A Hiding Place (When the next Holocaust comes, you can come live with me)

Upstairs, on the third floor of our former crack home, awaits a really big and really empty, comfortably furnished attic apartment. Now that we are empty nesters, we’re deciding how best to use it.

An exchange student? A foster child? Airbnb?  

Perhaps.

But because our pastor mentioned the Holocaust this past Sunday and because these Impeachment hearings have only served to heighten the sad division in our nation and the growing hostility between people groups, we had to wonder if was time for a new conversation. We conjectured a scenario where our country reaches a boiling point where the only conclusion is the genocide of a certain people group so that we, as a nation, can truly be free. We wondered if there could ever be a time where we might want to use our attic similar to ‘The Hiding Place’, where the Ten Boom family hid Jews at the real risk of their own family’s safety. We discussed whom might the “Anne Frank” be that we would someday hide in our attic?

I have no doubt that previous to the Holocaust, all the Christian Germans who insidiously backed Hitler in the days of Ten Boom would have insisted, “That (a genocide) would never happen here. Not to us or our Christian country.” 

And yet it did.

So as two people desperate to be anything but naïve, Paul and I speculated:

“Could it be we’re already close to a boiling point? I mean, we know illegal immigrants who, if discovered, will be sent back to Honduras. While most people will say they’re not actually against immigration, they just want people to come legally – what we know FOR CERTAIN is that our immigration system is so broken, a legal entry takes upwards of 20 years. During that time, while our friends would be waiting in Honduras for their legal immigration request to be processed, their American-born children will graduate from high-school, go to college, get married, have babies, get cancer, go on vacations and celebrate birthdays and holidays without them.”

Paul and I decided we’d have no problem hiding illegal immigrants up in our attic so they could stay with their families instead of being deported.

Then we talked about the LGBTQ community who feel oppressed and targeted. What if this country boiled over in hate for this particular group, blaming them for the problems of our country and insisting their elimination is the only answer? Would we be willing to hide gays, lesbians, trans, and drag queens in our attic?

Absolutely, we decided.

From there, we discussed several other groups of people that often get “lumped together” and blamed for problems in our country: blacks, whites, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, the rich, the poor, Republicans, Democrats, the NRA, the mentally ill, the homeless, druggies, Pro-life, Pro-choice, left, right, and upside down.

I’m sure you’ve heard the following comments before – and although they’re not quite as bad as they must have been in 1940’s Germany – they’re still painfully hateful and divisive (and remember, the “they” can be any of the groups I’ve mentioned as well as about a thousand others…):

  • They hate America. They don’t care about you at all.
  • They’re all drug-lords, rapists, and thugs.
  • If only they could see how wrong they are.
  • They cost so much money – they’re draining our economy.
  • They only care about themselves.
  • They only care about one thing and it drives all their other decisions.
  • They’re everywhere – and they’re taking our jobs.
  • They’re stripping our country of what matters most.
  • They’re stealing my rights.
  • They make me feel unsafe.
  • Their beliefs are from the pit of hell.
  • They’re so sure they’re right, they’d kill to protect their beliefs.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The more we hear these kinds of sentiments and the more they are repeated over and over and over, the more we are convinced they are real and true. And that’s exactly how Hitler convinced a whole country it was in their best interest to extinguish “the problem.”

So Paul and I decided, being the totally woke and cool (do woke people say “cool”?) people that we are, there is not a single people group we would refuse to stay in our attic if they were the target of a genocide.

HOWEVER…

As soon as we felt the smugness of our loving behaviors, it suddenly hit me: “But what if WE’RE on the wrong side of the equation, hon? What if WE’RE the ones being targeted for a genocide because we’re followers of Jesus and therefore we love everybody else, too??”

But Paul, in all his great wisdom, hit me with this: “Hmmmm. But in every scenario we’ve discussed, whether black and white, left or right, rich or poor, there are always two sides to the equation – meaning that in our “boiling point” scenario one side has to be right, therefore one has to be wrong.

However, in Math, an equation is one where two values are EQUAL.

Perhaps the great equalizer, the one who IS the equal sign (=), the one who MAKES all the equations, is God. And with God there are never two sides. There isn’t an in or out, left or right, good or bad, there’s just love.”

So what if we just love everybody? Will we be persecuted for that someday?

Perhaps.

