To Iraq


The text came on an Ecclesiastical day – a day when I was despairing that there was nothing new under the sun. Especially nothing new in my immediate vicinity.

And then came the text: “How would you like to go to Iraq? Call me!”

It was from my husband. I called – immediately. The organization that he volunteers for was putting together a small team to go work with internally displaced people in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. The president hoped to take a doctor, but after two doctors said yes and then had to back out for personal reasons, he decided to ask me. Timing was critical as he was purchasing the tickets that night.

I took a look at my schedule, rearranged one thing, and breathed a deep sigh. I was going to Iraq. As many who read CAB know, my heart has been across the world with refugees and displaced people from Syria and Iraq for a long time. In November, I was able to go to Turkey and since that time I’ve longed to go again. In fact, my husband and I have prayed long and sought hard to work with refugees full time, so the trip is a gift from God. To make it even better, my husband will be joining me a day later so we will be able to ask questions, find out what needs are, and do what we can during the short time we are there.

It will be a quick trip and include working at a clinic and visiting camps for internally displaced people. Last June, ISIS captured the city of Mosul – the site of the ancient city of Nineveh, best know from the Biblical story of Jonah. Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrian Orthodox and more all lived and worshiped in this city. That changed when they were forced out of homes and communities, fleeing to nearby cities and towns. Erbil, as the largest city in the area, received many refugees. The churches in Erbil made room for thousands of displaced people, housing them wherever they could find room.

It’s a year later, but the crisis continues despite the world moving on. The figures are staggering in their magnitude. UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) estimates over 3.5 million internally displaced people. Added to that are Syrian refugees who have made their way into Iraq. I can’t get my head around the figures. Take a look here to see more: UNHCR – Iraq

So we are going and it feels like even less than five loaves and two fishes – but then, that’s all most of us have. It’s barely a band-aid. But my friend Rachel says this, and I’ve quoted it before but it’s worth repeating:

It is small. And you are just one person. But a mustard seed is small. That’s the way of the Kingdom. May we always delight in being part of small things.” 

For those who pray, I would ask for prayers for this trip, but more so – for the internally displaced people and refugees in the area. I go for a week – they live there all the time. Also, if you would like to give to the clinic or to the camps in Erbil, click here. You can designate the funds specifically for Iraq. The trip is paid for, every bit of money goes toward the clinic and camps. Your gift is tax-deductible. 

A Practical Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis


On Stacy Boulevard in Gloucester, Massachusetts there is a bronze statue dedicated to the women and children left behind when fishermen lost their lives to the sea. I saw this statue today and my mind traveled immediately to the women and children of Iraq and Syria, those casualties of war who are trying to find refuge around the world.

Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”*

Two years ago: My husband left for Eastern Turkey and the Syrian border on Friday from Logan International Airport. As I was getting ready to fly out from Mumbai, he was heading across the ocean in the opposite direction.

The trip came up unexpectedly and will be a quick one – in and out with medical supplies and more to drop off with organizations that are working with refugees. The hope is that he and the man who he is traveling with will be better equipped to funnel emergency supplies to those that most need them, as well as to engage with key personnel on the ground who are able to help.

AT THE TIME WHEN I FIRST WROTE THIS, over 2 million refugees had fled into surrounding countries. NOW, THE NUMBER TOPS 11 MILLION. The number is staggering and resources in the countries of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq are strained.

Refugee camps will break your heart and then mend it in a matter of seconds: Break your heart for the need, mend it with the picture of redemptive resilience.  I am anxiously waiting his return with hopes that we can do more in the future to help.

But in the mean time there are hygiene and baby care supply kits that are practical and easy to assemble.  They are gathered by either International Orthodox Christian Charities or Church World Service and disseminated to Syrian refugees in various parts of the world.  It’s something that any of us can do. We can make them if we’re alone, we can make them with our families, and we can make them with a church community or a neighborhood. It just takes the proper supplies and an assembly line type of process. In the words of my husband these are “vital, vital, vital” to the ongoing crisis of housing and caring for refugees.

