Jesus, a Middle Eastern Refugee and What That Means for Me

abudi-and-lillyHere 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.

Continue reading “Jesus, a Middle Eastern Refugee and What That Means for Me”


The snow has begun to fall transforming Budapest yet again. Gone are the colorful, ever-bustling Christmas Markets. Today, the snow blankets the city in a cozy winter white.

The ice floating down the Danube has made world news and is trending on #Budapest

benches in Deak Ferenc Ter
Gellert Hill
travelling the Danube ice
Danube in ice
couples on Vaci Utca
snow lunches

torn shoes and tuesday nights

torn shoes and tuesday nights

Shoes and Tuesday nights – I wish that I could just kick both of them into an unwanted and ignored corner where my soul would find peace because they are unexpected and unwelcome interruptions into my comfortable life. For one, I feel dislike. For the other, I feel desperation.

Tuesday nights are refugee response night and I don’t like Tuesday nights. We gather together from a multitude of geographic locations where we skype into our Hungarian kitchen to discuss the refugee situation across the Balkans. For me, it takes a supreme act of will and courage to sit my body down at that table and listen to those reports.

Covered in my warm blankets, in my cozy house, with a full stomach and girls tucked into corners with homework and a kitchen of dirty dishes waiting for their immersion of hot sudsy water, I experience a disonnance that I hate. From Greece, from Serbia, from Hungary, from Croatia the stories march across my dining room floor bearing unwanted and unwelcome circumstances that create within my heart a crushing impotence. I cannot birth peace. I cannot birth heat or lodging. Often, I cannot even birth compassion. Meanwhile, in my small corner of the planet, people are literally freezing and that makes me want to drop-kick every syllable of injustice into oblivion. If only I could, but, I can’t, so Tuesday nights tear me up … and you can read that two different ways and reach the same destination.

And then there are the shoes or the lack of them. A couple of months ago before the snows swept the Balkans but the winter chill had already set in, I pulled line duty. It means I stood by a line of men waiting to get their food and I chatted with them. An older man from Afghanistan engaged me in conversation and we found common ground in our shared rusty Russian language. In the process, he showed me his shoes that had carried him from Kabul to Belgrade. 5,412.9 kilometers. 3,363.42 miles. 63 hours of travel by car. Months by foot. His shoes were in tatters. His shoes were torn. There was little soul left. And he asked me for shoes. And I said “no”.

I said, “I’m sorry but I cannot give you shoes tonight.” And he looked at me with a soft smile and he said, “It’s okay. I understand.” But how could he understand? How could he know that we had been told not to give out shoes because the numbers of refugees were increasing every day and every time the numbers increased the authorities grew more fearful. And as fear grows, it scoots compassion to the edge of a great cavern called Safety.

Safety said no shoes for anybody unless you have shoes for everybody and how do you have shoes for nearly 1,000 people in the size that they need?  So, “I’m sorry but though your souls are tattered, I cannot give you shoes tonight. I hope that you sleep well in that warehouse where you live with open fires to scare away the night chills and the rats that nibble on your toes.”

Torn shoes. Torn souls. Bearing tattered people out of a war-torn world. I don’t like Tuesdays.

But maybe there is a church out there or a Bible Study group, or a compassionate soul who could grab onto grace for Tuesdays? Maybe, just maybe, somebody somewhere would say that Tuesdays and tattered shoes are mountains that CAN be moved with a word of faith and a prayer for mercy and a generous hand. And maybe, just maybe, they would be right because I remember a man of miracles who fed folks with fishes and bread and turned water into wine. That mercy man said that if a someone asks us for a cloak, we should give him our tunic too. “Jesus, I know an old Afghani man who needs some shoes. In these freezing temperatures, I think that he would take a cloak and a tunic too.”

So could we move Tuesday mountains, you and I? Maybe, just maybe, I could welcome Tuesdays back to my table and maybe it would be full of refugees with warm feet and found souls.

If the Lord taps your heart today, here is the link to give money for shoes, for clothes, for food, and for other aid for refugees across Central Europe: in Greece, in Macedonia, in Albania, in Bulgaria, in Serbia, in Croatia, in Hungary, in Romania, in Poland, and in Denmark. This donation is specifically for Central Europe’s Refugee Response / Courage for the Journey.

If this post causes you to think of practical ways that you could respond locally: 5 Helpful Things You Could Say to a Syrian Today

Continue reading “torn shoes and tuesday nights”

This morning, we woke up to a beautiful snowfall. As I drove the girls to school early, I was captivated by the quiet beauty of this Hungarian village that we call home. To be completely honest and fair, Diosd became a town in 2014 but it keeps the quaint atmosphere of a village.

