Welcoming the Refugee – Choosing to Walk Away from Fear

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The road may be long and full of our blood but we will go back waving olive branches. Love is stronger than hate

There is little that I feel more passionately about than refugees. The refugee problem has my heart and my mind all the time, and my body when possible. I write about refugees, my husband and I speak about refugees whenever we can, and I work with refugees whenever possible.

I have found a glaring disconnect between reality and rhetoric when it comes to the refugee crisis. Politicians and non politicians use current events to back their arguments against receiving refugees in the Western world. And much of what they say has no basis in truth. Here are a few things that I want to say about current events and the refugee crisis:

  • I am not naïve. I start with this purposely. I am fully aware that among the millions of refugees pouring across borders there are those who would be prone toward violent extremism. But if we think that the Islamic State’s reach and activities are carried out primarily by refugees than we are seriously misled. ISIS has been recruiting online for a long time. “Even though the Islamic State’s ideology is explicitly at odds with the West, the group is making a relentless effort to recruit Westerners into its ranks, eager to exploit them for their outsize propaganda value. Through January this year, at least 100 Americans were thought to have traveled to join jihadists in Syria and Iraq, among nearly 4,000 Westerners who had done so.”* Recruiting online from within the borders of the United States is a bigger threat than any refugee threats. I stand by that. ISIS is a threat; Refugees are not. 

 

  • The main message of the Islamic State is that they are creating a Caliphate, a refuge for Muslims. In a video titled “Would You Exchange What Is Better For What Is Less? – Wilāyat Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn,” the speaker explains that Muslims should not leave Muslim countries for the West, but rather seek to live in countries where shari’ah law is enforced. “Speakers warn that the ‘Jews and Christians’ do not have their interests at heart, and will force them to convert in order to remain in their countries. They cite issues such as the restrictions against hijab and niqab in European countries such as France. They assert that the Islamic State will remain strong despite those leaving. They will find happiness only in the land of the caliphate.”

 

  • A reaction to the recent violence that promotes Islamophobia helps ISIS.  Most of the millions of people fleeing Syria and Iraq are doing so to flee ISIS. We must not forget that. The attacks were thought to have originated in Syria and those who allegedly carried out the Paris attacks were French nationals, Belgian nationals, and only one who possibly entered through Greece. “Most acts of terrorism are performances of power by groups that often have very little power. As with all performances, the critical question is who is the intended audience? In the case of the Paris attacks it appears to be ISIS’ own demoralized supporters and the French public who could easily be whipped up into enthusiasm for a military attack on ISIS, which is what ISIS wants.”

 

  • The refugee crisis is more important than the terrorist threat. I believe this with all my heart. Of the 11 million displaced people, the United States has pledged to take in 10,000. That is .09% of the total of the number of displaced people from Syria and Iraq. There are millions that need help, millions that are fleeing terrorism, war, and all that goes along with that. “But one fact is simple: millions of Syrians need our help. And the more aware people are of the situation, the more we can build a global response to reach them. Our lifesaving work — to connect people to the resources they need to survive and help their communities thrive — is only possible with your knowledge and support.” If you live in the United States, then the chance of you being struck by lightning is far more than you being killed by a terrorist attack. The March, 2011, Harper‘s Index notedNumber of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year: 8 — Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning:29. “Indeed, the leading cause of deaths for Americans traveling abroad is not terrorism, or murder … or even crime of any type. It’s car crashesIn fact: With the exception of the Philippines, more Americans died from road crashes in all of the 160 countries surveyed than from homicides.” 

 

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  • And now I speak to fellow Christians. As a Christian, I am called to trust, not fear. When my husband and I were in Iraq this August, we were struck by the lack of fear in those most affected by ISIS. The testimony of faith, trust, and courage by those who have had to flee their homes and lives was powerful. Indeed, there is much to fear. But they have chosen to walk away from fear. Think about that for a minute. They choose to walk away from fear. Every day, I must choose to live in faith not fear.  “When fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth. When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play. Safety is about knowing where our security lies, what we’re called to do, and who we’re called to be.”

