Here on this cold Saturday morning, I’m scrolling through sunny June photos and remembering last summer’s fun days. Found this super cute memory of a tourist day in Thessaloniki with our friends and their sweet kiddos. Aren’t Lilly and Abe adorable? See the green tote that Abe is carrying? We had just given him that – it’s full of playdough fun. He loved it! In fact, his dad was just telling me recently that whenever they tell Abe to go get his suitcase, this is what he brings back – the green case that was a gift from us.
As I remember it though, there were tears right before this stroll – and, in fact, our destination in this photo is an icecream shop to sort of clear up Lilly’s tears. See, we brought Lilly a toy puppy that you could color on with markers. You can sort of see his feet sticking out from under her arm there in the photo. He was a basic white blank slate waiting to be decorated at her whim … but, she was much less impressed by his monotone skin tone. This gift exchange felt very unfair from her 5 year old persepctive and much to the embarrassment of her parents, she cried over her gift. Of course, we didn’t mind. As parents of 4 girls, we know that sometimes the honest response of a child can be unexpected. Sweet Lilly – she was simply being a 5 year-old child.
I wish that you could meet Lilly and Abe … and now they have a new little sister, Nora. Ohhh, talk about squishy – that chubby baby stage – with chipmunk cheeks that you’re just dying to squeeeeze – don’t you just LOVE it?
Honestly, these three kiddos have been through so much in their young lives – a huge tragedy in which they narrowly escaped being killed … and when I say narrowly, I mean that a few feet separated these two munchkins from certain death. They are fortunate to be alive. Walking miracles, I might even say.
Which is why I feel compelled to speak about our Christian response to immigrants. Please note that I’m not speaking to the government, I am speaking to us as the Church.
I failed to mention that in this photo Jay and I are sharing the sidewalk with Abe and Lilly’s parents who are Muslim background people. They are refugees. They are from Syria. They are good people. They are our friends.
They are the kind of good people that you want to stroll down a street with and talk about parenting with and with whom you share the funny, eye-rolling, exasperating things that your kids do. They are the kind of good people that you can’t wait to see next time. The kind of good people that are great parents and intelligent, caring, and peaceful humans with excellent work ethics.
They are the kind of good people that are hurt by a ban on an individual who is Syrian, who is refugee, and who identifies himself/herself as Muslim background. By those merits alone, people become classified as dangerous and potential terrorists – people like Abe and Lilly and Nora and their parents.
When we see someone first as a label, as a stereotype, we can rarely see them for who they really are. Truthfully, I westernized their Syrian names in this post so that you would receive them as children first. I wonder, did you sense a change in your attitude when you discovered their identity?
I am not opposed to a reasonable vetting process for immigration, but in a recent post, Madeline Albright, former US Secretary of State, called the current US process ‘robust and thorough.’ Additionally, the reasonability of the process should also be humane, fair, dignifying, timely and respectful of the people moving through that process.
I am saying that for the Christian community, the Bible is clear about our responsiblity to our neighbor, to the foreigner, to the voiceless. Let us be clear: As Christians, God gives us the freedom to choose to NOT respond in accordance with the Biblical guideline. But, we DO NOT have the authority to re-define what is a Biblical and Christian response to the refugee and the foreigner. The Bible defines, and quite clearly, the Christian response. (See the end of the post for a list of verses.)
I am saying that to be authentically pro-life means that our Christian imperative to protect life extends from the womb and encompasses the lives of baby Nora, Lilly, Abe, and their parents. A Muslim, Syrian, refugee fetus has just as much right to life as any other unborn baby or any other human for that matter. #wholelife
I am saying that here in the pause between Christmas morning and Eastern morning, our own Jesus story most clearly identifies with baby Nora’s in its aspects of context and circumstance.
The parents of baby Jesus, who were from what we call the Middle East, fled their country of origin fearing for their lives. They became refugees in the land of Egypt. God communicated to them in a dream, which is a very Middle Eastern facet of narrative – even in the stories that we hear today. Jesus was a refugee. Baby Nora, who was born in Greece 2 weeks after we snapped this photo, has no country of origin or identity other than ‘refugee’. Nora is a refugee. The story of baby Jesus and the story of baby Nora are so similar that I fail to understand how we can ignore the fact that one story informs us of the other. If we root for baby Jesus, we must root for baby Nora.
As I think about the truth of Jesus as a refugee, I find that we really know nothing about those 3 years in Egypt. I find myself wondering who helped Mary and Joseph and Jesus? Who welcomed them? Did extending hospitality endanger them too, since the family was running from an empire that sought to kill them? And, if we expect that the doors of a home in Egypt were thrown open in hospitality for the baby Jesus, how can we not feel the weight of that same expectation on our own shoulders?
We are foolish to think that Jesus is anything but passionate for the plight of people who have been forced into the role of refugee.
Jesus and his family spent 3 years in exhile. Current UNHCR statistics show that 17 years is the average length of time for a refugee to live as a displaced person in transition.
In other words, statistically, Abe and Lilly and Nora will actually graduate from college before they have a place that they can call ‘home’ – at least ‘home’ in the sense that you and I, from our privileged positions, understand the word ‘home’. I wonder if any of us can fully appreciate either the irony or the tragedy of that truth?
Baby Nora, the Syrian refugee born in exhile in Greece will be stateless until she turns 18. In a world where ‘Middle Eastern refugee’ automatically communicates a potential threat as a terrorist – someone to be feared, someone who poses a danger – well, I’m just wondering how that will work out for sweet, chubby cheeked little Nora.
Its funny and troubling and uncomfortable on this Saturday before entering our Sunday sanctuary in this long pause between Christmas morning and Easter morning to look back through photos of Abe and Lilly and wonder … well, wonder how to be Jesus to them and what that means for his body here on earth. May God give us all wisdom and courage for the journey.