Click here to follow the link to some short information about Diosd itself.

Enjoy the photos.

statue of a saint
st. gellert catholic church


silence and snow


now abandoned shop 

5 Conversations that Christians Need to Have This Week With People Called ‘Refugee’.

5 Conversations that Christians Need to Have This Week With People Called ‘Refugee’.

As a Wesleyan and as an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and as an individual working with refugees, I find myself watching current events in the US from abroad with deep concern. With special interest to me are the new Presidential orders to restrict entry into the US of people from Muslim Majority countries. My booming facebook and twitter accounts evidence the liklihood that the next days and weeks are bound to be tense in our sanctuaries, in the marketplace, on social media, and in our homes. May God give all of us wisdom, grace, and charity for the Other.

As fighting in Syria peaked last month, I wrote this post which was meant to be a practical  and simple means of creating conversation and engaging Syrians who were present in our communities. To be honest, it gained very little traffic and that is okay. However, as the situation in the US intensifies this week, I choose to repost what I believe could be significant and managable steps for Christians to positively engage others.

It is my belief that much of the reaction against people who are refugees, especially against those from Muslim majority countries, stems from fear. I also believe that as people come to hear and to know a person as an individual rather than an ethnic group or a religious affiliation, the Holy Spirit is able to work on all of us. 5 Conversations that Christians Need to Have This Week With People Called ‘Refugee’ is an intentional push back on the fear narrative. It is not meant to offend but it does stand solidly on a theology of hospitality guided by scriptures, such as Leviticus 19:33-34 and Deureronomy 10:18-19. (For a more extensive list, see Relevant Magazine’s article.)

My own journey began 18 months ago on September 2, 2015 on the dirty floor of the Keleti train station in Budapest when I sat across from a couple from Syria to make my first interview with a refugee. My teachers were newlyweds from Homs who had fled their city 25 days earlier. They had been married 28 days. My first question was, ‘Why did you leave Syria?’ Muhammad looked at me and answered, “Surely you know?” Honestly, I had no real concept of the conflict that they had fled, nor his refugee journey, nor the trauma that all of it created.

The following suggestions are practical, honest, and dignity-driven means to a journey towards conversation, respect, and transformation.


The conflicts in countries across the Middle East and Northern Africa are complicated. As outsiders, we do not fully understand the nature and the history of the conflict, but as Christians, we clearly stand against the loss of innocent lives. In order to positively contribute to peace in the Middle East and North Africa, we must be ready to learn and to listen. We do that best by inviting the voices of people we know and trust to speak into the media sources and social media posts that usually shape our understanding.

As Jesus-followers, we must direct our hearts, our voice, and our prayers in healthy, helpful, and respectful ways. To do that, we must take the position of learner and invite people to teach us about their culture, the situation, and their perspectives on peace. Find an asylum seeker, an immigrant, or a refugee today and ask him or her to explain their situation. Your role is to be a listener and a learner.


The cultures most deeply affected by the current refugee situation share a common value in their understandings of ‘family’. Most often, the word and concept includes their extended family, and it tends to be a much wider and deeper concept than in the west.  In a culture where children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles often share the same dwelling space, being disconnected geographically from the larger family unit is a huge loss.

Many of the people now fleeing their countries have a loved one who is still in the midst of danger. They have genuine, heart-wrenching concerns for the safety of their family members. They may be dealing with some level of guilt for leaving someone behind while they sought safety for themselves.

Make time to ask, listen, and lament with them over the concern and/or the loss of family – it will speak volumes. You can tell them that you will be calling upon the Lord for God’s provision upon their family and then do that faithfully. Make your prayers for their family a consistent and daily part of your talking to God.


The home is the center of life in many cultures and the guest in a home is treated with honor.  The extension of hospitality is such an integral part of culture that even in their journey through the Balkans, there are a plethora of stories about refugees welcoming into and serving western strangers in their tents. I personally have experienced this numerous times as the guest in a tent.

If you have a colleague, acquaintance, or neighbor, invite them into your home for coffee and desert. There is no pressure to have a perfect house or an elaborate meal – just be warm and inviting and set aside some time to simply talk. Get to know them as a person. If your home is not convenient or seems too intimate, then try a local coffee shop as a first step.

While not wanting to impose stereotypes or stigma, one should be aware of and respect gender boundaries. Meeting together as couples is very acceptable.


