Like most of America, and even much of the world, I am a mess of emotions today. I feel like the world is being torn apart, ripped at every last seam we have, and humanity is more and more fractured every second. My heart is breaking, aching, and I know the heart of God is breaking, too. But God’s heart has always been breaking over the suffering of his beautiful world.
In the midst of all this horror, allow me to bring some brightness to your day. I’d like to introduce you to a good friend of mine, Rima (I’ve changed her name for privacy reasons). She lives just down the street from me, and our kids go to school together. I met her this fall when she courageously walked up to a group of moms who were chatting on the playground after school.
With a huge smile on her face, she said “Hello!” and extended her hand to us to introduce herself. “My name is Rima, and I am from Syria.”
I can’t tell you how thankful I am for her bravery in doing this, because she has been a gift in my life ever since. She is one of the friendliest, warmest people I’ve ever met, and she is a friend to everyone. If we were in high school she would definitely be voted most popular. She checks on everyone at after-school pickup, and knows everyone’s names. She worries about me if we don’t see each other for a few days, and she clings to me like we’ve been apart for months when we meet again.
Shortly after meeting, she invited me and another friend over to her house for lunch, and she prepared such a feast as I have never seen.
She began preparing it at 4:30 in the morning. I can’t fathom going to such trouble for my own family, let alone someone I just met. She told us about her life in Syria, about all that she had lost. Her husband’s business, her home, her possessions, all were taken from her. And yet she smiles more brightly than many people I know who’ve never experienced the trauma or adversity she has. Before being granted refugee status and immigrating to America, she was in a refugee camp in Jordan, where her sister still is today. Her mother is still in Syria, and sends cell phone video footage of planes dropping bombs near her house. I’ve seen these videos with my own eyes, and we’ve cried together over the horror. Her mother has running water for one hour a day.
Like a friend mentioned to me the other day, refugees are not a Republican issue, and not a Democratic issue, but a human issue. I want my friend to have hope that her family can escape the hell she narrowly escaped. I want my nation to continue to be a place that offers that escape.
Some say that this is a political issue, but I believe it is decidedly not. And for me personally, it’s not merely a humanitarian issue either, but actually a spiritual one. You see, I follow Jesus. When Jesus was about 2 years old, he himself was a refugee. When Jesus grew up and began his ministry, he taught that whatever we do for the poor, the stranger, the prisoner, the hungry, we are doing for him. He taught us to love God with our whole hearts, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And when asked “who is my neighbor?” he told the story of the Good Samaritan. In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of a Jewish man who was robbed and beaten within an inch of his life while traveling on a dangerous road. Three different religious leaders, men who would’ve been considered by Jews to be very godly and well-respected, neglected to help the man. But then a Samaritan, a man all Jews would’ve ostracized, and even considered a part of a cult or alternate religion, stopped and helped the man. The Samaritan not only inconvenienced himself, but put himself in harm’s way to make sure the man was rescued and nursed back to health.
Just so we’re clear, Rima is the Good Samaritan in this story, not me. When we walk home together, she takes Willa from my tired arms, smothers her with kisses, and holds Audrey’s hand to keep her safe like a mother hen. She drops off clothes and shoes on my doorstep for my kids. She showers me with gifts, and she calls me sister. She is a Muslim. Jesus tells me, “go, and do likewise.”
Jesus also tells me, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So I’ve volunteered with refugee resettlement organizations, I’ve given household items to families who are coming here with nothing and starting over, and I’ve given money so that friends at my church can help distribute supplies in the refugee camps that have sprung up all over Europe. I’m not telling you this to pat myself on the back, I’m telling you this so that you know how I interpret the gospel I follow.
If I were in the midst of a civil war, my very life and the lives of my family in danger, I would want someone to rescue me. At the very least, I would want to know that I had a refuge to run to, that people would welcome me with open arms instead of treat me with hostility. If I were forced to leave my home by famine or siege or violence, I would want someone to offer me shelter. And if that safety net was being threatened, I would want someone to stand up on my behalf and petition that it be kept open. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
Please, friends. Go and do likewise.