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Doing Small Things with Great Love

Someday

Hey Everyone!

This issue of Live Into Beauty is all about hope! One of my favorite virtues. Follow this link to read about my time when I lost my visa and forced to return home only six months after I moved abroad. It was a hopeless situation that felt meaningless, but we know with God, nothing is meaningless.

Praying that the lights would come on someday for you as well,
Lindsey

What We Should be Asking When We Talk Safety

It was Christmas weekend. The airport was a mad rush of anxious fliers trying to make it home for the holidays. Due to maintenance, my already long day had just added seven more hours. Looking for a way to spend my surplus time, I walked around the airport seeking a TV that wasn’t playing the news. W. Kamou Bell’s United Shades of America, a look at the often unseen parts of the U.Swas on near my terminal. The show he had taped in Portland was interesting, so I sat down, hoping the next seven hours would go quicker.

Bell, a comedian who is Black, was in the South speaking to KKK leaders. The first one he met at night out in the country. The leader, complete in his hood and robes, was answering Bell’s questions, both speaking respectfully. I listened as the Klan leader used the Bible to justify the subjugation of Blacks and how God designed for Whites to be in power. He asked if Bell was married to a black woman. When Bell answered “yes”, the Klan leader responded that was good because he believed interracial marriage was a sin worse than murder. Bell went on to a small town in another state. Here, a pastor split his time between leading a congregation and leading a sect of the KKK, again using Scripture as the foundation for his extremist involvement.

The men interviewed spoke of the Bible and were Christians who we may very well see in Heaven, but they didn’t represent a faith like mine or probably yours. When I read the Bible, I see how it describes race differently as I would say most Christians do. Yet, no one has ever asked me to defend my religion in the light of KKK or other white supremacist activity. We know that the KKK is an extreme minority within Christianity and among Whites. However, I am often asked about the Muslims I work with under the assumption that extreme Islamists represent every Muslim.

Even when people ask me if those I live and work with are involved in terrorist activity or when they are concerned our immigrant vetting process isn’t strict enough, I think, as Christians, the assumption underlying these questions is what we should be discussing instead. You see, the assumption here is that God wants us to be safe, even if it costs the life of another person.

I disagree.

In John 11, Jesus is trying to get to Judea to see Lazarus, who was deathly ill. The disciples try to deter Jesus from this. “ ‘But Rabbi’, they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?’ ” Jesus replies “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” He goes on to explain that Lazarus was dead and he needed to go raise him from the dead.

One of my all-time favorite verses comes next – Thomas proclaims “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” I’m sure that line was said out of devotion but I can’t help but to read it with sarcasm. Why yes, let us all go die together! You’re being crazy, Jesus! This route was dangerous (remember the Jews had tried to stone them the last time), but Jesus did not see the possibility of danger as a determent. With a tunnel vision locked on his suffering loved ones, he was on a mission to save Lazarus and comfort Mary and Martha. And he was dragging the reluctant disciples along with him.

As American Christians, we have this inherent belief that good things will happen to us if we believe in Jesus. For me, following Jesus has been filled with wonderful things, but also with deep pain and loss. It has driven me away from comfortable choices and a “safe” neighborhood into the lives of people who are hurting. Reading Kate McCord’s book, Why God Calls us to Dangerous Places, put things into perspective. As an aid worker in Afghanistan, 12651035_10153804554489892_8983668374784712719_nwho knew a handful of people, both Afghan and Western, who were killed by Islamist Extremists, she reflects that her time in the Middle East helped her to know God’s “astonishing, sacrificial, life-restoring love”.

This is absolutely true for me. While I don’t live anywhere near as dangerous as Afghanistan, I live with people who have and have survived. Being close to the captives that Jesus came to free and the brokenhearted he came to bind up has shown me a deeper side of God’s love that I didn’t know before. The pain and loss I have encountered through choosing the “unsafe” path seems like nothing when I think of how my view of God has changed and deepened through living with refugees and immigrants. It isn’t that God doesn’t care about me, it’s that he cares so much for all of us that he sends his disciples into danger (perceived or real) so one more person can hear about his love.

So, when people talk to me about the fear of Muslims as terrorists, even though we are twice as likely to be killed by a white supremacist like the KKK members mentioned above than a Muslim, it’s hard for me to say we should ban all Muslims, including the non-extremists, from entering our country. When Christ says we should lay down our life for one another, I have a hard time justifying my own sense of safety over a refugee’s. When my faith has grown so much for living in a “dangerous” neighborhood, I can’t imagine going back to one that is “safe”.

