Friday, October 30, 2015

Our Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis... for such a time as this!

We all saw it... that heart-wrenching photo of little Aylan Kurdi's body washing up on that Turkish beach.

It was a lazy summer evening in early September and our whole family was sitting around watching late-night television. Hubby is a self-proclaimed news junkie so he was characteristically scrolling through the news on his hand-held tablet as we all watched a show together.

I will never forget the look on his face as he handed me his hand-held device and said, "You'll want to read this." It was this CNN article. I read the first couple sentences and was instantly undone...
The 3-year-old lies face down, his head to one side with his bottom slightly up -- the way toddlers like to sleep.
But the water is lapping around his face and his body is lifeless. (Source: CNN)
I am quite embarrassed to admit that, until that night, I was oblivious to the Syrian refugee crisis that was ballooning out of control

The next few days, my eyes were glued to the news and to my social media feeds. The world, it seems, just like myself... got jolted out of its obliviousness

I will forever be grateful for people like my friend, Ann Voskamp, who chose to use her powerful online presence to speak out for Syrian refugees. Within a few hours, she had set-up a Facebook page called Aylan's Dreams which ballooned into this movement called We Welcome Refugees, in partnership with organizations like World Relief and The Justice Conference among others.

That very night, my girl penned a letter to little Aylan even before we knew his name. Dear Nameless Boy, she writes... 
We've filled churches on Sundays while you and your people filled boats and sailed straight to death - and are we really being the Church or just filling steepled buildings hollow?
Because we're full of empty good intentions and real-sounding excuses when we should be full of the love of Christ.

And sweet boy, this is my apology, this is my outcry, but mostly this is my confession. 
I woke up to her words the next morning and they pierced the very depths of my heart.

Later that day, Ann Voskamp pens her own letter to little Aylan and links to my girl's letter at the end of her own.
Now, NOW, is the time for the Church to be the Church. We cannot, cannot, afford to miss this opportunity — and miss Him.
In the past, the Church may have been defined by what the Church is against, but, in this defining moment in history, may the Church be clearly defined by what it is for.
And the Church has always been for the stranger, the sojourner, and for being like the welcoming arms of the Saviour.
How can we not move heaven and earth to let the broken in — when heaven moved and came to earth to let us in?

Sunday came and my heart was still heavy. My girl's words rang clear in my mind, but mostly in my heart: "Because we're full of empty good intentions and real-sounding excuses when we should be full of the love of Christ." 

I knew then that God was asking our family to act, to do something... for such a time as this.

A quick chat with our Lead Pastor revealed that there were at least a handful of people in our church family ready to act, ready to do something. Without knowing what that something is, I told him, "Yes, I am willing to head up this initiative... whatever it might be."

That YES started a whirlwind week of fact-finding which resulted in our church community committing to sponsoring two refugee families from Syria via Mennonite Central Committee.

From this Toronto Star article.

I wasn't prepared for the outpouring of support... 
What started as an interest from just a handful of people resulted in an outpouring of support that I have never experienced or seen before! It has been so heart-warming to see God working beautifully in people's hearts.

Steve, a brother from our church family, shared his own family's refugee journey and many hearts were moved to respond. My girl consequently writes a second letter to little Aylan... in it she writes about just how blessed we are to have a church family whose response to this refugee crisis has been more than what we have asked for or even imagined!
This is community.
This is how we come together as the Body of Christ to respond to the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
We're smack in the middle of history and when it's all said and done we want to be remembered as the generation who welcomed the strangers as if they were Christ himself, running into Egypt, fleeing Herod's slaughter as a refugee.  

Friends, this week Mennonite Central Committee tallied all the donations that have come in for our fundraising registry and seeing the total dollars raised literally moved me to tears --- $68,190!!! This is evidence of God beautifully at work in people's hearts. Only God...

I am deeply grateful... and deeply humbled.

Now that the hard work of raising funds is over, the even harder work of preparing and waiting starts. I am deeply grateful for the privilege of leading an amazing committee of people that God has called together for this very purpose, for such a time as this.

I saw this Instagram photo by Bianca Juarez Olthoff today and it drove home for me the significance of what our church family has committed to doing --- that is to bring these two families into the safety embrace of our country and our community, a safe place that we so often take for granted or don't even think about. As the caption on this Instagram photo so eloquently puts it, "It was nothing to me, but everything to her."

"No mother puts her children in the sea unless the sea is safer than the land." -#SyrianRefugee I'm leaving Greece completely undone for the men, women, and children fleeing #Syria for their lives. Last night while passing out jackets in the cold, a mother leaned over the fence and called out over and over for jackets for her children. @tonysebastian1 told her repeatedly to form a line but she refused to move shouting louder and louder for what must have been her desire for jackets. I motioned repeatedly for her to get in line, but she didn't move. She wouldn't move. She refused to move. We didn't speak the same language but we were probably the same age. She has two kids, I have two kids. She was leaving her home, I am going home. When you're desperate, you do desperate things. Undone with her begging, I handed her two jackets and smiled. It was nothing to me, but everything to her. Her new life begins with her pleading still echoing in my mind. May I be a mother who fights for freedom in a way that she fought to be heard.
A photo posted by Bianca Juarez Olthoff (@biancaolthoff) on

As we wait and prepare, please pray with us... for these two precious families that have been matched to us as they wait for all the requirements to be completed for them to be travel-ready. Please also pray for our committee members as we start to plan and prepare, that we will keep these words in mind:
Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions. Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish, and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead. (Proverbs 3:5-6, The Voice)
For such a time as this... #WeWelcomeRefugees.

Related Reading: 
Richmond Hill church helping to welcome two refugee families, published in MetrolandMedia's, November 27, 2015.

Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!