But I doubt it.

I yield back the rest of my time.

The 5.7 Billion Dollar Question (the one nobody is asking…)

IMG_5709 (1) When we were young – perhaps our early thirties – we had an excess of money and were picking up steam to make considerably more. Our trajectory was secure. We owned all the pretty things, had a solid retirement account, the kids’ college tuition neatly tucked away, and, should we have died, our offspring would have inherited a rather bulky birthright.

 

Isn’t that the dream? The holy grail for most Americans?

 

We thought so, anyway. We truly believed we were living the dream.

But then, one day we heard a sermon and it all came crashing down. It wasn’t like this was the ONLY thing that changed EVERYTHING for us, but it was certainly a catalyst. I don’t remember the sermon’s title or all the contents, but at one point our pastor asked a question that Paul and I had never been asked before:

“What might we have been blessed for?”

I initially felt outrage: What do you mean, pastor? Blessings tell us of God’s goodness and love toward us and they teach us thankfulness – that’s what they’re for! We’ve worked hard for this wealth and you’re not gonna make us feel guilty for being overly blessed! Every wealthy Christian knows money isn’t the root of all evil, but the LOVE of it! We don’t love it, pastor!

Christians, in general, like to talk about gratitude and its pivotal role in our faith walk. We like to say true joy is found when we learn to identify all the #blessings God has given us and then truly be thankful for them. We name it “contentment” and proceed to enjoy 80 or 90 years of thanking God for being so “loving” toward us.

But is all that just a smokescreen? Is the posture of thankfulness purely a panacea – a way to placate our fears? Are we maybe just afraid to take those blessings one click further…. to dig deep and take just one brave step beyond thankfulness? It’d be a brave step because we just might arrive at the scary question, “But what have we been given all these blessings FOR????”

When Paul and I started asking God that question and earnestly prayed, “Lord, what do you want us to do with this wealth? How now should we live?” the answer wasn’t exactly what young wealthy people want to hear, but we had no doubt we had heard from the Creator of the Universe. He simply told us: “Hold it loosely.” God didn’t tell us “Give it all away”, but simply to let go of our death grip on it.

Before you think we’re some wackadoos who think even the shape of our shower suds is a message from God, it’s not like that. His words to us were not written or spoken, it was just something we both knew – felt in our souls – after a devoted season of specifically asking God how we were to live in the midst of abundance.

Hang with me – this blog is not about me and my husband. Please don’t even glance our way. I only share our story because we HAVE learned that as soon as we “held our wealth loosely”, we were able to let it go. When we prayed for wealth accumulation to no longer be the summation of our lives, we were supernaturally given the courage to release it. We soon discovered we had an answer for that seemingly scary question:

What have we been blessed for? Well, for the sake of OTHERS, that’s what for.

It’s as simple as that.

For us, that revelation led us to flip our spending lives upside down in an attempt to put others before ourselves. We have a long way to go, but suffice to say the opening paragraph of this blog is no longer true.

 

My point, however, is not about personal wealth but how might the same scary question regarding blessings be applied to the wealth of a nation?

When I read Suzanne Collins’ book ‘The Hunger Games’, I was blown away at the resemblance of America to the “Capital” – the district from her dystopian novel which consumes and hoards all the wealth at the expense of all the other subservient districts. The Capital flaunts and celebrates and justifies their wealth with exaggerated exuberance. They make no concessions that they are the biggest, the best, the richest and most, well, #blessed in all the fair land. They do not mind that others are dying around them, as long as they are able to continue to live their opulent and indulgent lifestyle.

I was convicted to the point of tears when those books and the subsequent movie came out. I am convinced Collins intended the Capital to mirror America and, to be honest, I’m still extremely uncomfortable with the ongoing conviction. I don’t think any of us really want to acknowledge how much we have, especially in relation to those who have not. That would be painful and we don’t like pain. It’s better to not think about it – stay busy and preoccupied – we conclude. I know that’s how I keep the pain at bay, anyway.

But I think, if nothing else, ‘The Hunger Games’ should encourage those of us who can identify with the Capital (developed countries) to at least be contemplating:

“For what have we been blessed FOR?”