 

  • We have a deep need for safety and security, but we have an illusion of what that is, what that means. Rachel Pieh Jones in a beautiful piece called “The Proper Weight of Fear” says this about her move to Somalia: “Safety is a Western illusion crafted into an idol and we refused to bow.”  So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed. Thus the famous story of Achilles heel

As I think about this and the fear I hear, read, and see all around me, a memory comes to mind of my son Joel. We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when he slipped on the sharp edge of a bed and cut open an area right above his eye. He was two years old, screaming and bleeding profusely. Somehow we made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile, and a kind doctor took care of the wound, with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.”I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough.

And so I ask you, those of you who are Christians, is God’s presence enough? Does God’s presence lead us to open our hearts and walk in faith?  It’s not about comfort, it’s not about safety, it’s not about freedom from suffering – it’s about faith. 

To better understand the refugee resettlement process click here. 

Want to help in a tangible way? Make refugee kits. Click here to learn more. 

The Refugee Situation

“Over 200,000 Syrians have died in their 4.5 year conflict. That is roughly the equivalent of the Paris death toll every day since the start of their stuggle. Approximately 25% of those killed have been women and children, and over 80,000 of those killed have been civilians. This has led to a mass exodus where over half the population of Syria, 12 million people, have now had to flee their home looking for safety.”

Sources: 

  1. ISIS and the Lonely Young American
  2. The Islamic State on Refugees Leaving Syria
  3. Why ISIS attacked Paris
  4. Quick Facts: What You Need to Know about the Syrian Crisis and The Terrorism Statistics Every American Needs to Hear. 
  5. When Fear is Your Currency – AKA “But is it Safe?” 
  6. The Proper Weight of Fear
  7. Picture from our trip to Iraq and quote from a play that was performed on the one year anniversary of the exile from Qaraqosh, Iraq.

Honour the Struggle

I’m sitting with a younger friend in my home. It’s warm and we are talking over hot drinks. She and I share so much in terms of our background. Both raised in Pakistan. Both went to Murree, our beloved  boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountain Range. Both have parents who live out their faith in extraordinary joy and grace. And both of us struggled on leaving the country, the school, the people behind, embarking on a journey in our passport countries.

We talk about faith and doubt and life. And I relay to her what my priest said to me while I was working through the process of becoming Orthodox. “We Orthodox honour the struggle.” he said. “We believe that the struggle is worth going through, the battle is worth fighting.”

Honour the struggle.

The video of 21 Coptic Christians being martyred on the beach in Tripoli, Libya showed men in orange proclaiming the name of Jesus even as they knew this breath would be their last.

Honour the struggle.

A brother of two of the men killed that day thanks ISIS for allowing that part of the film to be shown. Thanks ISIS for not cutting that part, but allowing him to see his brothers proclaim the name of Jesus.

Honour the struggle.

A news report verifying that 150 Christians from an Assyrian village in northeast Syria have been abducted, taken away in early morning raids by ISIS. Men, women, and children — all kidnapped by people who hate what they stand for.

Honour the struggle. 

It all seems too much. How can we honour this? Is it really worth it? Is faith worth dying for? Or maybe the bigger question for many of us — is faith worth living for? A colleague I saw yesterday who is Jewish by ethnicity, but self describes as one without a formal faith, challenges my skepticism when she says “I wish I could believe! Then maybe it would make it better.”

In my desperation at working this through, I turn to the Psalms. The Psalmist sees people with no scruples getting rich and powerful off the backs of the faithful, he sees oppression and injustice with no consequences and he cries out in frustration and anger:

For I was envious of the arrogant
         As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For there are no pains in their death,
         And their body is fat.

They are not in trouble as other men,
         Nor are they plagued like mankind.

Therefore pride is their necklace;
         The garment of violence covers them.

Their eye bulges from fatness;
         The imaginations of their heart run riot.

They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
         They speak from on high.

They have set their mouth against the heavens,
         And their tongue parades through the earth.

Therefore his people return to this place,
         And waters of abundance are drunk by them.

They say, “How does God know?
         And is there knowledge with the Most High?”

Behold, these are the wicked;
         And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
         And washed my hands in innocence;

For I have been stricken all day long
         And chastened every morning.

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
         Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.

