The Girl Who Was Thrown Away

Nobody picks me up and swings me around as soon as she sees me. ‘We’re dancing?’ I ask and she laughs at my question. There is joy in her eyes and I know she has been waiting for me to come out. I know, because she was waiting for me when I went inside to take a nap. With her ball and her limited speech and a mind full of misfiring circuits, Nobody is simply waiting for the scraps of attention that somebody might toss her way. Leftover pieces of affection that she can scrape from the dirt and call her own.

The truth is, I don’t want to dance with Nobody. I don’t want to hug her or sit too close to her for fear of lice and fleas. Nobody, in her 14 year-old body, is host to a cocktail of crawling life that threatens the threshold of my personal bubble whenever she is around.

Nobody lives in a house, if you can call it that – a ramshackle structure – that was once a house. No window panes. No doors. Two mattresses that were once attached to frames. She dwells in this place with Brother, Mother, and Aunt.

I have met Aunt before, a scroungy being sitting at the gate of the school in the dark in a drunken stupor. Her voice is the broken chord of a mistrung violin. It crackles and screeches, even in her sober moments unable to string together the syllables of a coherent story. A hard worker by day, local farmers hire her to slop the animal pens and load the dirty refuse onto her back. They pay her in the cheapest alcohol for her labors and use her body as a source of release.

Once upon a time, in her younger days, she fell in love with a village man and got pregnant. The man did not want her. The village decided together to abort her child.

This is the way of life here in the village.

Perhaps, too, it was the reason that Aunt rescued that squawking, naked, freshly birthed baby-girl from the trash can. With grunts and groans, Nobody was heaved into this world, an unwanted, unneeded piece of squirming life. Mother, used and abused and broken by the wants and whims of a village, deposited her in the trash and carried the garbage in the rolled up hem of her shirt. Aunt pulled that tiny morsel from the bin and rocked her to sleep.

Nobody fought, demanding her spot in this universe. And, she continues to fight valiantly today.

I have known Nobody for years. Watched her grow from a small wisp of a child into the edge of womanhood. Heard her push past grunts into one-syllable words. Tried to imagine the moment when somebody wanted to love her simply because she was Nobody.


The school in the village takes Nobody and Brother in, they welcome them daily, give them clean beds to sleep and warm food for their stomachs. They give Nobody safety for her body and warmth for her soul. It is the one place in this world where Nobody is loved.

And so it is with a sordid array of emotions that I stand in the scorching June sun in a courtyard and watch this slip of a girl teetering on womanhood bustle forward to receive a recognition award when her name is called.  It is the end of another school year and every child hears their name called, valued, appreciated, noted for who they are – even if their story begins as an unwanted baby in a bin.

Standing in that sun this week and picking through the pieces of my own prejudices, it seemed right to voice Nobody’s story. It seemed right to say that her life has value and to recognize the depths of her courage, her resilience and her strength in what can be a cold and dark world.

This is your story – N. And though you will never read it, the World needs to read about you. God speaks to us through your story, N. You challenge us to be a voice of justice and together with God, you do change this world. 

To your teachers and to your pastor who labor for you in love in a tiny point on the planet that few will ever visit – thank you.

Now, to Him who is able to do abundantly more than we ever asked or imagined – let’s dance, N. Let’s dance.

Although you may never meet N., you can make a difference in her life and the lives of other children like her. The Church of the Nazarene supports ministry in Roma villages through a school that welcomes everyone and through Nazarene pastors. 

Donations via the Sunberg Deputation (click here) account can be directed to this ministry via this link.  Thank you!

A Note on why I used the name ‘Nobody’. Firstly, I wanted to protect her identity. She deserves that. And, on a more personal level – it is way too easy to relegate people with disabilities to that place of nothingness in our societal structure. In essence, they can become a nobody to us. I mean to highlight that tendency in my life, and perhaps in yours, to relegate certain people to places of inconsequence. I mean to highlight it, but more importantly, I mean to ask forgiveness for it. May God continue to stretch my heart and my mind toward the Truth of what it means to be made in the Image of God so that I am compelled towards the Mission of God. It is true, is it not, that all of us, somewhere in our hearts would say with N – ‘Come and dance with me Jesus.’









when death blinked first – Thursday thoughts

DSC_1312A family of 4 just departed our home in Budapest. They were packing two toddlers and the skeleton necessities of a young family. These items include a pack-and-play, diapers and wipes, and pacifier. Reality begins at 6 AM. Life starts at 8 PM when they finally go to sleep, or at least the energy is contained to 6′ x 3′ mattress and a door that closes.

My ability to give hospitality to the ebb and flow of their lives was moderated by the angsty needs of my own teenage femme-fatale household and the limitations of my time. To be perfectly honest, I left everyone to their own devices after pointing out the location of the refrigerator and spoons. ‘Anything you find is yours to eat.’ I call it ‘the hospitality of the open door,’ which can be translated into ‘seek and you shall find.’