I don’t think God cares as much about our safety as we think he does. I think he cares more about our salvation and the salvation of others. If Jesus asked the disciples to go through dangerous places, I don’t think he is asking for us to live secluded, safe lives, tucked in by our own sense of security rather than our reliance on him. I am not saying we shouldn’t vet those who come in our country, we absolutely should. But, we already do a good job of this, especially among refugees. (You can find the entire vetting process here.)

For too long, we have looked at Muslims through a political lens or an American lens and not through the eyes of God. When God sees a Muslim, he sees someone he loves deeply, someone he longs to be in relationship with, someone he loves just as much as you and I. When we look through God’s eyes, the concerns of today fade away into God’s greater plan. When we see through his eyes, we don’t focus on the danger of Islamist Extremists, White Supremacists or whoever our current political enemy is, we see a person who is suffering and is grieving, who needs to hear the life-giving words of Jesus. Through this view point, there is only love, perfect love, and perfect love casts out all fear.

You may have noticed that “safe” is in quote marks throughout this essay. In the U.S., 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime. Eight out of 10 of these cases, the person knew their attacker. These incidents happen in homes, workplaces and college campuses. For most women and many men, America is already not safe.

What Happened After Christmas

“There’s the theme of the sojourner: the foreigner, the homeless, the outcast who seeks a place to rest in an often hostile land. True: for a cultural minority there is no place like home for the holidays. But for many, many others – like the Holy Family itself – home is an elusive vision, complexified by relocation, or political asylum, or immigration, or domestic strife, or any number of social systems that bind and oppress. Travelers come following a Star but must leave for home by another road; some may never settle anywhere at all. These wandering voices, too, are part of the Christmas story and should not be neglected.”

 – Sarah Arthur, Light Upon Light

 

When I first began speaking at churches and social action groups about refugees, many didn’t know about the present crisis. That was only three years ago, but back then, refugees weren’t on our nightly news. We didn’t see pictures of overcrowded rafts on the Mediterranean, African and Middle Eastern arms reaching up for help. Our Facebook feeds didn’t hold videos of ecstatic and tear-filled reunions between relatives separated along the journey. We didn’t read the tweets of Syrians starving to death in a besieged city. Granted, all these things were still happening, we just didn’t know about it.

Today, its a different story. The news regularly reports on the Mediterranean and Syrian refugee crisis (albeit, leaving out other major countries in conflict like Afghanistan and Somalia). This past year, the number of refugees the U.S. accepts was hotly contested (the purposed number was still less than what we accepted in the early 90’s). And Instagram is about the only social media outlet left if you want to avoid seeing refugees.

With 65 million people displaced, the world is seeing more refugees than ever before. At Christmas time, I’m reminded that refugees are not a recent phenomenon. After Christ was born, Herod ordered a mass infanticide, putting the Messiah’s life at risk. Just as Jeremiah prophesied, Bethlehem became a land of “weeping and great mourning”, similar to present-day Syria or Somalia. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt for refuge like the angel commanded, but in a strange turn of events, the ones who couldn’t find a place to stay among Joseph’s relatives were accepted by those with a different ethnicity and religion.

This story happens within a few pages in the Bible, but for Mary and Joseph, the angel simply told them to go to Egypt until it was safe. They didn’t know if it was for weeks, months or years. They lived in the uncertainty that so many refugees find themselves in today. This story happens within one chapter, so when we read it, it can come across as they left and then they came back. In reality, they left, they waited and waited, and then finally they were able to come back.

From Jesus’ own experience as a refugee to David hiding in the wilderness to the Israelites in Exile, the Bible is dripping with stories of those running, fleeing and desperately seeking safety and refuge. For my refugee friends, these stories show a God who empathizes and saves, who has been a refugee himself and who has been faithful to his people who were displaced. When someone experiences trauma, the body’s natural response is to isolate. Our brains tell us that no one can understand what we went through, no one can relate. When I listen to a refugee’s story, I can cognitively understand it and possibly feel a small fraction of their emotions, but I will never fully grasp what they went through. Yet, there is a God, a God, who can empathize and relate.

For me, I wonder how a good God could allow all this suffering to happen. Where was he when my friend was raped? Where was he when their children died? When their raft collapsed? When the terrorist cell invaded their town? While the Bible doesn’t directly answer the age-old question of why God doesn’t stop bad things from happening, these stories show us a God who is present. A God who journeyed with Mary and Joseph. A God who listened as David cried out. A God who was faithful and forgave the Israelites over and over again. I need my refugee friends to open my eyes to this God, the One who suffered and the One who is there throughout the suffering.

