangerous, self-serving waters.  Continue reading

the conflict that kills

Conflict happens like that. It lunges, leaps, accelerates from a spark into a flame faster than expected; leaving your heart pumping and your mind racing, effectively ineffective endorphins flood your blood stream. IMG_1673

They were rough, homeless perhaps. In a big city, you start to not notice them; like moving, breathing tiles, they blend into the landscape. But suddenly and quickly, the skirmish was escalating. One tile threw a punch. Hair pulling. Screaming. Punch. Punch-punch.

There is a guard at the corner grocery, ‘Police,’ I asserted and in my haste, Bulgarian came out because years taught me how to express panic, cry for help, get attention in that beautiful language.  He understood and he followed me out of the door.

There we stood, the two of us, watching two women beat each other up. Punch. Punch-punch. Punch-punch. Kick. Ineffective bystanders. He refused to help. Refused to speak.

My mind began working, “Call. Police.”

cozumel

I pulled the words from a locked room and made them speak in Hungarian, sticking my phone in his face. “Call. Police.” more strident now because the blonde woman was on top of the dark haired woman, strangling her.

In my panic, I could not remember how to dial the Hungarian police. At the moment I most needed help, I was helpless. It is a sinking thing to watch a woman’s face grow a blood shade of red as she fights for oxygen.

And, I am not sure that this post needs closure because the story certainly does not have it. We expect bloggers to wrap up posts with home-spun wisdom and story-tellers to create endings and journalists to craft a conclusion, and preachers to pray a prayer, but our world does not operate that way. Real life throws a punch and bleeds. And sometimes fellow humans stick around and watch, helpless, or apathetic, or paralyzed with fear. The woman on the ground struggled for breath while the other woman wrapped her fingers around a throat and squeezed.

Some kids are going to die today somewhere on this planet while I eat a panini in GoaMama on Kiraly Utca in Budapest.

And that is why I hate Auschwitz. It makes me face my greatest fears. Without God, this place is hell.

We do enough good things that we come to believe that we are essentially good. But, history and a street corner on Kiraly Utca bleed a different kind of truth. Remove the perimeters that define our morality, destroy the safety nets and make us desperate, feed our hunger with fear, and the punches crush jaws and the heads topple, and the body gushes blood.

Casting Crowns asks ‘If we are the body, why aren’t his…?’ I love that song.

GoaMama’s Panini was good but it left my body hungry. Ironic, is it not?