Enter the Story of a Stranger

refugees quote

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

The verses are from a well-known and oft used passage in the book of Matthew. Through the years, they have been used as a challenge, as an admonition, and as a reminder:

Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison.  Why? Because God. We don’t do it because of politics or out of guilt – we do it because our love of God compels us to love others.

We will soon enter the Season of Advent, where we have a choice. A choice to step back and make a conscious decision to welcome the stranger. It’s easy to write a status update on social media, it’s much more difficult and costly to live out our strongly held beliefs.

 Let’s change the conversation and welcome the stranger this season.

Here’s how:

    • Find out your local VOLAG (voluntary agency that works with refugees) See what they need and how you can help. Here is where you can find a VOLAG.
    • Open your home for Thanksgiving. This is an amazing holiday to invite people from other countries into your home.
    • Watch this 17 minute film and encourage your friends, your church, your colleagues to watch it. It’s another way of entering the story of a stranger.
    • If you are a mom, consider sending a contribution via Moms for Moms. Take a look at this video and see how to contribute.


    • Host a gathering to make kits for refugees. Here’s what you need and where you send them:

Family Refugee Kit (~$28):

4-pack of toilet paper
3.1 ounce bar of soap
22.5 ounce bottle of shampoo
4 toothbrushes
2 6.4 ounce tubes of toothpaste
2-pack of bath towels
36 count sanitary pads
2.5 ounce hand sanitizing gel
4- to 10-pack of shaving razors with travel size shaving cream
$4 for shipping costs
Note: kit items can be donated in any bag or box,

Infant Refugee Kit (~$19):

36-pack disposable diapers
Travel pack of wet wipes
15 ounce bottle baby shampoo
Tube of diaper rash cream
 $4 for shipping costs
Note: kit items can be donated in any bag or box, drawstring garbage bag preferred.

drawstring garbage bag preferred. All information courtesy of  Medical Teams International

See Medical Teams International for more drop off information and more information about the organization.
I cannot stress enough how useful these kits are. We have taken over 100 to Iraq and Turkey and sent even more. It’s an excellent Christmas project. I reached out to the folks at Medical Teams and here is what they said:

“Thank you so much for your email – and your support for our mission. We will gladly accept shipments at our Tigard Oregon Distribution Center – 14150 SW Milton Court, Tigard OR 97224. Again, thank you for your interest in our project – We are so touched by the kindness and compassion from people around the US!”

Start a project TODAY in your community.

“God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”*

Will I live out my response to the Incarnation? Will I welcome and enter into the story of a stranger?

*Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

The Refugee as Scapegoat


Breaking News: WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill Thursday to halt the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. until they undergo a more stringent vetting process — the most stringent vetting ever required for people fleeing a war-torn nation. [source-USA Today]

I shake my head in disbelief and anger. It already takes two to three years for a Syrian refugee to be resettled in the United States. Out of 4,289,792 and counting registered Syrian refugees, 2,370 have been resettled in the United States since 2001. See this Step by Step guide to the process. 


As humans, we have a deep need to find reasons for why bad things happen. We want to find those responsible and punish them so that the problem is solved. We want quick results and solutions. And in the process, it is our human tendency to cast blame, to find a scapegoat.

The world has wept at the tragedies of last week, and yet before the tears dried, a scapegoat had to be found. In the United States, the scapegoat is the refugee.

…the real problem is not the refugee. It is the violence that created the refugee.

And so the real problem has been masked. Because the real problem is not the refugee. It is the violence that created the refugee. It is a war that left over 40 million refugees in its wake. It is a 1948 Nakba that caused an exodus of over 80% of Palestinians from olive groves and villages. It is a Bosnian war where 2.7 million people had to flee. It is a violent war in Darfur that left millions displaced. It is conflict in Colombia that gets no attention, even though millions have reportedly been displaced.  It is an invasion that caused 4.7 million Iraqis to flee from their homes and livelihoods.

And now it is a conflict in Syria where numbers rise every day so that I constantly have to look up the numbers and shake my head in disbelief.

No – it is not the refugee. But like the goat let loose in the wilderness in Old Testament times, the refugee bears the sins of violence of others.

What’s to be done with a scapegoat? 

Imagine that you and your family were victims of a violent robbery in your home. You lost everything that was precious to you, including a son who was caught in the crossfire and shot by one of the robbers. Your home was destroyed, and you are at the mercy of those around you. At first there is empathy – but then, people begin to talk. “They should have paid for an alarm system.” “They should have had a gun.”
“They made themselves vulnerable to that attack.” “They should have family that help them.” And so people back away, and instead of offering support, they are suspicious. The insurance company tells you that the repairs and claims will take months to process. You have suddenly become a displaced person, and you are being blamed for being displaced.

I’ve read that in Ancient Greece, during times of war or disaster, a beggar or a cripple was thrown out of the community. It was scapegoating, blaming the innocent in order to make everything okay. I read that and I think “How sad that the community believed that the tragedy would be averted? How sad that they thought this would make everything okay.”

Indeed – how sad. How very sad. Why didn’t they know better? 

The Least of These

homeless-212591_1920 (1)

As  I walk out my front door, I smell Autumn. The chill morning air is accompanied by a bright sky bringing a promise of a glorious day. How is it that seasons have their own smells?