When I lived in Athens, I attended an Anglican church. The church felt unusually somber the Sunday after Christmas as I made my way to a back pew. Usually, Christmas is a joyous time, did something happen? I thought. The liturgy for that day resembled a funeral but it wasn’t for one particular person. It was for all the lives lost in Herod’s infanticide, for all the children who are killed in wars and street violence today and for those in the congregation who had lost children. This service gave the church a moment to mourn after a busy holiday season.

Within the joy of Christmas, there is also suffering. The Savior of the world has been born. But, in doing so, it created social disgrace for Mary and Joseph. It caused mothers and fathers to bury their children. It forced a family, the Holy Family, to become refugees. The birth that changed the world for the better, first, ushered in pain. The birth of the One who would bring a new Kingdom, one without tears or pain, was accompanied by deep suffering and grief.

Strangely, this is where our hope lies – not in the absence of suffering, but in the midst of it. If we can have hope in our suffering, we can hope in and for places like Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia. If the prophecies that included God’s plan for salvation, also included weeping and displacement, there is hope that God has a plan for those who are weeping and displaced. The Christmas story shows us that Christ is found in both joy and suffering. And if Christ is found in both joy and suffering, this is where I want to be.

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Image from http://elcmthoreb.org/2015/01/02/a-newborn-king-and-a-worldly-tyrant-this-week-at-elc/

This post is always featured in Insight, a publication from International Teams.

Advent: Christ is Here and Christ is Coming

It was Christmas Eve and the lights of my childhood church were growing dim in preparation for the Candlelight service. The red glow of the Emergency Exit signs competed with the single, slender white candle held by the pastor. Moving in a circular motion, he light the purple and pink candles in the center of the altar. The candle of the prophets, the candle of the shepherds, the candle of the Magi and the candle of the holy family. Lastly, he moved it above the candle of the Christ child. The redemption we yearned for was here as the Christ candle’s wick sparked aflame.

I have always been attracted to the order of liturgy. Its rhythms providing a calm within the chaos of a busy schedule. My extended family is Catholic and, growing up, I was jealous of their services, the way they could participate, how all their senses were engaged and how each week was always the same, no matter which parish they attended. Afterward, I would scramble to write that order down in my diary to use later as I held church services for my dolls. (I think my eight year-old self knew I was marked to be in ministry before eighteen year-old me did.)

Now, as an adult, I set up my Advent wreath on the coffee table, carefully placing each candle in its place with a large, white one in the middle. I follow a liturgy and light the appropriate candles, the flames growing as each new week brings us another light. I feel the anticipation as we are one week closer to Christmas and I feel the yearning of wanting redemption to come.

Working with those who have fled war-torn countries, with those who have been abused and raped, kidnapped and tortured, with those who arrive in America to find that life here is more expensive than they could imagine and they will have to work overtime to simply survive, the desire to see God intervene is constant. I yearn for him to deliver peace to their countries. I long for him to bring emotional, psychological and physical healing into their lives. I pray for him to provide for all their needs. My heart is crushed from the pain they have and continue to endure. As I light one more candle, I trust that his Kingdom is coming soon.

In my own life, I have not experienced Christ’s redemption quickly. My broken relationships have not been instantaneously healed. My grief has not been lifted miraculously. My own prayers of healing have taken their sweet time in actualizing. There are areas of my life where I see his redemption easily and there are other areas where I wonder if it will ever come. The Kingdom of God is here and its coming, the candles say year after year.

Soon, it will be Christmas morning. I will wake up to the smell of caramel rolls and robust coffee and (hopefully!) a fresh falling of snow. We will light the four candles and finally, with souls bursting and hearts rejoicing, light the Christ candle. Christ is here. It calls us to remember. Here, a child born, vulnerable and intimate, holding the salvation of the world for the shepherds who visited, to the future pharisees who would harass and plot, to the church that would come in the centuries following, and to us, today. Christ is coming. It also says. Our world – its systems and its people – are in need of redemption, a new kingdom to rule. As the new year dawns, we can rejoice in the ways he has redeemed us and our situations in the past year and we can hope for what he will do in the next.

As we blow out all the candles, the smoke winding and trailing upward, the liturgy reminds us that Christ is not only in this place, at this time, but in every place and in every way, all the time. I will box up my purple and pink candles but I’ll leave the Christ candle in the middle of my coffee table throughout the year, a constant reminder that Christ is here and Christ is coming.