 

This fall, my husband and I drove across America to bring a car to our daughter in Los Angeles. Something like 2,100 miles. Sometimes we drove nearly 3 or 4 hours without seeing a single building, city, or person. We drove through countless stretches of fields, forests, and mountains – over rivers and around lakes – and couldn’t get over the expansiveness of this country. We are a land and people so rich in resources: fields, food, forests, water, beauty, unoccupied space, strong military, hard-working people, medicine, health and healthcare, research, energy, strength, education, innovation, creativity, and – most importantly – we are predominantly influenced by a faith that teaches selflessness and generosity. We, as a country, have far more resources, I believe, than we could ever expend entirely on ourselves.

If you’ve ever traveled to the third world, you know what I’m getting at. You understand the comparison without me pointing it out. If you’ve been to those places, you’ve seen the other “districts”. You know the atrocity of our wealthy and wasteful ways as those just outside our borders would be thrilled to simply eat from our dog’s dish.

America, WE are like a wealthy relative – perhaps a ridiculously rich, young uncle – who observes his poorer relatives starving, dying of preventable diseases, suffering from lack of clean water, fleeing homes to escape violence or gangs or a dictator who would rather behead a dissenter than being seen as weak, and yet, he mostly looks the other way. We are, indeed, THAT relative (who’s been specifically instructed by his Father to take care of his oppressed and suffering family members) – who finds out a cousin sent their 11 year-old daughter into the sex trade in Mumbai out of desperation to feed his starving family, who knows of a sister in Pakistan enslaved to a lifetime of hard labor for simply borrowing money for her daughter’s medical expenses, who discovers a Honduran niece was forced to flee the country after the small pillow factory she owns was targeted by gangs threatening to kill her if she didn’t pay an impossibly high bribe.

But the wealthy young uncle decides that instead of helping those relatives, he will build a wall around his abundance and choose the culturally acceptable posture of thankfulness. The rich uncle sits in his air-conditioned vacation home sipping fine wine and declares, “I’m so unbelievably blessed. I feel so very safe and comfortable. With all the walls around me, I have no worries, no fears, no suffering. And I’m so glad that I recognize just how thankful I am because that makes the enjoyment of all my blessings okay. Thank-you God for all these #blessings.”

America, there is NO doubt – WE ARE that wealthy young uncle. We can say all we want that it’s not our responsibility to care for the poor and hurting in this world and that they’re really not “our family” or “our problem”, but then we’d simply be skipping right over the question:

What might we have been blessed for?”

Lord, help us all.

 

A View Into the Syrian Refugee Camps

Is it time? Can I finally share about my experience in the Syrian refugee camps? I’ve patiently waited until the repugnant things surrounding our country’s midterm elections were over. But I was getting impatient…

People are literally dying as the richest and most powerful country in the world spends millions of dollars on campaigning and fighting over leadership roles. Can’t we all just agree that people shouldn’t die violent deaths? Can’t we all just agree that people shouldn’t have to flee their country just to stay alive? Can’t we all just agree that children, orphans, widows, and those being oppressed should be cared for? Even if we don’t agree on who delivers that care, we DO agree they need care, right???

A few weeks ago I went to Lebanon and worked with a medical and dental team to deliver health care to Syrian refugees living in camps in the Baqaa Valley. I’ll be honest, I’m a political junky and watch and read all the things – both left and right – always trying to figure out where I land…   So I can assure you, no one – and I mean NO ONE – was talking about the Syrian refugee crisis for the last two months. The biggest humanitarian crisis of our day and it’s not in the news?

ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

So I’d like to attempt to just give us a shot of reality in the arm:

Lebanon, a tiny country along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, with slightly more than 6 million people, now has within its borders over 1.5 million Syrian refugees. That’s one FOURTH of its population. That would be the equivalent of America taking in 81.8 million people (one fourth it’s population of 327.5 million). But, in reality, America has given a dismal 33,000 Syrians a place of refuge. That’s less than one ONE-HUNDREDTH of a percent! Does anyone else see a problem with this?

And whether we hear about it or not, the crisis definitely continues and is far from over. Every morning I would wake up and look east to the mountain range that separates Lebanon from Syria and shudder at the thought of what was happening just beyond my view. That very week, just over that mountain range, the Assad regime was pressing into the Idlib region of Syria with such force and violence that another million people or so were forced to flee.

