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.’










the west gate

the west gate

Katy Beth wipes a tear away as we sit over cappuccinos at Starbucks in MOM park.  She has just put her senior girl on an airplane from Budapest to Jerusalem a day after the airport bombings in Brussels.  The significance of that is not lost on either of us.

“I hugged her and told her that if anything happens, meet me at the West Gate, cuz’ that’s where I’ll be waiting in heaven.”

Continue reading “the west gate”

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


I am THE refugee: ragtag stories


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

Continue reading “I am THE refugee: ragtag stories”

Three Great Reasons To Reject Refugees (and Starbucks)

Three Great Reasons To Reject Refugees (and Starbucks)

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.)


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?


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.


Version 2




Dear Church

Munich HBF early morning at the train station
Munich HBF early morning at the train station

Dear Church,

I’m not sure if you are listening. I’m not sure what you do behind your walls. I’ve never been there, you know? Never sure who was invited, or what to wear, or how to talk. And, I’m sure that I don’t look like someone who would ever wander into your building. But I’ve heard that sometimes you speak, sometimes you protect. I’ve heard that you could speak to God for me. I’m sure he wouldn’t listen to someone like me, but maybe you could … Maybe you could speak to him for me?

Could you ask him to stop the traffick?


Dear John – the caged bird sings


walking through the quaint streets of Sighisoara, they were setting up to shoot a fantasy scene

 Dear John,

You never saw the chains. Maybe you just assumed that they never existed. Maybe you just didn’t care. There were chains, John. There still are.

You see, no little girl or boy grows up wanting to be someone else’s merchandise. This isn’t about a fantasy, an escape, relaxation, or good old manly sex. It’s about business, John, plain old supply and demand. You were the demand and I was the supply. I was a commodity, John. A thing with a price tag on display for your purchase. Do you think any good business man will let his supply just wander away? Oh, there were chains. 

Chains. Beatings. Rape. Is it hard to wrap your head around that, John? How does a prostituted woman become raped? I was a little girl, once. Do you think a 15 year old wants to have sex with a man twice her age just to get a little cash? 

I fought, John. I fought and I cried and they drugged me and that is how it goes. Over and over and over again. Sometimes 20 times a day. Somebody has to bring home the money, right? It would be so much easier to be a bag of flour. Once you are used, you are done. Not so with a human. Not so with me. I can be used and reused until my body or my soul just gives out and dies. Supply and demand.

You probably think that now that I have been rescued, the chains are gone. But, who can escape the chains? They  are wrapped around my insides and padlocked to my memories. Who has that key? That’s how it goes, you know, who would want me and my used up body? I cannot even imagine my worth past a price tag. That’s crazy right? I have no idea how to view my value beyond what you would pay for me. 

Chains, John. 

Can you see them now?