I’ve included the link here to learn more about making these kits but to make it easier, here is what you need: (Important note – don’t add anything to the kits, make them exactly as instructed) 

To assemble a Baby Care Kit you will need:

  • Six cloth diapers
  • Two T-shirts or undershirts (no onesies)
  • Two washcloths
  • Two gowns or sleepers
  • Two diaper pins
  • One sweater or sweatshirt (Can be handknitted or crocheted)
  • Two receiving blankets (one can be a hand-knitted or crocheted baby blanket)

Items must be new and under 12 months in size. Wrap items inside one of the receiving blankets and secure with both diaper pins. Click here or here for further instructions!

To assemble a Hygiene Kit you will need:

  • One hand towel measuring approximately 16″ x 28″ (no fingertip or bath towels)
  • One washcloth
  • One wide-tooth comb
  • One nail clipper
  • One bar of soap (bath size in wrapper)
  • One toothbrush (in original packaging)
  • Six standard size Band-Aids®

Place all items in a one-gallon plastic bag with a zipper closure, remove excess air from bag, and seal. Please do not add toothpaste to the Hygiene Kit. Cartons of toothpaste that have an extended expiration date will be added to Hygiene Kit shipments just before shipment. Click here or here for further instructions!

Another suggestion: Hold a “Refugee Awareness” night at your church. You can find facts and figures at UNHCR to give people a sense of the scope of the problem. Have them bring items for the kits and make them right there.

For more information including how to mail the kits please go either of these websites: or


Update September 7,2015: Make sure you check any charity you give to through this Charity Navigator so you can ensure your donation is spent well. Here are the top rated sites for giving to Syria!

Two smaller groups that donate directly to those in need with almost no overhead costs are Nu Day Syria and Conscience International.

I look forward to hearing from many of you as to how it worked to make these and who you got together to assemble them. Do you have other ideas? Would love to hear some of them through the comments!

*Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision on the fly leaf of his Bible

In Honor of Resilience – World Refugee Day 2013

Definition of a refugee: Someone who has been forced to flee their country and is unable or unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social group or political opinion.” – 1951 Refugee Convention.

There are over 43 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.  The sheer number overwhelms. One day out of the year people come together from around the world to honor refugees. Honor them for their courage. Honor them for their strength. Honor them for their resilience.

Some facts:

  • Refugees have no choice. They leave their homes because of violence, conflict, or persecution.
  • There are three “durable solutions” for refugees: Repatriation (going back to their homes once a level of stability is reached and the threat is over); local integration (rebuilding their lives in the place where they first sought refuge);resettlement (relocation to a third country where they can settle)
  • In a refugee crisis 75 percent of those displaced are women and children.
  • The main source of refugee law is the 1951 Geneva Convention. This gives guidelines on legal protection, assistance and rights of the refugee.
  • Currently globally displaced people are at an all time 18-year high “More people are refugees or internally displaced than at any time since 1994, with the crisis in Syria having emerged as a major new factor in global displacement.” UNHCR Global Trends Report.  The report doesn’t include the increase in numbers from the last few months of war in Syria.
  • 55% of the refugees cited in the report come from war-torn countries: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan.

Those are facts.

But facts live better in our minds through stories. So here’s a story:

In a small refugee clinic just blocks from Taksim Square I meet a woman from Syria. She came from Syria a year before. She is one of the 1.6 million Syrian refugees who have fled Syria in the past year. She is carrying a beautiful, but heavy, eight-year old boy. He can’t walk himself, he has cerebral palsy. She has been unable to get him seen by a doctor, unable to get him much-needed physical therapy for over a year. She knows that physical therapy is critical to his muscles, to make sure they don’t weaken but stay as strong as possible.

She’s doing what she can, trying to remember all the muscle strengthening exercises she was taught before coming, but she is worried. She carries him up four flights of stairs in order to have him seen by a motley group of nurses with no supplies. When we compliment her on her care, she looks surprised. “Why wouldn’t I care for him? He’s my son”. There’s little thought of herself, it’s about this child and her other children, their welfare. It’s about rebuilding and finding a life for themselves in a new place with a new language. It’s about taking one step after another, without thinking about how heavy the steps are, how painful – just one step after another.

Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe tomorrow she’ll be able to get him physical therapy. Tomorrow, God willing – there’s always a tomorrow.

It makes the dictionary definition of resilience look positively foolish. The real meaning of resilience lies in people — in their faces, in their eyes, in their tears, in their day by day willingness to go on.

So today I honor the resilience of refugees – those who day on day get up, try to understand paper work, wait for their asylum papers, seek health care, wait for a chance to rebuild and heal.

“In all the years I have worked on behalf of refugees, this is the most worrying I have ever witnessed. The needs of these people are overwhelming; their anguish is unbearable. Today, there are over 1.6 million registered Syrian refugees. More than one million of them arrived just in the last six months, and thousands more come every day, seeking places to stay, sustenance, someone who will listen and help them heal.” excerpt from statement for World Refugee Day 2013 by António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

What Would You Take?

When we first arrived in Egypt years ago, we had a shipment of goods that we were allotted by the university. At the time we didn’t have that many possessions so it was not too difficult to decide what to bring. In fact, we would have packed more, we just didn’t have enough to fill the space, nor did we have money to buy more stuff to fill the space.

As would be expected after we packed the necessities like clothes and baby stuff, we packed things that we love, that represent who we are and what we care about. So there were a lot of books, and a fair number of decorative pieces (think candle holders, table cloths, vases….pretty stuff) and photo albums – always the photo albums. Our downstairs neighbors brought none of that. Instead they filled their shipment with ski equipment.

Ski equipment in the desert.


We were surprised as well. They loved skiing and decided that during their breaks from school and work they would head to Switzerland and Austria and take up the slopes. It was their choice to fill their luggage allotment with boots and poles and skis.

We would never in a million years have brought ski equipment. And that’s the point – they brought what they wanted, and we brought what we wanted. We were all uprooting our lives and had limited options for what we would take, we all had to decide.

We brought what was important to us. 

Those of us who have uprooted our lives, whether it be domestically or internationally know the process of weeding out, of sifting through and setting aside that which is the most important. You have to be brutal, you have to guard yourself and go into a “I’m not going to think, I’m not going to feel” mode.

How much more does a refugee experience this as they pack only fragments of a life lost and head out into a world unknown? 

“If you had to quickly flee both your home and country, what one possession would you make sure you take with you?

This is the subject of a photo essay I recently looked through. The pictures are poignant and telling. Unlike our neighbors and us, these are people who don’t have shipments, they have the clothes on their backs and most probably one small bag, a bag that has to be manageable for a long journey.

So what would you take? As the photo essay shows, for many in the world this is not a hypothetical question. It’s real.

The title of the essay is “The Most Important Thing”. So what is your most important thing? What would you take? 

Take a look at Portraits of Refugees Posing With Their Most Valuable Possessions and think about the question for a minute. It’s a sobering exercise. And then think about sharing in the comments – I would love to hear from you. 

Pakistan - Displaced people returning to villages after losing much when their homes flooded.
Pakistan – Displaced people returning to villages with all their earthly possessions.

Your Manicure Will Never be the Same – World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day. I had forgotten and did a post on how my life is like a box of crayons. The irony of this hit me.

My life is like crayons because of privilege and choice. A refugee can’t even use that analogy because there is no choice. They leave because they have to. 43 million people leave their homes and countries and begin the arduous process of rebuilding.

Today I have a passport and a home, I have friends and family who have never had to flee any country, I have children who are safe and clothed and when I birthed them I had good prenatal care, ensuring as healthy a start as possible.

Today I get up and eat a healthy breakfast, walk to pick up a rental car and head off to a job that pays well. All this is what the refugee longs for and looks for. In honor of world refugee day I am taking down the post on my “Crayon Box” life and posting on a community that through hard work and resilience has made this transition and built a new life. Thank you for reading!

What do immigrant dreams and Hollywood have to do with your manicure? Turns out – almost everything!

Whether the north shore of Boston, Phoenix, or Cambridge, when I go get a manicure or pedicure I am met at the door by savvy, professional Vietnamese women.

An example of a French Manicure, acrylic nails...