True peace is more than an end to the war – it is the existence of a just and a fair society for everyone who lives in a country.  Pursuing opportunities to speak up for peace is a good beginning. Our voices influence public opinion, which then pressures governments to act in accordance with the will of the people. Words have power.

That awesome wave of power begins right where scripture tells us:  James reminds us that the tongue is a small member, like the rudder of a ship, but it boasts of great things. And Proverbs 12:18 reminds us that a gentle tongue brings healing. These scriptures remind us to guard the words we speak, but of equal importance, we are to be vigilant about how we allow words to shape us.

Consume media responsibly with an awareness of both its stated and implied bias. So, too, in our conversations with others, including our personal social media platforms, we should submit our words to the Lordship of Christ.  This includes an active rejection of the negative narrative of fear and prejudice that is currently trying to shape public opinion.

Vary your media sources across political and ideological lines, talk to people from the countries in conflict, ask God for discernment, and speak truth about the refugee situation every chance you get.

Fact check and reject stories that sensationalize radicalization or acts of terror as a characteristic of ALL Syrians (or Iraqis or Somalis), or ALL people from the Middle East, or ALL people of Muslim faith.

Confront prejudices and speak up in support of people and the pursuit of peace in your conversations with family, friends, and co-workers.


As Christians, it is God-honoring to invite someone, including someone from a different faith background, to tell you their story. Be respectful. Listen. It really is that simple.

Often, Christians feel pressured to share the Gospel or even to point out areas of religious disagreement, but it is okay to simply listen, learn, and thank a person for sharing. The powerful truth is that God’s grace is already actively at work and you have carried his presence into that relational space. Be faithful to pray for your new friends, and if or when they invite you to share your story, do so in a respectful and non-manipulative manner. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your words and to keep you authentic.

The opportunity to hear someone’s story is a gift and it should be treated with honor and respect. It is also a powerful and often unnerving means of recognizing and facing the hidden prejudices that we carry. Be open to letting God change and transform your heart and your attitudes. Allow the Holy Spirit to reveal new aspects or depths of his character to you as you see the world through another person’s eyes.


If this article motivates readers to push past fear or uncertainty in order to bridge the gap that divides us by labels, ideologies, backgrounds, and stereotypes, it has fulfilled its intent. May each of us find the courage we need for the conversations that lie ahead – perhaps God will surprise us by just how connected we really are. Together, let us map a space etched in grace and gratitude that leads us all to a path named Peace.


The Word slipped into skin and moved into our neighborhood

Like so many of others, I am thinking about gifts this season. The gifts that I still need to magically find, maybe even the gifts that I might get. I love giviing gifts. And, I’ll be honest, I love getting them too. Continue reading “presents”

what you might not expect from a refugee 

Just getting home after a round trip to Romania. A lot of hours in the car but so worth it to visit a family that is very dear to us. They are in transition after months of waiting at the Greek border. It was so amazing to sit and talk and see their sweet kids.  We left them, with the thought ringing in our minds, ‘How could anyone look at this family and say, “we don’t want them in our country – they pose a threat.”‘ 

We are tired, but here are some observations to make you think with us:

1.  After knowing them for almost a year, I have never once actually sat in a real home with them, but I have always been offered hospitality. I have had coffee in their tent on the Greek border, we have had coffee in a Greek coffee shop, and this visit, we were in a common room of a facility where they and around 100 other refugees are being housed. Even here, they brought us drinks and served us.

2. Their sweet children: 6, 5, and 5 months have never known a world without war. The civil war in Syria was already happening when they were born. They fled Aleppo when the bombs fell on their house with them inside. 

3.  Their dad refused to fight with the army, so the other side came to recruit him. The family left Syria before they came back to take him as a fighter.

4.  Their baby was born in Greece and, since Syria is in disarray, she has a Refugee passport. Imagine that for a moment – in a world where your passport is a statement of your integral identity, she begins her life identified without a homeland and as part of a community called ‘refugee’.

5. They are in temporary refugee housing, and the kids got the room ready for us, their guests, but then the family was not allowed to bring guests into their home. Their home for 5 is 1 room with a small corner kitchen and a bathroom. We were also discouraged from taking photos by the guard.

Our hope is that some of the observations challenge the narrative often heard from the media and politicians. We left this morning with a Facebook post reverberating in our minds. Someone had written about how letting refugees into their country posed a threat to their family. Imagine how that sounds or looks beside this family that has courageously traveled this far just so their children can have a life characterized by peace. It is our belief that if you are lucky enough to have a Syrian family as your neighbor, you should feel very blessed. Amazing people! Amazing culture!