When I pondered to understand this,
         It was troublesome in my sight

He is thinking exactly what I’m thinking – is it worth it? Is this life of faith worth pursuing? As I watch ISIS continue to take over territory, to kill and kidnap? As I watch unscrupulous people thrive in money and fame. But the writer doesn’t end with the pondering. He ends in the sanctuary of God.

Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
         Then I perceived their end.

Until he comes back to God, until he comes into the sanctuary of God – only then can he rest, only then is he comforted, only then does he see the big picture. Only then can he really honour the struggle. 

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A month later my friend comes to visit again. As we drink tea she shows me the words she had tattooed on her forearm since our last conversation: “Honour the struggle.” Engraved as a constant reminder that it is indeed worth it.

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A Poem of Hope – Two Rows by the Sea

Two rows by the sea

A little over a week ago, the world stopped for a moment on hearing the news of 21 Coptic Christians, murdered by ISIS on the shores of a beach in Tripoli. Coptic Christians don’t get much attention on the world stage, but this was different. The pictures of those orange clad men on the beach surfaced everywhere, the stories of their lives gaining more attention every day.

We are a people of short attention spans, so what has not gotten attention is how Egypt itself has responded to the killings. Coptic Christians are familiar with persecution, and often it is at the hands of their fellow Egyptians. Yesterday I received a poem forwarded to me from my husband. Egyptians at the Bible Society of Egypt wrote it to be distributed in a pamphlet, along with other verses of comfort and hope. By Thursday they had printed over one million copies ready to distribute across Egypt.

This is hope indeed. Several times I have said that the people most afraid of ISIS are those who are sitting on comfortable couches in well-designed living rooms. As I pass on this poem, my hope is that we, in the often spiritually bankrupt West, are challenged by our brothers and sisters in the East.

Two rows of men walked the shore of the sea,
On a day when the world’s tears would run free,
One a row of assassins, who thought they did right,
The other of innocents, true sons of the light,
One holding knives in hands held high,
The other with hands empty, defenseless and tied,
One row of slits to conceal glaring-dead eyes,
The other with living eyes raised to the skies,
One row stood steady, pall-bearers of death,
The other knelt ready, welcoming heaven’s breath,
One row spewed wretched, contemptible threats,
The other spread God-given peace and rest.
A Question…
Who fears the other?
The row in orange, watching paradise open?
Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?

Two Rows by the Sea©Bible Society of Egypt

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I would be remiss if I did not speak to the many others who have been brutally murdered or displaced by ISIS. In early November I sat with women and men in a refugee camp, all Yezidis, all affected by ISIS. They lost their homes and the lives they knew; many watched beloved family members killed. My husband came back from Erbil two weeks ago. He too sat with people who had to flee their homes because of ISIS. In all these places — Egypt, Turkey, Iraq — the Church is coming alongside the grieving, offering comfort and hope.

Picture Credit: Bible Society of Egypt

*You can read more about the Bible Society here and here.

Washing Cars in Wartime – A Guest Post

Just two days ago ISIS released a horrific video of the death of Jordanian pilot Lt Moaz al-Kasasbeh. While ISIS is known to be brutal, this death showed a new level of cruelty, of inhumanity. If man is indeed made in the image of God then those who commit these acts are wounding their creator and I have no doubt, he weeps. The pilot was actually killed January 3rd – a full month before the video was released; a month where negotiations were going on between ISIS and Jordan for his release. The duplicity is nauseating. My friend Laura lived in and loves Jordan and it is through her that I have followed much of this news.

Today’s post is by Laura. It is not about Jordan or the pilot, but it is about war, about violence, about dignity — and human dignity is what I want to think about in the midst of this. Dignity of the innocent, the dignity God gives us in drawing us to himself, in calling us his children. Thank you Laura for this beautiful piece. 

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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2012

Washing Cars in Wartime
“Syrian rebels attacked army roadblocks in Midan district in the heart of Damascus on Thursday to relieve pressure on outlying rebel strongholds being pounded by air strikes and artillery, opposition activists said.
“Assad’s forces responded by bombarding the densely populated commercial and residential district, situated just outside the Old City walls, killing a woman pedestrian and a worker in a car wash, they said.”
– Reuters, 8 November 2012

***

In the morning, he rubs his palms through his
hair and swings his legs over the edge of the bed.
At the door, like sentries, stand two pale blue rubber
boots. Knee-heighted waders, he puts them on.