They usher me in and authoritatively say“Pick your color!” I am suddenly no longer in control; instead it’s Linh or Mai or Minh who will dictate where I sit, where I stand and when I’ll leave. They know their business and they do it well.

Like any immigrant story, the story of Vietnamese and nail salons is one of ingenuity, resilience and hard work. It also has the fairytale element of a movie star and a dream.

It begins with Tippi Hedren, an actress best known for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock films. Beyond her stage career Tippi was committed to international relief. She was working with Food for the Hungry in a refugee camp in California when several women, refugees from Vietnam, admired her manicure. An idea was borne that she brought to her manicurist: Could the manicurist come to the camp on weekends and teach women this skill?

She could and she did. Through this seemingly small act, a business and dream was born. The skill set allowed for employment when families were desperate for income and within a short time Vietnamese refugees had both started and captured the market of affordable nail care. Until Tippi Hedron and the women  taught by her manicurist came onto the scene, manicures were an unaffordable luxury, limited only to those who had wealth and time.

A school in California called the Advance Beauty College, teaching manicuring, cosmetology and massage, has graduated over 25,000 students. Clients looking for a bargain benefit from the discounts offered as students work on their nails, able to  clock in the hours needed for a license from the state. While not only Vietnamese attend, they make up the largest percentage of students in the school profile.

It is a classic case study on the igenuity of refugees and immigrants. As I think about nail salons, looked on by most as merely a “service” industry, I am amazed and humbled at their skill, business savvy and ability to build a small empire. Indeed, my manicures will never be the same.

It’s also a good example of the principles of community development. Too often instead of teaching skills and working alongside a community, outsiders dictate to the community what they should do and how they should do it. Taking advantage of an opportunity and learning this skill gave a displaced refugee community a livelihood and a way to start over after dramatic and traumatic events changed their lives. All of this was focused toward building a new life and a future. Would that all could find their niche spots as they ride the waves of grief, loss and renewal in a new world.


Today is World Refugee Day….But What About Tomorrow?

Monday, June 20th, 2011 – World Refugee Day is recognized today. Thanks to my daughter and one of her friends I am reminded that this one day is set aside so we can remember, we can honor, and we can collectively advocate for refugees. Today’s post is a thoughtful, beautifully written reflection by one of my daughter’s friends Brittany Gonzalez. See the original and link to her blog at Writingpeaces.  Some facts to remember as you read:

  1. The number of displaced people is at a 15-year high. 
  2. Poor countries host 80% of refugees.
  3. Afghanistan & Iraq are ‘top source’ countries. (Source:

“…and then they raped me. With their bodies, with their guns, with sticks. Over and over until I was no longer human.” She looks down at her hands, ashamed, and repeats the last part, “I’m no longer human…” She begins to cry and I offer her my hand, but she doesn’t take it. Instead she finds the nerve to look me in the eye and apologize for the horrors she has just unloaded on me. In her arms, she holds a tiny bundle, the product of a nightmare. A human life that never should have existed, a living testament to the horrors she endured, and now – the only thing giving her a reason to live.

I want to tell her that everything will be alright. I want to give her hope and comfort. I want to empty my wallet in order to help her create some semblance of a stable life. I want to scream. Instead, I press on with the interview, somewhat grateful that my shaking hands are hidden behind the screen of my Macbook. God forbid I should appear weak in the face of atrocity.

I finish the interview, assure her that her resettlement case will be written up and submitted to the UNHCR for review, knowing full well it will be months before they look at it and another few months before they return with an answer, most likely denying her the opportunity to move to a place where she can be free from persecution, from fear.

She stands up to leave, to shake my hand and thank me for taking the time to listen. With her hand in mine, I look her in the eyes, searching for the right words, desperate to say the right thing. The words will never seem right, but I can try. “You are human. I see you sitting in front of me, exuding strength. You are human. I see how you love your child. You are human, and none of this is your fault.” She manages a thin smile, stroking her baby’s face with the pad of her thumb, unsure of how to respond. After a few moments of silence she says, “thank you, I know there is not much you can do for me. I just needed to tell my story.”

She leaves, and I lock myself in the office bathroom, crumble to the floor, and cry. After a few minutes there is a knock on the door:

“Brittany, your next client is here.”