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What We’re Reading: Kids’ Edition

A few weeks ago, we shared with you our reading list! Now, check out what we are reading with our kids. In the U.S. and across the world, Muslims are experiencing discrimination and violence at increasingly high rates. One way to combat this is by reading books to your children that show a more accurate picture of refugees, Muslims and Islam.

Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan by Tony O’Brien
A book for older children, O’Brien captures both stories and pictures straight from Afghanistan and brings them to us. Its almost feels like we traveled there!

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams
Two girls in a refugee camp in Pakistan. One pair of shoes. Watch as they develop a friendship through sharing their shoes as we learn more about what life is like in the refugee camps and for those applying for asylum.

It’s Ramadan, Curious George by H. A. Rey and Hena Khan
As I interact with Christians on the topic of Islam (and listen to pastors talk about it), I’ve noticed some false beliefs have crept in. Learning alongside Curious George, this book details one of the pillars of the Muslim faith, as well as the cultural holiday that accompanies it.

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan
Kite fighting is one of the largest sports in the Middle East. During the annual city tournament, it is also the time a Pakistani boy with a disability gets to be “king”. This story of bullies and right and wrong feels similar to ones we read in America, but the setting allows us to explore another side of the world.

Marisol McDonald doesn’t match by Monica Brown
This story doesn’t involve Muslims or refugees, but this book was just too fun to pass up! Marisol McDonald is the epitome of contradictions. This biracial, peanut butter and jelly tortilla eating “pirate princess” shows us what it looks like to break stereotypes and be who you are. It is written in both English and Spanish.

My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
Moving to a new country is hard. Moving to a new country where no one speaks your language, even harder. Shared from the perspective of Sangoel, this book will help your child empathize with those who are new.

Psalm Twenty-Three by Tim Ladwig
Ladwig illustrates this popular psalm with images of life in a low-income community. He celebrates the strength, community, joy and the ways God provides for us in such a beautiful way, its almost impossible not to cry!

When I get Older: The Story behind “Wavin’ Flag” by K’Naan
In 2010, K’Naan’s World Cup anthem, “Wavin’ Flag” took the world by storm. This former refugee turned international superstar shares the origin of this song and his journey from Somalia to being resettled in Canada, always reminding us that our struggles make us stronger each day.

Wavin' Flag
Other books:

The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

 

What are you reading to your kids? Comment below!

 

“In All Things, Charity”

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” – Augustine of Hippo

Conflict within in the church is not new. In fact, the first century church had a lot of conflict, particularly as they tried to figure out how to do life together. Can you imagine following someone who you thought was the Messiah except he dies? Three days later, you see him again, but after awhile, he ascends into heaven. While he sends his spirit, the Messiah is no longer physically present. You just spent three years learning from him (which, in reality, isn’t that long) and now you are trying to start a religion. Talk about conflict!

The first century church consisted of not only one people group, the Jews, but also of Gentiles. You have those who used to be the only chosen people group of God with their rules and restrictions and, now, The Other. The Holy Spirit did not say, “That’s okay! Just start a Jewish church and a Gentile church. It will be really challenging trying to figure out a new way of life together, so its probably best to remain separate.” No, these two people groups came together, albeit, with conflict.

In Acts 15, we see the debate on whether or not Gentiles should be circumcised once becoming believers. Previously, God had instructed Abraham and his descendants to be circumcised as a reminder of their covenant. This argument had major implications on how the new group defined themselves as a unit and how they symbolized their relationship with God.

“After much debate”, the council decides its by the grace of Christ that we are saved and ordering the Gentiles to circumcise themselves would add an unnecessary burden for the new believers. The Jews did ask the Gentiles for one thing. They wanted the Gentiles to abstain from idols, sexual immorality and certain foods. As Tim Otto writes in Orientated to Faith, “(The) commentators tell us something important was going on. Central to the life of the early believers was table fellowship and communion. By asking Gentiles to refrain from foods prohibited by the Torah, church leaders were seeking to preserve fellowship between the two groups.”

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Being Middle Eastern, they knew how important food was to relationships (one of the many reasons I love Middle Easterners!). Without being able to eat together, their relationships would have suffered and, consequently, so would the church.

On Tuesday, November 8th, America elected Donald Trump to be our President, with a large support from the Evangelical church. There were many issues at stake this year, but to my refugee and immigrant neighbors (and myself), it feels the Evangelical church highlighted other issues at the expense of them.