We didn’t hear the gunfire, smell the fires, or personally feel any danger – but we didn’t need to in order to feel the reality of the tragedy. The traumatized faces of the Syrians gave us all the horrific details we needed to know.

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My first reaction to the refugee camps surprised me. They weren’t quite as bad as I feared they’d be. To be honest, in terms of blatant poverty and extreme living conditions, I’ve seen people in the world who have it worse – but that’s not really saying much. Those sleeping in the streets of La Limonada Guatemala, Egyptians living off their “finds” in Garbage City, and inhabitants of the vile slums of Mumbai would maybe be grateful to live in such “fine” structures as these Syrian refugees.

Make no mistake, this was squalor. But even squalor has an unspoken caste system.

The Syrian’s “fine” structures are self-constructed tents made from government issued tarps (taken from billboards, I presume, because the walls of every home looked somewhat like a Wal-Mart ad) and pieced together by flimsy strips of scrap wood. Doors didn’t exist. Or windows. Or furniture. Nor did I see any kitchens – or anything even resembling a place to cook. Some homes had cement slab flooring; others were dirt. I shuddered to imagine how they survive winters where temps dip down below freezing and snowstorms are common. I never saw a bathroom either, but certain smells from certain areas told me they probably just go “wherever”.

I was also surprised to hear most of these Syrian refugees were actually just squatters – pushing the limits of the “goodwill” of the Lebanese. They didn’t live in government, or UN sanctioned camps (in fact, only about 10% of all refugees do), but instead, they simply erected their little clusters of homes on the perimeter of farmland, along deserted streets, or wherever they could get away with it. Many farmers and landowners charged them rent, and most of the Syrian squatters were paying someone something for either use of land, water or electricity. Paying them with what? I wasn’t sure. These people truly had NOTHING.

I anticipated busting into tears upon seeing their living conditions. Surprisingly, I didn’t. However, what brought me to tears, time and time again, were the stories. We heard innumerable accounts of loss, devastation and unspeakable violence.

After a week of hearing hundreds of stories, there was no doubt that every single family had been traumatically affected by the atrocities of the Assad regime. Every single person we talked to had lost someone: mother, father, brother, sister, child, friend. Everyone knew of devastating loss. Usually by gunshot, burning, or slitting of the throat. Families were usually forced to watch the murders.

Can you imagine if EVERYONE in your community had either seen or heard of a violent death of a loved one? Can you even imagine the PTSD? Can you imagine the stone-cold faces of a whole community who have witnessed such evil? I can. I saw their faces.

An elderly man told us how the regime stormed into his village and led everyone out into the central courtyard. There, they slit the throats and cut off the heads of many leaders in the community. They forced the women and children to watch as they pounded the heads into stakes placing them all around the central square. Then they threw everyone out of their homes and burned the homes down to the ground. This gentleman was now blind from the smoke damage and trauma.

We heard from a young man who clutched his younger brother as he breathed his last breath after being shot by the regime. This happened after he had already lost both parents and two sisters to the violence.

One woman who had just given birth to her thirteenth child was sitting next to her 18 yr. old daughter who was also holding a new baby of her own, and she told us: “We must have lots of children, to replace all those we lost in Syria.”

We met a young man who had been ruthlessly beaten about a month prior because he had decided to follow Jesus. His jaw had taken so many blows, he could no longer fully open his mouth, chew or swallow. Our dentists assessed him, but could not provide the oral surgery he needed. He wept as we encircled him and prayed for him. He said, “I still chose Jesus over the religion that told Assad to kill so many.”

Our medical team treated many people with typically non-serious health issues like lice, scabies, high-blood pressure, asthma, diarrhea and bronchitis. However, with lack of proper treatment, hygiene, and follow-up, we knew many of these problems would keep coming back. It broke our hearts that we were unable to give them more than a months worth of medication. What happens after that month is up? I am personally on strong chemo-like medication that is keeping me alive. These Syrians? When their month is up… what then? We could only pray another medical team would come next month.

We gave a Syrian doctor medication for his high blood pressure. He said he couldn’t work in Lebanon because they would not recognize his Syrian medical license. He also had no equipment, medicine, or money and so he couldn’t even help the people who lived in the camps around him. He helplessly reached out his hand and thankfully accepted the months worth of free medication we could supply. His eyes were all watery.

