Rerouted

It happened. Hurricane Florence changed my course today.

Photo by NASA HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9880899b) A handout photo made available by NASA on 13 September 2018 shows Hurricane Florence seen from a camera outside the International Space Station (ISS), in space, 12 September 2018, as the storm churned across the Atlantic in a west-northwesterly direction with winds of 130 miles an hour. The National Hurricane Center forecasts additional strengthening for Florence before it reaches the coastline of North Carolina and South Carolina early 14 September. Hurricane Florence seen from space, Atlantic Ocean, USA – 12 Sep 2018

Although she’s over 1,200 miles away, Florence changed my course.

My flight to Brussels via JFK was delayed to the point I wouldn’t make my connection and so Delta kindly re booked me to Brussels via Amsterdam (and gave me a courtesy upgrade to business class!). It means I’m going to sit here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport for a total of 9 hours – but at least I should ultimately get to my intended destination by tomorrow night.

A new route to the same destination.

It’s a good reminder that I am not in control. The words that James wrote the first generation of Christians come to mind.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow… Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” 
James 4:13-16

There are a lot of powerful forces at work in the world. It is important to keep perspective as no amount of planning changes the reality that I am not in control. But God is. And he is the ultimate force. Knowing that God is good, this reality is both reassuring and humbling.

Lord-willing, I’ll get to our team in Lille, France, sometime tomorrow evening.

A friend in need

I keep in touch with a few of my friends in refugee camps through WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

One of them reached out to me asking for prayer as she is very sick. She sent me this photo of her laying on the floor of her shelter with her husband reading the Koran over her. She wrote:

“I am so sick and weak. I am praying to Allah so that I can get healthy again.”

We have met many times and she has blessed me with hospitality and honest conversations. She often requests prayer and welcomes my offers to pray for her in Jesus’ name.

I have often told her how the Bible reveals to us that God is near and not far away – and that he sees and hears and cares deeply for us.

I count it a privilege to pray for her and ask that you would join with me. Let’s pray that God would graciously heal her body and restore her strength. Let’s also pray that God would reveal to her the depth and breadth of his love for her. In Jesus’ name.

Sunday School

Photo: Anthony telling his story

I do a fair bit of speaking at churches and other venues, but today’s gig was a bit more challenging than usual. I was asked to teach Sunday School at our church. Twice.

I wrestled this past week with figuring out how to talk about forced displacement in a way that connects with kids.

It was helpful to partner with Anthony, a young man who spent much of his life as a refugee before finally getting resettled to the US (the Twin Cities). We actually met a few years ago during a visit to Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi.

So I helped the kids get a basic understanding of forced displacement by first unpacking the story of Jesus’ childhood – including his flight to Egypt as a refugee. My hope is that this will help them understand that refugees are not bad or dangerous people, but rather people in need of safety – just like Jesus and his family.

We then talked about homesickness and how good it is to be able to return home after a vacation. My hope is that this helped them understand the pain and loss every refugee experiences.

Anthony then shared his story of fleeing war in DR Congo with his sister. They passed through many countries as refugees before he was finally resettled here. Most of the kids paid close attention.

We then showed them photos of refugee kids doing normal kid stuff. My hope is that they see these kids as kids just like themselves – just in very difficult circumstances.

Someone asked Anthony why so many refugee kids look happy in the photos. He said it’s true – many of the kids are actually happy. But he struggled to answer the question “Why?” He just said, “I don’t know. Somehow they just are.”

Against all odds, these kids who live in mud houses in forgotten refugee camps without electricity and running water, little food and used clothing – still play and laugh and smile and sing. It is truly amazing.

Click here to see for yourself (15 second video in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi).

I came away a bit unsure how much actually got through, but I trust God to somehow take what was shared and use it to create space in their hearts and minds for refugees.

I also came away with great appreciation for those committed to teaching Sunday School regularly!

A call to philoxenia

What word would you guess is the opposite of “hospitality”? A look into a couple of other languages might help us…


GREEK

Philoxenia = hospitality. Transliteration: love of strangers

Xenophobia = fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign. Transliteration: fear of strangers

GERMAN

Gastfreundschaft = hospitality. Transliteration: friend of guests

Auslanderfeindlichkeit = xenophobia. Transliteration: enemy of foreigner


It seems pretty straightforward that Jesus’ famous words below are calling us away from xenophobia and into philoxenia:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies…” Matt. 5:43

In an age of growing xenophobia, those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus will do well to remember and practice our divine mandate to practice the love of strangers. Hospitality.

Looking for a good book on the subject?

Rachel Uthmann, IAFR Director of Church Training, recently told me about the book “Making Room” by Christine Pohl. Published in 1999, it remains as relevant as ever – perhaps even more so today than when it was first released.

Introduction to the Refugee Highway (2018)

Introduction to the Refugee Highway (2018) from IAFR on Vimeo.

I spent today updating this 6 minute video that offers an overview of the global refugee crisis with the latest statistics along with a biblical perspective of forced displacement. It is always encouraging to hear how widely it is used by churches, agencies, networks and others internationally.

It is all part of trying to create space in the hearts and minds of others for refugees.

Lacking place

At last the Lord has created enough space for us to prosper in this land.”

-Isaac (Genesis 26:22)

The ancient stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob attest to the reality that it has never been easy to be a migrant or foreigner in a strange land.

This verse struck me this week as I’m reading through Genesis again.

Although God had confirmed his blessing and covenant with Isaac earlier in the story (26:2-6) it didn’t mean life would be easy in the land of the Philistines. Isaac felt extremely vulnerable and fearful as is shown by his need to call his wife his sister (26:7) and again later when he was desperately trying to secure water for his family (26:18-21).

When Isaac finally digs an uncontested well his joy and relief cannot be contained. “At last the Lord has created enough space for us to prosper in the land!” (26:22).

Still his struggle as a foreigner and migrant is not over. When the Philistine king comes out to meet him, Isaac’s deep pain is quick to surface. “Why have you come here? …You obviously hate me, since you kicked me off your land.” (26:27).

The lack of having a place to which one can tie identity and which one can call home leaves a person feeling extremely vulnerable and often unwanted. Foreigners and migrants live with this on a daily basis.

The host community within which they find themselves can choose to offer them a place of belonging within their society or it can choose to send messages reminding the migrants/foreigners that they do not belong and that they would prefer them to leave.

While this is true of most migrant experiences (including my own forefathers who immigrated to the US and even my own 23 years of living in Europe as a foreigner), it is especially true for refugees and asylum-seekers.

The deepest longing of their heart is to find “enough space for them to prosper in the land“.