In the morning, he makes his tea and, sipping, walks to
punch in the numbers for the punishing measure.
The tea is hot. Tit for tat, tit for tat, tit for
tat, tit for tat—the numbness is
learned, drummed into minds by
years, obedient generations, of slavish fear.

He marches in his boots to his post,
puddles and soap. The cars roll in.
Astonishing that cars must be washed
during war, bodies of metal,
gleam and polish.
The rain of weaponry makes nothing clean.
Cars must be washed.

Next he marches down the hall to report to the next
goon up. Breathtaking the fruitful efficiency of war
and its stillborn child, death.
Rolling like a wave over the weeping face of
the earth, deracinating life from its soil.
Life scrubbed lifeless.

The soapy water runs red into
the gutter drain. Down in the valley, the cracked
earth drinks the blood of patriots and villains
in equal measure. A green patch of grass,
a bold rebuke that life will not finally succumb and
bow to the instruments of death.
The emptied rubber boots in melted pieces
held more personified dignity in one car washer than a thousand
sorry soles of the regime.

***

LauraAbout the author: Laura Merzig Fabrycky is a freelance writer and editor, and serves as editor of Missio, a blog of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture. Her writing has been published in Books & CultureThe Review of Faith and International Affairs, the Foreign Service Journal, and Good Housekeeping Middle East; and her poetry has appeared in Glass, her church newsletter, and family Christmas cards. A diplomatic trailing spouse and mother to three young children, Laura has lived in Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan; and currently resides in the fever swamps of the Washington, D.C. area

The Forgotten Ones

It was in late August that the world’s short attention span focused on a group of people fleeing Iraq and trapped in the Sinjar mountains. The group was the Yezidi people (Ezidi) and most people in the West had never heard of them.

The Yezidi people are one of Iraq’s oldest minority communities. The worldwide population is estimated at 700,000 people, with a majority of their population living in Northern Iraq. Persecution is not new to them – under Ottoman rule in the 18th and 19th centuries history records over 70 massacres. In 2007 Muslim militants carried out a string of car bombs against this minority community, with reports of over 800 people killed.

They are, and have always been, a marginalized group.

The long-standing persecution against this Kurdish minority group stems from incorrect beliefs about their religion. It is an old religion, a pre-Islamic sect that takes aspects of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Judaism.  They are said to be ‘devil worshippers’ because of their worship of a ‘fallen’ angel called the Peacock Angel, one of seven angels that dominate their religious world view.  They are declared infidels and with that, any protection is gone.

So what happens when an already marginalized group is displaced?

The world quickly loses attention. Memories of 40,000 men, women, and children trapped on rugged mountains unable to reach safety quickly fade, remembered only by those of the 40,000 who survived. Horrifying murders, including those of children, were reported in August and video footage shows a veteran journalist deeply affected when trying to rescue some of those who survived long enough to flee. “I have been in this business for more than ten years and I have never seen a mission as desperate as this, as emotionally charged as this, or a rescue as ad hoc or as improvised as this” said Ivan Watson of CNN.

Many were able to flee over the mountains, get safe passage through Kurdish areas of Syria, and arrive in Turkey, safe but displaced. Others are trapped on Sinjar Mountain, surrounded by militants with no escape in sight.

And the question now is “Who is coming for us?” They are the ‘forgotten ones.’

When temporary becomes permanent there is a peculiar pain and deep loss. They don’t want to go back to a place where centuries of persecution are embedded in their history, yet how do they move forward? What about homes? Schooling? Employment? They are suffering from a ‘deprivation of place’ and the wounds run deep.

Loss, trauma, and violence are in the story of every family and the number one medical complaint is “psychological.”

Yet the resilience of the human spirit shines bright in the smiles of children and teenagers, in the laughter of young men and older women. These are people made in the image of God. May they be protected and know peace.

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*A note on spelling – While many use the spelling ‘Yazidi’ the correct one seems to be ‘Yezidi’ or ‘Ezidi’ dropping the Y all together. I have used the spelling Yezidi in this piece but honor the other pieces in links by using the spelling they used.

Who, What, Why: Who are the Yazidis? from BBC News