We saw two young children with hydrocephalus, an easily treatable disorder where water accumulates around the brain. However, with no money and no hospital that will offer treatment like that for Syrians, the children suffer with heads about four times their normal size.

Our two dentists saw around 30 patients each per day. They have learned over the years that it’s too time consuming and futile to fill cavities, do root canals or place crowns. Most in the camps aren’t brushing their teeth – which could be from lack of toothbrushes and toothpaste, or just ignorance in some instances. I believe it is out of exhaustion and desperation that they’re simply allowing their kids to eat candy all day long. These were largely educated people (they were NOT stupid!) who knew about proper dental care and prophylaxis – but they were to the end of themselves. And they didn’t even care anymore about saving their teeth. A few months of severe tooth pain and you don’t care what kind of gaping smile you’ll have, you just want that tooth gone. So, primarily, our dentists pulled teeth. All day long. By evening, their arm muscles were twitching from the exertion.

Our medical team saw between 100 – 150 people per day. The Lebanese team we partnered with had developed a fairly advanced notification system where the clinic sends out just enough SMS texts into the camps to let them know exactly how many patients will be seen in any given day, hoping that only a couple hundred more than that would show up. Our team would triage the patients in the lower level of the church to determine who would, in fact, be seen that day and who had to be asked to leave. Most of the people said they waited about six hours before being seen – often outside in the hot sun. We did our best – but it was never enough. One day we sent away over 100 people. There was no way our team of 9 medical/dental people could meet the needs of all the refugees of the surrounding area in Zahle, Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley.

Our week was over quickly and we had to leave before everyone was seen or healed.

I never thought about it before, but Jesus, too, must have felt sick to his stomach whenever he left a city – leaving behind so many sick and hurting, lost and lonely, giving up hope. Many just desperate to just touch the hem of his cloak.

Desperation. That’s the thing we felt the most in Lebanon. Desperation veering into hopelessness. I knew we could offer some medical attention to a lot of people, but I had no idea how we’d extend hope. We listened to their stories whenever we had the chance and, I think, that was sometimes better than the medication we handed out.

For seven years this complex, devastating, and dehumanizing civil war has raged on in Syria. Many of these refugees have just been sitting for seven years. Sitting and waiting. For years they have waited, hoping their country would simmer down and they could return home. Their wait turns to boredom and desperation. They have depleted all their life’s savings and they are skunk poor. Many Syrians do try to seek work in Lebanon. Most are rejected. Due to historical ill will between the two countries, the Lebanese are not very welcoming or loving to the Syrians. Some will, however, be fortunate to find hard field labor the Lebanese don’t want to do. Sometimes they get paid, sometimes they don’t. Some of the luckiest Syrians find work in the towns, but they never get paid enough. They will gladly work all day for a half-days wage just to work. But there just isn’t enough work to go around.

But, tragically, most Syrians just continue to sit and wait…. Wait in their tents made out of advertising tarps. Wait while drinking contaminated water and watching their children die from preventable diseases. Wait for the dental team to arrive so they can get their rotten teeth pulled. Wait for the UN or some generous NGO to bring in food supplies. Wait for the local church to open up their clothing warehouse so they can clothe their kids. Wait, huddled around an indoor fire in the middle of a tent while the snow flies outside. Wait while their old people die of diabetes and other treatable illnesses. Wait while dad gets older and weaker, mom grows grey and tired, and while their children grow up without toys, without birthday parties, without ice cream, without parks or museums, without books, without an education, without hope.

Wait, wait, wait…

Whenever I had the chance, I would ask the Syrians, “What do you want us, as visiting Americans, to learn? What do you want us to take away from this encounter with you?”

Without exception, they would answer, “Tell your people, tell TRUMP and tell everyone you know that they must do whatever it takes to stop this war! We just want to go home! We are desperate. Please, Miss, please. Tell everyone. We just want to go home.”

I’m well aware how the enemy of our souls has attempted to create an impassable chasm between the worlds’ religions. It is from the pit of hell when people of differing religions chose hate as their default instead of a posture of humility, love, and a longing to understand. I personally feel it is entirely irrelevant that the Syrian crisis largely involves Muslims. Did you know, incidentally, many Christians are refugees, too? Approx. 85% of the Syrian population is Muslim, 12% Christian and 3% Druze. The bottom line is this: There are humans – image bearers of the one true God – suffering unspeakable atrocities as we sit here in America and spend countless hours gripped by unwinnable social media debates, ridiculous political posturing and antics of a leadership that has become the laughing stock of the world.