Today is World Refugee Day. One day a year set aside for the world to honor and advocate for those who have been displaced by war and persecution. Mothers who have seen their children die at the hands of hatred, husbands who have watched their wives raped repeatedly as a tactic of war. Men and women who have endured torture for their political views, only to escape to a country where they will be persecuted again – for the color of their skin, for their inability to speak the language, for pursuing their human right to live, and to live free.

Today is World Refugee Day, and in cities across the globe, people are preparing for the celebrations. Community centers are throwing international themed parties, museums are showing special exhibits, the UNHCR is posting excessively on Facebook. Today is World Refugee day, but what about tomorrow?

Tomorrow, the war against illegal immigrants will rage on in the United States. In England. Italy will intercept a boatload of Libyans fleeing war and send them back to their deaths. Americans living near the U.S./Mexico border will take up arms to protect themselves from those who are brave enough to leave the only life they have ever known in search of hope. The Egyptian military will exercise its state-sponsored right to shoot and kill anyone seen attempting to cross the Egypt/Israel border illegally. Hundreds will die in North Korean labor camps, and dozens will be sentenced to death in China for daring to send out a potentially political tweet. Another child will be tortured and killed in Syria, a homosexual will be murdered in Uganda, and the main story on CNN will be about the latest sex scandal in Washington D.C.

I’m thankful that there is an entire day dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of refugees, and to honoring those who have survived unimaginable atrocity. All I’m asking, is that tomorrow, we don’t forget them. That we will continue to tell their stories. We are all human, and we all deserve to be acknowledged – to have our rights acknowledged – EVERY DAY.

On this, World Refugee Day, I ask you to help us help refugees find a place to call home. ~ High Commissioner António Guterres

Without a Country or a Home

The Long Return Home – Pakistan Flood 2010

History shows us that those without a country struggle with national identity, have no voice and no advocate”~ Annie Rebekah Gardner

On days when I most want to settle into my comfortable armchair of self pity with my iced cold cup of whining I am forced by outside voices into awareness of someone or something that is more important than my comfort. Into the frustration of a rainy afternoon came a “Faces of the Displaced” photo montage that shook me out of  the armchair and spilled my cup demanding my full attention. Beautifully shot, the people are so real and cry out for me to be aware of their plight. By the end of the montage there had been 39. But 39 out of how many million?

I am far too realistic to think that finding homes for millions of people is in my purview. I know better. But I have been learning about the power of the written word in raising awareness and encouraging action in the form of time, money, and prayer. The media moves on quickly but bloggers don’t have to. When the luxury of a newscamera detailing a tragedy for the international news ends, bloggers can continue to bring attention to the humanitarian need in places far away . So here are some facts:

  • UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) says there are almost 10.4 million refugees living outside their home countries.
  • The number of internally displaced people worldwide reached 27.5 million in 2010, the highest number since the mid-1990s (Reuters)
  • Worldwide, Pakistan has the highest number of internally displaced persons (people forced to leave their homes because of violence, humanitarian crisis, violation of human rights) at 1.2 million
  • While international law gives certain rights to refugees who cross over borders, internally displaced people have none of those rights
  • It is estimated that 80% of refugees are women and children (Refugees International)
  • International law does not allow a refugee to be forced back to the country they have fled
  • UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) says there are three long-term solutions to the refugee crisis: Return; local integration; and third country resettlement.
  • Recently Libyans have poured into both Egypt and Tunisia to escape the violence of the regime.
  • The recent crisis in Japan displaced over 300,000

These bullet pointed facts force me into action when I consider my love of ‘home’. As I daily walk home after long days at work I revel that in minutes I will walk in the door, there will be light and warmth, kitties and cookies, comfort and freedom. That’s what home can be and refugees,whether internally or externally displaced, have lost their home and their refuge from the assaults of the world. So what can one person do?

  • Welcome refugees in your community, sponsor a refugee family, volunteer at Catholic Relief Services or Church World Service
  • Look into Durable Solutions for Displaced People and see what you could do to help.
  • If you attend a church or are part of a faith community encourage the sponsoring of refugee families

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