I am THE refugee: Courage for the Journey

keleti_women_travel_Fotorkeleti_chris_hearts_FotorIt was Saturday in Keleti train station. My friend, Chris, was giving out cardamon-infused tea to refugees like an ancient elixer that puts the world right again.

We saw olive skin and dark eyes wrapped in a black hijab. She was standing, tall and straight, like a sentry left to guard all that was valuable. There were 2 kids playing around her feet and several women lying on mats.

‘Hello, my name is Amina, which means peace in Farsi.’  Continue reading

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

Version 2

 

 

 

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prague in the light





Prague. Some say it is the Paris of the East.

We sit in a coffee shop and cheerily debate over Budapest, Krakow, and Prague. ‘Which city is the coolest? Explain the vibe. Most livable? Best cafe culture?’

For best architecture, Prague probably wins. Every corner has a beautiful building stretching towards the sky. It earns the name, Paris of the East, and it wears it well.

Medieval. Ornate. Royal. Gothic.

I am learning about this Central European character in tiny sips, like a good espresso.

We began our lives in Moscow, Russia, fascinated by the Slavic language, the Cyrillic alphabet, the pride of a people, the deep rivers of art and intelligence and soul.

We spent a lifetime in Sofia, Bulgaria where the heart of the Balkan Peninsula beats strong and deep. And, we fell in love with her rhythms, her beauties, her flavors. She is a passionate soul with a touch of the East, and a touch of the Slavic – a jewel that sparkles and bids you to dance a while there.

Bulgaria, Albania, Kosova, Romania – the beautiful Balkans.

Croatia? The bridge between the Balkans and Central Europe, in my opinion. The artistic vibe in Zagreb breaks through my dam and floods my soul. The Adriatic, flirts and tugs at the toes of my spirit, begging me to come in and play for just one minute. Balkan? Yes. But, Balkan AND

So, we find ourselves here, now, in Central Europe. A short 4-year foray into the land of castles and architecture and the East that refused to be taken by communism. There is a stubbornness of spirit here that will not easily relinquish her history, her people, her character. I love that. I respect that. My soul soars here in new vistas:  Budapest. Krakow. Prague. Cities that welcome you as tourists, but to be more than an acquaintance? Prove yourself. Learn the language. Become a part.  Fall in love with her like a lover willing to lose yourself, your time, your life, your energy. Or, buy a ticket and move on.

Oh, the lessons that we learn about mission that cannot be taught in a classroom.

So, today, put away your books about reaching people for Jesus. Lay aside the strategy and the planning and just for a minute, breathe the air. Look around. How does your the heart of your neighborhood beat? Where is its pulse? How can you enter in?

I leave this post today to walk the streets of Prague with Jay’s words resonating in my heart. I John 1:7 –

For if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin.

Today, I want to stroll through the streets of Prague, admire castles, snap photos that can never do the ancient beauty justice, hear stories of her courageous history while I walk in the light of Christ. And, I believe that in those moments, the gift of fellowship, the prevenient grace of Christ is at work in me. There are opportunities for people to enter in, to feel the presence of a Savior who died for them. Seeds of grace today – let me seeds of grace sown among the cobblestones where thousands of tourists from a host of cultures will jostle my camera for the perfect shot.

Jay powerfully preached this word – an unexpected logic. ‘If we walk in the light of Christ, we have fellowship with one another. The light of Christ creates the opportunity for fellowship with others.’ What a beautiful word today for those that are lost. What a beautiful word today for those of us who know the Light – an opportunity to be grace.





third space

IMGP1505There is a pink cherub skip-jumping a merry jig down Tkalciceva Ulica. She is anchored to her mum by one chubby hand while the other bounces a fall bouquet. The bounty is no doubt intended for a luncheon with friends but sans anchor, both cherub and flowers would be quickly lost in Zagreb’s sea this Saturday morning.

Buzzing voices marinate with the tinkle of spoons on coffee cups. The smell of expresso is in the street. It all pulls you toward a paradoxical space of intimacy amidst the crowd, if you can find a spot to sit and sip.

And, it seems like Jesus can’t find a seat.