In C.S. Lewis’ book, the Screwtape Letters, the demon Uncle Screwtape is coaching his demon nephew, Wormwood, on the subversive art of keeping Christians from being and doing good in the world. A paraphrase of Screwtape’s message is this: “If you can’t get them (Christians) to sin, then just keep them busy and preoccupied. No matter how petty the preoccupation, distraction is the best tool to ward off participation. This will keep them from doing that which the enemy (God, in this case) has called them to do.”

Dare I suggest we’re more distracted by ridiculousness than ever before in history?

So what is God up to, calling us to, inviting us into, that Satan would work such long and hard hours to keep us from seeing???

Syrian refugees anyone???

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If you desire to learn more, I strongly suggest the reading of these two books:

“We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria” – by Wendy Pearlman

https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062654618/we-crossed-a-bridge-and-it-trembled/

“A Hope More Powerful than the Sea” – by Melissa Flemming

https://www.amazon.com/Hope-More-Powerful-Than-Sea/dp/1250105994

 

And if you feel so led to donate to the ongoing work of the medical/dental teams that continue to serve in Lebanon four times a year, you can give here:  Global – Living With Power

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Muslims, Mexicans, and My daughter be forced to wear visible ID badges?

I recently met an Armenian woman. She wore the traditional hijab and jellaba – the head covering and long flowing coat typical for Middle Eastern women and often associated with Islam.   Her skin was dark tan and her deep brown eyes were lined with kohl. She looked strikingly similar to every other Muslim woman I had met while living in Morocco. But instead of following the teachings of Muhammad, she worshipped Jesus.

images-1Selma is a Christian – yet dressed in the traditional Armenian attire encouraged by her Armenian Apostolic church . She educated me on the plight of Armenian Christians from Turkey.  Selma’s great-grandparents fled the country in the early 1900’s escaping a violent genocide under Ottoman rule, making Selma a fourth generation American.

She shared how she is still persecuted here in America. She has been scorned, mocked, spit upon, and even been rejected service in restaurants and stores – and it is NOT because she’s Armenian, it’s because she LOOKS like a Muslim. And today, she wakes up in a country with a president who considers Muslims one of our biggest “problems”, who’s refusing to accept Muslim refugees, and whose inflammatory speech does more to fuel fear toward Muslims than anything else.

She’s a legal American citizen, with a prestigious career. She pays her taxes, lives peaceably in her neighborhood, and practices the same religion that the majority of people in America say they do: Christianity. And yet, because she looks like the people group that American’s are growing to fear the most: Muslims, she is treated harshly – even discriminated against.

She said, “I know it’s just because no one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

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At the inner-city junior high where I volunteer, we watched a film on the life of Corrie tenBoom. Corrie, and her entire Dutch family, were sent to Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews in their attic during World War II. After viewing the film, I debriefed with three 8th grade girls and asked them, “Do you think something similar – the systematic persecution and extermination of a people group – could happen today?”

A Mexican girl in my group immediately replied, “Absolutely. My parents [who speak very little English] are so afraid of being deported to Mexico. We are not illegals. But how will they know? Since we are Mexicans and immigrants from Mexico are being blamed for many of the problems in this country, it only makes sense that we’ll get blamed, too.  My parents say they already get a lot of dirty looks from white people. They think that someday we’ll have to wear an ‘M’ on our clothes. You know, to like mark us as legal – so people won’t be angry with us and try to deport us.”

I told her I didn’t think she had to worry. After all, her family IS legal.

She said, “Yeah, but how will ‘they’ know that?   No one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

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I shared those concerns from my Mexican-American student at the dinner table that evening. And my Guatemalan-born daughter asked, “What about me? Do you think I’ll have to wear an ID-badge of some sort?”

I told her no way. She was adopted at birth. She’s an American citizen. She is American in every way.