I do not want to get into a debate about politics and parties, but I feel I need to speak up because Trump’s proposed policies on immigration, his rhetoric concerning refugees and re-implementing “Stop-and-frisk” would have drastic, if not, dangerous implications for my neighbors, their families and my neighborhood. I also want to acknowledge that my more conservative friends have felt the previous government did not serve them and some of Obama’s policies caused economic strain on their lives. Their voices are also important and need to be valued.

In the first century church, as Jews and Gentiles ate and fellowshiped together, instead of a deep reconciliation that celebrated both cultures, one culture became dominant – the Gentiles. Otto says “Theologian John Howard Yoder identifies this as Christianity’s first and deepest wound. For through it, the church lost its witness of the reconciliation through Christ of Jew and Gentile, one of the most basic polarities in the ancient world.”

We need to learn both from Scripture and from the mistakes of the first church – Christ calls us to unity and to a deep reconciliation that values all people. How can we get back to the example of the early church, eating with one another despite our differences, but without dominating one another? Discussing complex issues, like circumcision (for them) and immigration (for us), but always coming back to the belief that we are saved by God’s grace and this grace alone? How do we figure out how to live as brothers and sisters, even when we disagree?

I think this includes listening and lamenting. No matter who wins in an election, we never have a perfect choice. There is always something to grieve. As Josh Butler, a pastor at Imago Dei in Portland pointed out, often times, our candidates reflect our society back to us (i.e. racism, sexism, dishonesty, corruption). There is much to lament here. After a time of prayer, how do we move forward to correct these ills in our society? We must remind ourselves that our hope does not rest in the government or in a candidate but, rather, in Christ.

So, this is what I’m asking from you – please listen to the voices of others, especially those who are Muslim, Black, Latino and economically disadvantaged before moving forward. This election has made it clear that many populations in our country feel overlooked. We each can remedy this. Additionally, if you feel refugees, particularly Muslim refugees, are an asset to our society, let them know through volunteering at one of the organizations below. This past year, America has seen a surge of Islamophoic hate crimes. Muslims need our physical presence of love and acceptance. If you want to learn more about Muslims and Islam, please contact me or explore a book off our reading list. Or volunteer at one of these organizations and ask a Muslim 🙂

This is what I am committing to – I will also listen to the other side. I will try to understand. I will ask questions before making assumptions. I will read books from other perspectives than my own, particularly authors of color. I will advocate for the marginalized in our society. But, I will also eat! Our fellowship and unity as the body of Christ is both honoring to God and a testament to the world of his grace.

In Acts 15, when the church in Antioch heard what the council had decided, they rejoiced. The Jews had to give up something and so did the Gentiles, but in the end, they were one body. Following their example and learning from their mistakes, I am hopeful and confident we will grow towards Christ and towards each other as we seek first his kindgom.

Authors of Color to check out:
 Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World by Leroy Barber
 The New Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah
– The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander
Podcasts and blog by the Reformed African American Network (They are much more articulate than me!)

Who are you reading/listening to that should be on this list? Comment below!

Organizations to volunteer with:
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– Mine!
– Catholic Charities
– Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO)
– Lutheran Community Services
– Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees (SOAR)

Image by Author

What We’re Reading

Want to learn more about the global refugee crisis, Afghan or Somali culture, or just want something different to read? Check out our favorites below!
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The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini captures an accurate picture of modern-day Afghanistan: the war that invaded everyday life, the complexities of class dynamics, and the resilience of the Afghan people. These fictional reads are great for high school and up. The Kite Runner has also been made into a movie.

In the Sea, There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda
This true story follows a young boy as he travels from Afghanistan to Italy. Accompany him on his journey to asylum through traversing treacherous territory by foot, car and boat.

Outcasts United: Am American Town, a Refugee Team and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John
The challenges refugees face do not end after resettlement. Placed in low-income neighborhoods with little access to jobs, transportation and quality education, many refugees struggle to thrive in the U.S. This book describes some of those difficulties and what one courageous woman did about it.

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence
Step into several true stories of refugees who walked from Somali to the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya. There, they faced the bleak process of resettling in another country, limited food access, and, for some, true love.

Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan and War is not Over, When It’s Over: Women speak out from the Ruins of War by Ann Jones
The first book dives into the complicated history of Afghanistan, as well as some of its current issues, such as women’s rights, the opium trade and education. The second captures the effects of war that linger long after the battle has ended. Follow Jones, a prominent domestic violence writer, into five countries as they endure new traumas, find joy and piece back together their torn-apart lives.

