Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Five things to consider about Syrian refugees

Syrian refugee children in a tent settlement in Lebanon (
A few days after the news about the ISIS terror attacks in Beirut and the day after the Paris attacks, I was a judge at a high school debate tournament where the Public Forum topic was to resolve this statement: In response to the current crisis, a government should prioritize the humanitarian needs of refugees over its national interests.

Timely, right?

As I listened to my daughter and her team members go over their affirmative and negative arguments in preparation for the tournament (they have to argue both), I was mesmerized. I’d forgotten what it was like to hear a conversation where both sides of such a relevant and hotly contested issue were being discussed so calmly. It’s not that my daughter and her teammates didn’t care about the topic; in fact, they each voiced their own opinions about it. But they did so in a way that was informed and respectful.

I’ve tried to keep that in mind as I’ve read through op-eds, news articles and my Facebook feed this week.

At times, it was a struggle. I traveled to Lebanon in January to collect stories from Syrian and Iraqi refugees to help raise awareness about this humanitarian crisis, which is the greatest of our era. I care a great deal about this issue.

But, as my daughter and her teammates reminded me, some of the best conversations about even the toughest of situations are informed and respectful.

As I’ve read through the news and posts, I’ve seen several themes and trends, including misinformation on both sides of the issue about the refugees, the refugee process, terrorism and the role of the church. Below is my attempt, in an informed and respectful manner, to address those.

1. No, 75 percent of Syrian refugees are not single men. Instead, most are women and children.

This figure has been floating around for several months. But, the reality is only a little over one-fifth of Syrian refugees are men between 18 and 59. As points out:
UNHCR’s data show that 50.5 percent of refugees are women. Females age 18 to 59 make up 23.9 percent of the refugees, while males in that age group make up 21.8 percent. Even younger males — age 12 to 17 — represent 6.5 percent of refugees, while females that age are 6.1 percent. The majority of refugees — 51.1 percent — are under age 17, including 38.5 percent who are younger than 12 years old. These numbers were as of Sept. 6.
The 75 percent figure is related to the European Union migrant and refugee population coming by way of the Mediterranean Sea. Again,
There have been more than 400,000 such “sea arrivals” in 2015, and 51 percent are Syrian. The rest have come mainly from nine other countries. Most of these refugees and migrants have been men — 72 percent — but these are not figures on Syrian refugees or even solely the 200,000-some Syrians who have been willing to take some type of boat to reach Europe by sea.
But now even that figure of 72 percent, as it relates to the larger migrant and refugee population in Europe, is out of date. In early September, according to UNICEF, a third of the refugees and migrants passing through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia seeking refuge in Europe were women and children—triple the number in the previous three months and up from 10 per cent in June.

And keep in mind, the vast majority of refugee and asylum requests from Syrians wishing to settle in the U.S. are not going to come from the Syrians among the European migrant and refugee population. They will come from those displaced in Syria or living in Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon—a populations that mirror the UNHCR data above.

2. The refugee vetting process for EU and the U.S. are very different.

Because of the sheer numbers of refugees and migrants coming into Europe, governments are able to do little more than register passports and file the bare minimum of paperwork. The EU crisis is a little like the U.S. situation with the unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America—except multiplied many fold.

For Syrian or Iraqi refugees coming to the United States, the process is completely different. First, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, only refugees who have been referred by the UNHCR or by a U.S. embassy are eligible for the U.S. Resettlement Program. They must meet certain criteria to be eligible; if they are, they’re then interviewed by UNCIS officer overseas and go through the process of preparing resettlement application forms. If they are accepted, they must go through a process to be matched with a resettlement agency, pass a medical clearance, undergo a security clearance check—all of which can take anywhere from 18 months up to two years to complete.

So, how rigorous is the vetting process? According to Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner, it is "the most stringent security process for anyone entering the United States." As I have seen more than one person put it, there are easier ways to get into the U.S. if you are a terrorist.

Could an ISIS terrorist slip through? Yes. Has a refugee ever been arrested for committing a terrorist act on U.S. soil? No. Has a former refugee ever been arrested on terrorism charges in the U.S.? It could be argued, yes. The Daily Mail and WND recently reported that upwards of 70 immigrants and a few former refugees were charged with terrorism.

But let’s put this in perspective. First, The Washington Times and New York Times both report that in the 14 years since 9/11, nearly twice as many people have been killed in the U.S. by white supremacists and anti-government radicals than by Muslim extremists (which is what concerns the a large portion of those opposed to allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S.).

Second, let’s put the number of immigrants and former refugees arrested in perspective. In the last seven years, the U.S. has resettled over 490,000 refugees and 784,000 since September 11, 2001. Of the 70,000 settled in 2015, 35.1 percent were from Near East/South Asia, which includes countries like Iraqi, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan. That means (if I did my math right) that immigrants and former refugees who were arrested on terrorism charges or for acts as terrorism represent something like .00009 percent of the general refugee population and--if all of them were from Near East/South Asian countries, which they weren't--.0002 percent of the Near East/South Asia population. That is low. Really, really, really low.

3. The risk of being killed in a terrorist act is also low. Really, really, really low.

The population of U.S. is almost 319 million. According to the CDC, two million people died in 2012. Out of that, about 16,000 were homicides, 128,000** accidental deaths and 40,000 suicide.

The total killed by domestic terrorism from 2001 to 2013? 3380  in 15 attacks.