But she replied, “Yeah, but how will ‘they’ know? No one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

I couldn’t answer her. She’s Guatemalan – but could easily be Mexican. She’s adopted – but unless she’s walking beside her all-white family, you’d never know it simply from appearances. I can protect her from being deported, certainly, because she IS legal. But the fear in her eyes betrayed her. She’s awakening to the fact that the “they” she actually needs to fear isn’t the government – it’s those who are looking for a people-group to blame, someone to take umbrage with. And I can’t protect her from that. She looks just like the people that “they” say are the problem.

slovak-jews-with-star-of-davidThe Third Reich of 1930’s Germany forced Jews to wear the star of David badge to not just humiliate them, but to keep close watch over them and to facilitate in their deportation. It was an effective way to distinguish between people groups when judging by appearances didn’t work. 

As the political, ethical, religious and racial divide in this country continually grows; and as more and more people feel their freedoms, their money, and their security are actually threatened by a few distinct people groups; and being that my daughter looks JUST LIKE one of those people groups – I’ve really had to wonder: Is she safe here? Do I need to have my daughter wear an external ID to show the public she is “good”? Maybe a letter on her clothing – something like an “L” for legal, or “A” for adopted, or “S” for safe? How else will people know? How else do I help her feel safe?

Then it hit me:  The only other reasonable solution is to mark ALL THE OTHERS – those from the people groups that we, as a country, have deemed “the problem”.

The absurdity of that thought – and its frightening similarities to 1930’s Germany – is not lost on me.

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She’s an Armenian Christian – but she looks like other Muslims and she has received death threats.

She’s a legal third-generation Mexican-American – but she and her family could easily be taken for illegal Mexicans. The condemning glares already judge them.

She’s my adopted daughter from Guatemala – but she could be any illegal’s child. And she’s afraid she’ll be treated differently now.

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It’s not the government that these women need to fear. Whether we agree or not with the sweeping statements that have been made regarding entire people groups identified as “a problem” – the truth is, if so desired, the government CAN and WILL deport certain people and also create ways to keep other people out.

I’m mortified that my country is doing these things. But that’s not the REAL problem here. The problem is our ATTITUDE to those who are different from us. The problem is that we, the American public, are traveling a dangerous path towards ethnic cleansing. It begins with finger-pointing – “THOSE people over there – THEY are the problem!”

The finger-pointing inevitably turns into actions, “We must build a WALL!” or “We must ban all Muslims from entering!” or “We must make a public list of all crimes done by foreigners!” But those actions will lead us to a false sense of security and so whenever something goes bad in the land, we will only be left to find more people to blame. We’re adopting an “Us” vs. “Them” paradigm and creating a growing chasm between the two.

And all that propaganda leads to fear.   As our president continues to stir the pot of blaming and shaming, he incites more fear. And hate inevitably follows fear. It’s eerie how quickly and easily we resort to hating that which we fear.

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My daughter and my Mexican student and my Armenian friend do not need to fear their government, or their comb-over president, or being deported. What they legitimately need to fear – and it’s already proving to be true – is simply the hate from other Americans.

We have become our own worst enemy.

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand.” Mark 3:25.

What happened when we opened our HOME to Muslims

IMG_1135A few years back our family of six spent four years living in Morocco. In a country that is nearly 100% Islam, we made many Muslim friends. A couple weeks ago, one of those friends decided to visit our family here in Michigan. She traveled with her 18 yr. old daughter who was coming to America for the first time.

Although we were virtually surrounded by Muslims while living in Morocco, it was an entirely new twist to have Muslims living with us – experiencing every-day life with us. This was far more up-close and personal.

 

What I learned made me uncomfortable. But probably not in the way you’re thinking.

 

My friend came bearing gifts – for me, my husband, the kids – even for our sons who no longer live home. She got up early and made coffee. She stayed up late and made Moroccan fried bread. Whenever I wasn’t looking, she did the dishes. She listened for hours and gave me counsel on life’s hard stuff. She would sneak off when we were at restaurants and secretly pay the bill before I even had a chance to object. She sat and listened to our kids rattle on about silly things she knew nothing about: American football, homecoming festivities, travel sports, and Tim Allen. While in Chicago, we were walking back to our hotel late in the evening and we encountered at least 5 beggars in the streets. She stopped to give money and/or food to each one. She even went into a market and bought a fresh loaf of bread for one beggar.

We watched TV, You-Tube, and American sports together. And she made me laugh ‘til I nearly peed my pants.

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Three times throughout the week (although I know there were many more) I found her kneeling, facing East toward Mecca, head bowed low to the ground in prayer. Every time it stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d prayed in earnest. Life in America is busy, you know….  