I used to dream of being a hostess with matching glasses that sparkle and shine on the carefully laid table. Some dreams were meant to shrivel up in a corner and die. In its place, I am learning about the radical nature of hospitality from unexpected sources.

I took my left boot off inside the first flap of the UNHCR tent, and placed my socked-foot gently down so that I could remove the second boot. Cold water and mud immediately seeped through my sock. Intense. Cold. Unwelcome. Not only was I now uncomfortable, but I was worried about tracking mud and water into the clean tent. At the same time, the Syrian family let out a gasp as they realized my mistake. This left them feeling the discomfort as the hosts who now had a wet guest.

We spent more than an hour in that tent with our Damascus family sipping thick coffee and blowing bubbles of entertainment with the clapping children. We laughed and we listened to their stories, their fears, their determination to stay free and to stay together, come what may. And in the process, we were both wrapped within the warmth of their presence and unsettled by the uncertainty of their future.

In those moments, they became more than a category: Muslim, refugee, Syrian. They became friends with shared life experience, shared pain, shared laughter, shared hope. Their life, their future is somehow now intertwined with ours.

Reaching back to the Gospel of John, he gives us an eye-witness account of Jesus as the host at table. So often, we pass by this moment on the way to the cross and the resurrection. It can seem rather unimportant next to a crucifixion and an empty tomb, but that last supper and the Christ who served it are crucial to understanding exactly what we receive on Easter.

You see, I struggle with pride. In fact, I struggle with fear. In fact, I am quite content with a life that is pleasant and stable, interjected with moments of controlled adventure that give me the sensation of depth devoid of real challenge. While I may like to get a gift, I have no desire to receive out of genuine need. I fear to live a life that dares death to blink first. I adamantly refuse to live a life that gives preference to your need over my desire.

But life – true life comes only when we step into the tent of radical hospitality.

The Easter story that begins with my rejection of Christ and leads to his death for my life, and blossoms into his resurrection for my eternity – this story  I receive as a gift of what Christ does for me. He is God after all and somebody had to clean up that Adam and Eve mess.  But radical hospitality is the moment when Jesus stares across the table at his imminent death and washes the feet of his traitor anyway … the moment that Jesus invites me to be humbled by the truest reality of my sin-sickness … the moment when Jesus says that I must live as servant instead of host … the moment when I relinquish control and simply lie back into the arms of Jesus. To that invitation, I tend to say, ‘No thank you. This is a table I prefer to avoid.’

Yet, this table is the only way to the celebration. For those recognizing Western Easter this weekend, we come to an empty tomb in the midst of a world laden with chaos, fear, war, and uncertainty. Our ears are bulging with voices, media, stories, conversations, posts that entreat us to take charge, take control, lock the doors, build a wall, trust a powerful leader. Live this way and you die fighting. Doubt that truth? One word .. Judas.

Our world of bombs, and terror, and the exhaustion of toddlers at 1 AM, the baggage that we drag across the seasons of our lives, our inner prejudices and fears and the deep sins that suck the pulse from our souls – all of it, all of it, in exchange for a Table with our dusty toes peeking out in hope.

Receive the radical hospitality of God’s love in action – a love that both humbles as we admit our need and empowers us to serve others from our source – the resurrected Christ.

Take and eat. Do this in remembrance of me.

2015-09-03 07.04.23

the tremendous offer of hospitality in a train station



die here or go on … the cry of Afghanistan

fences_Fotorpeace sign_Fotorboots_Fotorpolice_Fotormasses_FotorHelmand. Kabul. Kandahar. Kunduz.

I have to look up the unfamiliar names.

They are distant places connected by a geography of terror and hate that translate into one thing: the Taliban. Continue reading

dear john – no trespassing


Jewelry sold to support Bulgarian women who have been trafficked


Dear John.

I arrived at the rescue house last night and it was full of girls, like me. Some older. Some younger. But, all of them wear the ‘for sale’ sign in their eyes. We don’t shed our price tags easily. 

You never asked me how old I am. 15. Do you remember 15? 

I was just like every other girl that loves makeup and music and friends and dreaming of summer break without school. I suppose it was your dream to go to the Black Sea for sex tourism?

Did you know that I was a seasonal special? That as summer gets closer, they anticipate a great sea of tourists on the coast and begin to recruit girls to fill your black desires. 

My boyfriend became my pimp. I thought that we were in love. He told me that I was beautiful and that he was taking me away to a beautiful place where we could work and make money for our families and build a big house where we would live. He told me that he loved me. He didn’t tell me that I would forget how to hope.

I feel so stupid.

