As a Christian : As an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene : As an American who knows that her great-grandmother arrived on a boat from Denmark and her great-grandfather arrived from Ukraine : And as Jesus-follower : I appreciate the Nazarene manual’s clear guidance on living in relationship to and with the poor. And let us be clear on this point – poverty is more than the lack of finances. Poverty is also deemed voicelessness and/or powerlessness to protect/provide.
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
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!
The snow fell in the Northern part of Greece as the Yazzidi camp in the mountains closed. 1,650 people, more than half of them children, have been divided and transported to other camps that are winterized. Can you imagine the feelings?
Mourning. These people have been together for almost a year, becoming a community together. Suddenly they are separated with virtually no way to stay connected physically.
Relief. As the temperatures dropped, their tents, many of which were camping tents or thin canvas were offering little protection from the cold. People were starting fires inside the tent to stay manage the cold.
Hopelessness. For most of these people, they still have a long wait ahead before they can be interviewed and placed somewhere that they can call home. The activity of rebuilding their lives is still far in the distance.
Today, we are taking a trip to Romania where we will be meeting with a family that has become very dear to us. After months of waiting in Greece, after life in a tent, after giving birth on a border, they have been placed in temporary housing in a Romanian camp. We’ll travel there today to bring them a taste of their first Christmas season, to check-up on them, and to fellowship together. Photos are coming.
I woke up this morning with Aleppo on my mind. The question skittering through the sleepy recesses of my brain was, ‘When the bombs drop and the last hospital has been destroyed, where do you turn when someone you love, or a complete stranger, or your grumpy neighbor lays bleeding?’
You see, I’m struggling this season. I just don’t know how to celebrate my lights and my gifts and my turkey-laden table when a 7-year old is tweeting a moment by moment stream of consciousness about the bombs falling on her home. 100 bombs fell. 100 bombs shook the shell of her 7-year old life 100 times. Nothing in my life has prepared me to feel thankful for that. Nothing in her life has prepared her to live through out. Nothing.
Sometimes I get messages in my inbox, ‘What can we do about Syria? How can we help? How can we stop the war?’ I wish I had that answer. I wish I knew. I don’t, but I’m willing to try.
Someday, when I’m old and gray and my grandkids ask me about this time in history, I want to say that fear could not stop me from doing what was right and compassionate, and humane. I want those grandchildren of mine to look at my wrinkled face and see the remnants there of a woman who believed that love was an action and peace was worth fighting for.
So, how do we stop this war in Syria?
- I truly believe peace begins with prayer. During this Advent season, would you covenant with me to pray ferverently for peace. And as we pray, let us ask the Lord to give us wisdom and open doors for our prayers to grow tangibly into feet and arms and voices.
- You can give to bring aid to people in Syria right now. Use this link for the ‘We Welcome Refugees‘ website. They lay out options to give and let me just say that we are part of two of the European organizations listed at the bottom of the webpage. I write for the WEA taskforce on anti-trafficking and refugee response. I believe that your donations are used well here.
- You can also give to help our refugee response currently taking part in 4 countries along the Balkan Route: Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, and Romania. Use this link to go to our Central Europe Refugee Response page. These donations help to supply necessary aid to people living in camps.
- You can join Ann Voroskamp in her #withaleppo campaign that includes signing a petition from the world. Follow this link #withaleppo,
- Find someone who does not look, think, and speak like you. Find someone that is different, that is Other than yourself: someone that speaks a different language, believes differently, and looks at the world through different eyes. Buy them coffee this week, sit a the table, and simply listen. Listen to their story.
How can these steps make a difference in a war? Honestly, I’m not sure that in and of themselves, they can. But, I believe that the end of the war begins with us and our determination that it must stop. Until the world demands peace for Syria, the war will continue for as long as it serves the purpose of the powers who drive that war. I do believe that these 5 steps, engaged prayerfully, will allow God to begin to stir a holy conviction within our hearts for 7-year old Bana and children like her.
Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a trip to a town that sits on the border of 3 nations to visit friends who fled from Aleppo almost a year ago. They fled their home with their 2 children and a baby on the way when bombs crushed the upper structure, but left the basement in tact. Watch for our updates on the facebook page and on this blog as we visit a new camp on the Refugee Highway.
May God bless you so that you can bless others – #withaleppo
From my journal on July 11, 2016
It is 5 AM in a Belgrade hostel and I am preparing for the first of a 15 day class that will carry us through 3 countries that know the heartbreak of war. To tell you the truth, I am not sure how we are going to make it. Continue reading “when war takes our words”
I found the boys climbing on the cattle gate that is commonly used to control people movements here on the Balkan Highway. It was right after the dinner distribution and I had muttered more than 300 times, “A-salaam A-lay-kum” in an awkward accent to people with a bowl of soup and a piece of bread as they passed me by. How many times my roughened greeting brought both a surprised smile and a returned reponse ‘Wa-alay-kumu Sa-laam,’ I failed to count. But, there I was in a Belgrade park, doing my tiny best to humanize the steaming curried stew with ‘Peace be upon you,’ and trying not to notice the men at the end of the line who were surely going to be turned away.
‘Peace be upon you’ tastes so different in your mouth when its muttered through the ears of war. Continue reading “We Need A Shepherd Not a Smuggler”