And, perhaps most remarkably, both my friend and her daughter went to church with us. They were not concerned in the least that our church might rattle their faith – they simply wanted, out of respect to our family, to fully experience our culture, our lives and our religion. They understand Christianity (at times, I fear, better than I do…) and they didn’t have questions about it. They just wanted to honor us by attending church.

My friend and her daughter oozed love for me and my family and our community – as well as the strangers in their midst – throughout their weeklong visit. Then, even after returning home, they mailed us beautiful Christmas gifts to thank us. Muslims, who don’t celebrate Christmas in the least, sent gifts to US just to bless US on our holy holiday.

 

Friends, I don’t know about you, but I call that love.

 

I am being haunted by an old Sunday School song. “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Really? Will they know we are Christians by our love? Will our behavior be so exemplary, so unique, and so incredibly loving that people will unequivocally be able to recognize what faith we ascribe to simply by our actions?  

What haunts me is that, in many ways, my Muslim friends are better at loving than I am.

 

Which begs the question: Did WE know THEY were Muslim by their love???

 

If you’re jumping to defensive mode and screaming “HELLOooooo!!!! ISIS!!!!” as proof that “they” do not love – well, I get that. Undoubtedly, there are factions who are acting in the name of Islam and represent the antithesis of love.  These people need to be stopped.

But something I learned in Morocco that is important for us to understand here, is that many Muslims in the East equate Christianity with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING coming out of America. They observe things such as: our greed and materialism, our divorce and abortion rates, the Kardashians, The Bold and the Beautiful, all-things Hollywood, our massive gun violence, or George W. Bush (whom they can only see as someone who indiscriminately blows up people and cities), and conclude: “See! That’s what Christians are like!” They are unable to separate the actions of our country from our dominant religion (Christianity) because in their home countries there is no separation of religion and state. To be Moroccan is to be Muslim. The king of Morocco is also the head religious leader. As is true in many Middle Eastern countries. So it is no wonder that, to them, everything coming out of America (and let’s be honest, most of it ain’t pretty….) must be Christian.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my Christian faith identified by the actions of Lamar Odom, Donald Trump or Miley Cyrus. Or how about the Unabomber, Ted Bundy, Timothy McVeigh?  Or what about people that blow up abortion clinics out of religious conviction or priests that rape little boys?

Please, world, don’t equate me, a devout follower of Jesus, with these people!  

Some may counter and argue that these people cannot possibly be true Christians anyway…. but that is entirely beside the point because again, in many Eastern Muslim minds, all American actions are Christian actions.

And yet, in some ways, that argument completely makes my point! Because, likewise, it is entirely unfair for Americans to judge the whole of Islam based on what our Westernized media chooses to report – which is only reporting the extreme actions of extremists.

But if you get to know the people, the regular, ordinary, every-day people that live and work and teach and heal and farm and shop and play soccer and have babies and read books and cook meals and go to school and watch movies and all the millions of other things that you and I do, well, these people are fully as good at loving as you and me. They are. I’m telling you, they are.

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If you don’t agree, perhaps you’d be willing to ask yourself a few questions:

How many Muslims do I know personally?

How many Muslims have spent considerable time in my home?

Where do I get my information about Muslims?

How many Islamic countries have I visited? What was my experience there?

How many people do I hang out with regularly that practice a different faith than my own? Do they know how to love? How do they express love? Do any of them love better than me?

Will they KNOW we are Christians by our love???  Will the title “Christian” ever represent to the world “a distinctly caring, self-less, and sacrificially giving people who love regardless of race or religion?” And if it did, would my own loving actions, kindness, and generosity be so recognizable so as to set me apart from the “world” and allow them to quickly identify me as a Christian???

I’m afraid, that for me, the honest answer is “no.”

So, in response to the hate that is being spewed from the media, our Facebook feeds, and many people with big microphones, I think those of us professing a faith in the resurrected Christ should ask ourselves, “Will they know we are Christians by our love?”  A chief yearning in my life is that my family, my church, my street, my community, my state and my nation exhibit a Christ-like love to our fellow mankind. I’m nearly to the point of despair at how miserably we’re all failing. And so, this is what I’ll do – which is really the only thing I can do – I’ll sing that great song of the season: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!”