Now, I am a woman in a girl’s body with a grandmother’s soul. My heart aches, my body hurts, and my dreams no longer belong to a little girl. 

You cannot imagine the nightmares that I have lived in the dark night.

Today, the for sale sign has been replaced with another. It says, ‘no trespassing’.  This means you, John.

let’s ROAR

a moment on the street

a moment on the street

The tummy-tug rush of the sky scraper escalators whirls and twirls as I descend into the stomach of the Kalvin Ter metro in Budapest. I always breathe in and wait for the sensual recognition that free surfing the underground brings. I learned it first in Moscow and my mind returns to those turbulent days. For me, the metro is a scent, a feel, a quality of air married to subterranean travel that takes me back.

Lost in my reverie,  I almost missed her when she tried to abort her approach.

When you have lived your years and your feet are unfaithful, those stairs threaten to snatch the earth from its firm foundation. I watched her step and hesitate too late. She was on but she was unsteady and then she was summersaulting. A little grandma taking a tumble like Humpty-Dumpty and my mind grasped for words that played a macabre game of Hungarian hide and seek. Screams of ‘help’ but they were silent screams that could only flirt with the trauma unfolding.

A woman behind me ROARED an emergency call in decibels that ricocheted off of the storied ceilings. The young man in front of me stretched his body across the chasm and punched the red emergency STOP button. And we all rushed off of our escalator and ran to help. In the midst of blood, and  topsy-turvy bags and fine gray hair, she was okay. Shaken. Bleeding. But, okay. Continue reading

humans and their necks

“For some, war leaves no choice; for others it makes choosing a must. A small gesture can yield irreversible consequences. It can either save a life or ruin it. (A quote from the Schindler museum)

Barbed wire fence from Schindler's factory

‘saying you don’t come back from the cemetery’

I am angry in Krakow. Always. Angrier than a Christian should be. Angry like I could punch someone. Ball up my weak little fist and throw it into somebody’s gut. Is that righteous anger? I don’t know. But I peer through a grimy little window in a wall somewhere in Schindler’s Factory at photos of men hanging by their necks. Continue reading

lazarus and one world

I saw Lazarus do a HAPPY stride like Pharell Williams last night in front of a One World television while the World Cup captivated a room full of strangers. I saw him eat a bar of dark chocolate with a bowl full of fruit this morning. He was Asian.

I think I am starting to like this hostel world.

I like the Polish girl at the desk with her friendly, Polish-accented English. I like the unpolished, anything but plush, earthy, this is the real world reality of an apartment turned home for sojourners on the cheap.

I like the community that becomes a part of the momentary fiber of who and what we share at the core. We are people. Not nationalities, or adverts, or styles, or occupations, or them or us. We are people. People who need a place to sleep, a place to shower, some practical food.

Individualism severs that main artery to community. It does. It breathes into reality an insulated cocoon of comfort. Cultures with higher levels of individualism necessitate broader personal space. And personal space breeds a disconnect from others.

The hostel community forces you out of that bubble – shared bathrooms, shower facilities, sleeping quarters – they attack that individual, comfortable, sterile bubble. Germs. Activity. Plans. They all become somehow more visible, tangible, real.

Can I say that I think our North American churches may suffer from the disconnect of living here in these margins where most of the world breathes?

Our places of worship can easily become bubbles. We are comfortable there : safe, sanitized, proper, like a Hilton hotel. But most of the world is spending the night in One World. Quite honestly, the majority of the world spent the night on the street, selling herself, raped, used, abused, starving, begging for mercy.

And this is not a post to create guilt for prosperity.

This is a post that invites us to step into the world. Incarnationally. It means living in the world, with the world, becoming side by side sojourners : Entering into the mystery of a God who entered into our One World. The bubbles have to be burst. The choice to intentionally live where the germs, and the bathrooms, and the borders are shared is the Jesus way.

Last night, I said this One World was stretchy for me. It is. Truth : I didn’t book this place for my family. Someone else did.

And I did not write the new Wesleyan Freedom statement that talks to church folks about the reality of humans in chains. Someone else wrote that thing.

But, our family has spent a significant amount of our lives crisscrossing Central Europe in a VW Sharan, in all-night buses, in trains, living with people, experiencing their stories … enough to know that if ever we needed a Church that moved to the margins, it is now.

Want to hear something? This world seems so big, right? We think that our lives are disconnected, insulated, safe.

We met Lazarus last night right here in One World watching the World Cup. He was cheering for USA. Turns out Lazarus graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University last year. He and his brother are touring Europe before he goes to grad school. And, Lazarus, this Lazarus, well he can’t hear Jesus calling him yet. I guess he probably hears him, he just doesn’t want to listen. But, it seems like God knows where One World is.


Or a God who bursts bubbles to do a happy dance?

Praying for Lazarus now.