It doesn’t take long before I begin to see the least of these. The least of these are on street corners, or huddled into city doorways, blankets wrapped tightly around them to ward off the cold.  Cambridge and Boston are not unique; every place has the least of these, but some places hide them better than others.

Our news is full of the least of these. Refugees, the homeless, the marginalized, the unborn, those who are victims of human trafficking — all those with no voice are the least of these. And the truth is – it’s often easier to ignore them, to call the “least of these” a problem rather than to try to figure out what to do.

Maybe the most important thing is to make sure we never lose sight of the least of these. Maybe it’s not about doing, as much as praying. The biggest message we have heard from refugees and displaced people in Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon is “Don’t forget about us. Remember us. Pray for us. Tell our stories.”

Maybe it’s all in these words:

When we draw near to those who are most sinned against our call is not first to ‘make a difference’ but to allow the pain of that encounter to disturb us.”

“Why are those who are named ‘oppressed,’ ‘poor’ and ‘the least of these’ so prominent throughout Scripture? Perhaps to show us that God draws very near to the most vulnerable not because they’re any less sinful, but because they are the most sinned against. They are the ones most likely to be lamenting. By telling the truth about brokenness, we too learn to lament. When we draw near to those who are most sinned against, our call is not first to ‘make a difference’ but to allow the pain of that encounter to disturb us.”

All of us bear the image and stamp of our Creator God. ‘The least of these are image-bearers and what I do for them I do for God.

Will it take a lifetime for me to really get it? That whatever I do for the least of these I do for God?*

Who are the least of these in your world? How do you remember them?

*From The Reluctant Orthodox Volume 19 “The Least of These” 

The Refugee Highway – Refugee Infographic

Stepping Beyond the Tents
Every 4 seconds someone is forced to flee their home. These refugees are vulnerable and without long-term options. Many struggle in significant ways. A few break through and start a new life. Get to know their situation and how you can help as you step beyond the tents.


The number of refugees and migrants to arrive in Greece has reached over half a million. The crisis continues and UNHCR warns of the chaos in bleak headlines:

“UNHCR warns of continued chaos unless reception in Greece strengthened and relocation expedited”

Here is an excerpt from a press conference given in Greece today:

In Greece, the number of sea arrivals this year has now passed the half-million mark with the arrival yesterday on the Aegean islands of nearly 8,000 people, bringing the total to some 502,500. The total number of arrivals so far in Europe via the Mediterranean is now over 643,000. The spike in arrivals in Greece is sharply increasing reception pressures on the islands. Many of the refugees and migrants are desperate to quickly move onwards, fearing that borders ahead of them will close. As of this morning, there were more than 27,500 people on the islands either awaiting registration or onward transport to the mainland. Additional police had to be called in on Sunday and yesterday to control the chaotic situation.*

I don’t write to add guilt to our already guilt-ridden lives. I do it to remind us to continue to pray and give as we can. It’s not over. My husband is in Turkey and posted this picture today with the poignant caption: “Refugees waiting by the sea for boats to Greece.”

Today, will you pray?

refugees waiting by the sea

Merciful Father, bless every refugee entrepreneur who is rebuilding life and community in a new place. Heal the wounds of their trauma, especially among the children. Let them not turn against you because of it, but let them see it as “Joseph” saw his experience, “You meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose” (Gen. 50:20)”from http://www.gmi.org/services/missiographics/library/world-refugee-day

[Source: http://www.unhcr.org/562617c36.html]

Good News & Choose Your Charity Wisely

Al Amal Hope Center

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a man named Anees in Iraq. Anees had broken his ankle, and the break was complicated by a previous broken leg. He could not afford the cost of the surgery to reset his bones. Anees was in a lot of pain when I met him, and I had little to give. I wrote about him, and several of you responded by donating to Conscience International. Last week we received word that Anees was getting worse and would be going to the hospital. Could we help?

Conscience International matched the amount that came in through Communicating Across Boundaries, we made up the difference, and Anees had his surgery last week. On Sunday we received pictures of he and his wife in his hospital room. He is recovering quickly and sent us his love and prayers.

I love this story. I love that someone in Iraq, who lost everything a year ago, will now walk without pain. I am humbled that you responded, that you gave to Anees. It’s unlikely you will ever meet him, but no matter, you still gave.

In all the bad news, single stories shine like stars in a dark night. They may be small stories compared to the human need that we see, but for that one person – the story is huge. We are frail humans, limited by resources, lack of motivation, and disbelief that we can make a difference. But when we enter the stories of others, we get to be front seat participants in miracles. 

It’s also important to choose our charities wisely. While some people may be more comfortable in donating to big names like International Rescue Committee or World Vision, there are smaller organizations where you can understand better where your money goes. Charity Navigator is an unbiased website that exists so that individual givers can better decide where to give their money. It rates charities based on accountability and finances. Different metrics that fall under those two categories are given separate scores that all contribute to an overall rating. It depends on what is important to you, but I pay special attention to the amount that is spent on people and programs. If that amount is less than 85%, then I am hesitant to give. The limitation on Charity Navigator is that you must have an operating budget of over a million dollars for them to rate you. The site goes into details on how much the CEO is paid, what the breakdown is for administrative overhead, information on board members and much more.

The chaos in our world continues, the refugee problem has not gone away, but one man is resting in peace in a hospital room in Iraq and we got to be front seat participants.