Syrian Moms Speak

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Refugee in Arabic Calligraphy from https://twitter.com/MalekJandali

“So now I know what the word ‘refugee’ means, that you leave your own country Syria, and you come to a strange land that you don’t know, and you stay there and suffer its difficulties. That’s the word ‘refugee’, it’s very strange”*

Sometimes my words and passion feel tired. I think to myself “I’m saying the same thing – over and over.” It’s then that I need to use the words of others, whether they be in spoken word or in print. Today I hope you take four minutes and watch this hard but hopeful video and the voices of two moms from Syria.

“It is a difficult feeling when a mother feels she has to defend her children….A mother must be higher than a mother, stronger than a mother. Perhaps this has allowed the Syrian mother to release some of her hidden strengths. Sometimes I turn the problems they are experiencing into stories to teach them [how to cope]. When I talk to them, sometimes we reminisce together about our home. Yes, we talk about things like that. So that our children continue to love their homeland. So that they don’t forget. Particularly here I have children with me. If this goes on too long, they might forget their families. They might forget everything.”

“The experience of being a refugee is extremely tough. To be forced to leave your home, to leave the lovely atmosphere, your friends, and the school environment. I dream of being in my home in Syria….Despite all this, we have some good memories in Zaatari camp. Memories with our brother refugees here. We are all stuck here in one place.The situation is difficult, but perhaps, because of some divine wisdom, people from all parts of Syria have been gathered together in one place.”

*Quote from Syria’s Child Refugees: You feel they have lost their hearts.

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.

A Short Video Explains a Crisis

Tonight my husband and I will be at our church, sharing some stories and pictures from our trips this past year to Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. In the spirit of that talk, I offer you this short and challenging video. It will take six minutes of your time and it is the clearest explanation I have yet seen on the refugee crisis.

“We are writing history right now. Do we want to be remembered as xenophobic, rich cowards behind fences?….There is only something to be lost if we ignore this crisis.” 

Symbol of Strength

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Gloucester, Massachusetts is a fishing town. It is one of the oldest settlements in what became Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Through the years, life in this fishing town has not been easy. The town has seen more than its share of loss and pain, of lives disrupted. The fishing industry would rise and fall like the tide, one year providing a living wage, the next year leaving a family with barely any money. Storms would take fishermen when they were too young, leaving young widows with small children to make their way alone.

The ocean, beautiful to tourists and residents alike, cannot be tamed or controlled. It is master over fishermen and their families.

Along the waterfront on Stacy Boulevard is a statue called the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial, paying tribute to all those who died at sea. It was built in 1925 and is famous throughout the area.

But the statue I love best has not been there for very long. It is a statue a few yards away from the Fishermen’s statue. The statue shows a woman looking out to the sea and pays tribute to those left behind: The wives and children of fishermen. I love the strength of the statue. I love how the woman is carrying one child, while another holds onto her dress, a gesture that women around the world understand. I love everything about this statue.

Most of all, I love that it honors these women and children, recognizing that the sacrifice of families is great.

Yesterday, as we passed the statue, I thought of all the women and children who are refugees or displaced because of the war in Syria. I thought of the many women that I met in Iraq, the stories I have heard that are barely a page in the volumes of stories that are present from the Syrian war and the disruption of family and community by ISIS. I thought of the women and children I have met who teach me what it is to be strong.

The statue is a symbol of the strength of women, of grief being pushed aside as they move forward with stubborn endurance.

Today I think of these women and children – and I thank God for their strength and pray for grace to move forward.

See A Practical Response to the Syrian Crisis for ideas of how to help.

Will a Dead Toddler Wake a Sleeping World?

toddler-2 shoesHe’s in a red shirt and blue shorts, his little body still chubby with the best kind of toddler fat. He has his shoes on, their brown soles pointed toward the camera. This strikes me as odd — because he’s at the edge of the water on a beach. The waves care not that he is there, they come and go at nature’s will.

The light goes on in the back of my brain, and I slowly shake my head, willing the reality of the image away. I suddenly get it. This little boy, who looks to be barely three, is dead. He died and his body is there on the beach. There are no parents to rescue him. They too are dead.

The story comes out in bits and pieces: Twelve refugees, thought to be Syrian, drown when their boat sinks off the coast of a Greek Island. Their bodies wash ashore in a Turkish resort town. That’s when this toddler is found. Too late.

Turkish media identified the toddler – he has a name. His name is Aylan Kurdi, from a Kurdish region of Syria. It is thought that his five year old brother died on the boat as well.

Of the 11 million that have died or fled their homes from Syria, some stories stand out. Just as Christina became the iconic story of the tragedy of Qaraqosh, so will this baby boy become the image and story of the refugee crisis.

The Associated Press gives us a pictorial look into the crisis as they show a 24-hour migration across Europe. 

What can we do? How can we urge governments and policy makers to act? How can we sit back, while a little child lays, dead on the beach?

We are a world asleep, a world that is short sighted, a world that honestly believes someone else will fill in the gap.

Will a dead toddler wake a sleeping world? 

What if we just showed up? What if, when we see people who are desperate, we put aside all our reservations and took the risk of giving, caring, loving?

In truth, my faith demands that I respond! Throughout the Holy Scriptures, I read commands to care, to help, to offer refuge.

The stranger did not lodge in the street: but I opened my doors to the traveler*

Truth is – I have no answers except one. And that is prayer that the warm fire of the Holy Spirit will wake us, sustain us, and give us grace and desire to act. 

FOR A PRACTICAL RESPONSE TO THE CRISIS, CLICK HERE!

Donate now to the Refugee Crisis by clicking here. Also, if you purchase Between Worlds, every penny of the royalties will go toward refugees. 

*Job 31 v 32 KJV

When There are No Words

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Sometimes you look at a news story and you have no words. That’s what happened to  me yesterday as I looked through two articles: One from The Atlantic and the other was a blog from an Associated Foreign Press writer. The stories were similar — refugees trying to escape Syria were at the border between Syrian and Turkey. Turkey, a country that has been generous with their resources throughout the crisis, is stretched beyond believability with refugees and was not allowing them in. In only three days, 23 thousand refugees and counting have literally flooded over the border, trying to escape Tal Abyad in Syria.

The pictures are photojournalism at its best; pictures of desperation that are haunting and beg the question “What can we do?” And the worst thing? I don’t know the answer.

But maybe collectively we do have some of the answers. Maybe we can find ways to give and go. I offer you both of the articles today. They are not easy to read; they are even more difficult to look at.

Along with this, if you purchase a copy of Between Worlds between now and July 17, all the proceeds will go toward refugees. You did it before! You helped pay for chemotherapy for a young refugee woman who has breast cancer. Many of you have already purchased the book but perhaps someone you know would like it as a gift. Perhaps you could give it to a third culture kid who has just graduated.

Here are the articles:

1. Fleeing through the eye of a needle

2. Syrians Crash Through a Fence between War and Refuge

And I cry out “Lord have mercy.”