IMGP1498 - Version 2IMGP1507IMGP1556This is not a crowd of tourists having a weekend go in Zagreb. They are locals who have rolled out of their Saturday bed, made an effort to look nice, and trekked to the centre from wherever they live. It’s like a Sunday morning scene that makes a church pastor salivate.

Come and get your Jesus fix here.

IMGP1413 Get rest for your merry souls. Forgiveness for your dirty deeds. Relief for your addictions, and your depression and your loneliness.

But, they don’t.

And the Church can’t figure out why we are empty. In Europe. In North America.

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They don’t come. Get fixed. We are empty.

I wonder if it has anything to do with our people projects?

Because fixing people for heaven is a task that you designate and delegate and execute.

I don’t think people want to be executed.

They want to be wanted.

They want to open the door and be greeted with a kiss on both cheeks as the cherub passes the bouquet and linger over coffee because they are important to you. If you want a picture of the quintessential Europe, that’s it, right there.

Simple like that.

Honest.

Authentic. 

PoznanBut sometimes I get the feeling that we, as the Church, lick our lips like a lioness set free to cruise through humanity while they sit and sip their coffee in the kiss of the Adriatic sun.

Maybe they sense the danger, you know?

Because it is one kind of frightening to be swept away in a sea of people and another kind of scary to be counted as a number for an organization.

And that is what church feels like to this generation; an organization counting their number.

IMGP1552 - Version 2Nobody wants to be a number.

Or a project.

As if, with some measured time and the right ‘how to’ manual, I could renovate you and put you on the right track to Jesus.

Ironically, there are churchy articles and books that tell us how to connect with people. And, the problem isn’t that they exist. But, maybe why they exist should cause us to be concerned? Because, it implies that we don’t remember how to connect with people. Have we forgotten how to see someone as more than a countable commodity in our pews?

IMG_2992Three years ago, missionaries made Zagreb their home. 

We don’t have a mega-church.

To be brutally honest, I don’t imagine that we have the kind of church growth strategy that makes it into those ‘how to’ manuals. 

We have a Nazarene family becoming fluent in language and culture, putting their kids into Croatian school, practicing hospitality, carrying flowers into homes and finding seats in cafes.

Just like the Croats on the street below Dolac Market, in the third space, where it is public and intimate and anchored to the sea of humanity.

I like that – the intercourse of our lives birthing a relationship that cares for the other instead of using her. 

It isn’t my space. It isn’t your space. It is our space. Neutral. SharedAnd, we are hosted by the Holy Spirit in the Third Space.

He is that Third Space:

The Holy Spirit filling us, inviting us, to HIs table, and there is no Us and Them, because we are all  lost and lonely and desperate and in need of an anchor.

It sounds like, well, it sounds like what we all always imagined church should be, before Church became about the best outreach strategies.

Back when we saw people as people; not projects, not numbers, not potential Christians, not target audiences, not even people going to Hell if we don’t intervene.

It seems like there might be a table opening up in my life with a friend motioning for me to join her there. There is a place for you too, for all of us; a Third Space, where grace speaks and the coffee flows, and the pink cherub jigs her way down Tkalciceva Ulica.

Could you bring some flowers, if you come?

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First views off the train of Sigisoara asleep.

Roberta met us in the early morning at the train. The air was frosty and the landscape seemed very magical as we departed. Most travelers will continue on for another 6 hours to Bucharesti.

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The central square in Sigisoara.

We are happily ensconced in Dorothy’s home. Coffee, toast, cereal, good company and a game or two of Bananagrams already accomplished. Roberta is busily at work in the kitchen preparing some extreme form of good food.

third-culture thoughts

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On the streets of Budapest as thousands of Hungarians remember the Soviet invasion of 1956.

ANOTHER WORLD
It wrapped its arms around my head and pulled as the revolving door spit me into its dim realm. As the days and years passed, the not unpleasant but pungently earthy smell would become a reminder that I had left the sphere of one world and entered an inner sanctum; a sub-world, if you will, where people carried their burdens in speeding bullets of dark passages. The Moscow metroFresh air became redefined and distributed with the whoosh of 150 kilometer per hour measurements and the multiplication of bodies sharing a tiny compartment. 

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