In the Land of Blue Burqas and Why God Calls us to Dangerous Places by Kate McCord
As a single, female NGO worker, McCord spent her days living among and serving Afghan women. Read about her joys and difficulties, what she learned about Afghan culture and Islam, but also about how much God loves each one of us, enough to call us to dangerous places.

Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims are Falling in Love with Jesus by Jerry Trousdale
A collection of true and uplifting stories chronicling how entire communities have been radically impacted by the love and mercy of Jesus. A recommended read for anyone interested in how God is calling others to himself around the world.

Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Gaining Understanding and Building Relationships by Carl Medearis
One of the leading missiologists for the Middle East, join Medearis on an exploration of Islam, where it intersects with Christianity and how we can better understand our new neighbors. Recommended for anyone wanting to go deeper than what the media is saying about Islam.

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D. L. Mayfield
D. L. is a dear friend of mine and co-laborer in this ministry of serving refugees. I appreciate her honest reflections on how serving those who have designated as “the other” can show us more of who God is. I was personally convicted that some of the dreams for our students reflect my own ambitions more than what God may want for them.

Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can -and Should- do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids by Nicole Baker Fulgham
Refugees are often resettled in neighborhoods with under-performing schools. Baker Fulgham outlines how education inequality came to be, why this an issue the Church should care about, and where to go from here.

What did we miss? What are you reading? Comment below!

 

A Different Kind of Hospitality

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you are all having a great Turkey Day full of friends, family and food (and not too many political discussions!). To nurse your food coma, check out this essay I wrote for Live Into Beauty about the non-traditional hospitality that’s required to welcome Muslim refugees.

Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog below, so you don’t miss a thing!
With gratitude,
Lindsey

An Open Letter to my Muslim and Middle Eastern Friends

To my Muslim and Middle Eastern friends,

It was a little over four years ago when we first met. I was a young, slightly naive college student, who had recently arrived for a summer in Greece and you were a refugee. While it wasn’t your country, but you welcomed me with open arms and introduced me to a world of hospitality and instability, joy and suffering, survival and war. When I had visa troubles, you walked with me through it, yourself being all too familiar with the global immigration system. When I returned to the U.S., it wasn’t until I found you again that I felt truly at home.

I didn’t know inclusion until you threw your arms around me and let me sit at your table, in your homes and at your desks while you learned English. I didn’t know how easily one could slip into another’s life until you showed me.

I didn’t know how deep I could feel joy until I laughed with you and your kids. Until you told jokes with such impeccable timing and wit. How contentment would warm my soul as we sat together and ate fried potato cakes. How loved I would feel when your kids pulled my arm to play or read.

I didn’t know suffering until you shared your stories with me. I didn’t know what humans could do to other humans until you told me what you survived. The pain cuts deep into my soul for all you have endured. I feel so honored that I get to share part of your burden. Now, there is more grief in my life, but you taught me that suffering is a part of our existence and I am more whole because of it.

I didn’t know resilience until I watched you demonstrate it. Despite what you have survived as a refugee, you keep moving forward, always with hospitality and love. I am continually in awe of your strength. No matter the challenge I face, your example reminds me I can conquer it.

I didn’t know perseverance until I watched you live your lives despite the continual anti-Muslim rhetoric pervasive in this country and throughout the world. You didn’t let that deter you from getting involved in your child’s school or signing up for the U.S. army. You give to civic society and our country, even when they don’t want you.

I didn’t know what liberties I had as a Christian until I saw you pull your kids out of school to celebrate your holidays, while I always get work off for mine. No one protests or petitions the city when one of my places of worship is built. I am never asked to defend my beliefs when someone twists Christian theology to perpetuate violence.

I didn’t know how much pride I could have for someone until I watched your kids grow in their ability to read in another language. They work tirelessly to improve in school and I know they get that from you.

I didn’t know how good food could taste until you made me Orange Khoresh and Kabuli Pilau. You showed me the art of cooking and baking to remind me there is beautiful and good things in this world.

You have changed my life in more ways than I can count. You make our neighborhood and our country better. You challenge me to place people first, that loving others and making them feel welcome should be a higher priority than my to-do list. You have become my family, when my biological one lives states away. I strive to make my gratitude and love evident in our interactions and in my words, but I hope this letter opens a door for others into the world you have shared with me. A world that I trust will change them, just as it has changed me.

With love, always,
Lindsey

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The sun sets over the Ionian sea in Greece. Picture by the author.

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