In the U.S., your odds of dying from an act of terrorism are lower than just about anything else, 1 in 20 million. You are more likely to die from hypothermia (1 in 500,000), be killed by lightning (1 in 10.5 million) or mauled to death by a dog (1 in 11 million).

I am not saying there aren’t risks. And I’m definitely not saying that I don’t mourn and long for justice for victims of terrorism. I do, believe me.* But I am suggesting (like the Brookings Institute, the top rated think tank in the world) the risks of dying from a terrorist attack by a refugee are really low. Really, really, really low.

Even if we closed our borders and eliminated all domestic terrorist threats, that lowers our risk of death by murder or assault only a fraction—the risk of which was really low to begin with.

4. Being compassionate is who the people of God are called and enabled to be.

You don’t have to be a Christian to be compassionate; in fact, some of the most compassionate people I know aren’t. But if you are a follower of Jesus, a child of God and one of his people, this is who you are.

The same weekend I was a judge at my daughter’s debate tournament, I also went to church. Preaching that weekend was Camille Melki of Heart for Lebanon, a Lebanese faith-based organization that provides relief services to Syrian and Iraqi refugees in that country—and the FBO that hosted me during my time there in January. His topic? What is the role of the church in the midst of the refugee crisis.

Timely, right?

The answer, says Melki, is in our citizenship in the kingdom of God. He read from Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus said:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“This is who we are in Christ and why we do what we do,” says Melki. “It is defines our DNA as citizens of heaven.”

We have no choice but to be the hands and feet of Jesus, says Melki. It is who we are to love and care for the marginalized and rejected, the homeless and poor, the sick and broken—just like Jesus.

5. It is not enough to care. We must invest.

Heart for Lebanon is not simply about providing physical relief to the refugees. “We must address poverty on all levels,” Melki says—physical, emotional and spiritual. Physical relief is only the first step on a long journey, he says. “If we leave it there,” he says, “the family simply becomes a number and the aid a product.”

Instead, Melki longs for Jesus to win their hearts. So  he and his staff live like Jesus. They invest long hours in building relationships and trust, listen to their stories, sip tea and coffee with them, celebrate their births, attend their weddings, mourn at their funerals. They do this because they love them.

“We consider each one as one of ours,” he says.

That is what it looks like to love your neighbor.

Recently, I met with a local refugee resettlement agency, and they underlined how important it is for refugees to be embraced by their communities. Churches, non-profits and social service agencies need to work together to help them settle, get back on their feet and build a new life.

My church and others in the Northern Virginia area are supporting organizations like Heart for Lebanon and working with local refugee settlement agencies to co-sponsor refugee families. We are in it for the long haul. My hope is that you will consider that, too.

*Note: I know people--people whom I love--who have lost family to or whose lives have been dramatically altered by acts of terrorism. My intention is most definitely not to diminish their pain or loss; I mourn with them. My intention is to correct misinformation and counter the fear culture that affects the way we see and live in the world. (Added 11/19/2015)

**Number changed from 137,000; addition error.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tired of weeping

Oh, I am very weary,
Though tears no longer flow;
My eyes are tired of weeping,
My heart is sick of woe.
~Anne Bronte

Iraqi refugee family I met in Beirut

Syrian refugee children I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon

Syrian refugee children I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon

A Syrian refugee child I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon

A refugee tent settlement in Lebanon

A Syrian refugee child I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon

Syrian refugee children I met in a tent settlement in Lebanon

Syrian refugee women in a tent settlement in Lebanaon

A Syrian refugee widow living in a tent settlement in Lebanon

A Syrian refugee child living in a tent settlement in Lebanon

A Syrian refugee boy living in a tent settlement in Lebanon

Iraqi refugee children at a Heart for Lebanon distribution center in Lebanon

Iraqi refugee family at a Heart for Lebanon distribution center in Lebanon

An Iraqi refugee family. The couple's youngest son was killed by an ISIS bomb

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Martian and our divine instinct to help

Last spring, I read Andy Weir’s sci-fi novel, The Martian, in less than 24 hours. It doesn’t disappoint—and neither does the recent film adaption.

Like the novel, the film centers on the crew of the Hermes during a mission on Mars, where astronaut Mark Watney is stranded after the rest of the crew evacuate and leave him behind believing he died during a storm. Using his humor, ingenuity and skills as a scientist, he strives to survive.

Critics and scientists alike praise The Martian’s depiction of science. A powerful tool, science not only continually reveals the secrets of our amazing universe but also helps us survive in and improve the world around us. Indeed, one of the best parts of The Martian is watching Watney science his way through one challenge after another.

But ultimately, science isn’t what saves Watney.

We get so caught up in Watney’s clever resourcefulness that we almost forget the toll of his struggle to survive. Near the end of the film, we get a glimpse of his body—bruised, marred and painfully thin. And as he journeys across Mars towards an assent vehicle that his crewmates will control remotely to rendezvous with the Hermes, his face and posture reflect the weariness wrought by starvation and constant threat.

When he reaches the assent vehicle, he strips it down to make it light enough to boost him higher into orbit to intercept the Hermes. When he finally lies back in the vehicle’s sole remaining launch chair, he is literally at the end of what he can do. Like the assent vehicle, he’s been stripped bare.

At that moment he hears a crewmate’s voice from the Hermes—the first human voice besides his own in over a year—and his eyes fill with tears.

And so do mine.

Science kept Watney alive but it is his crewmates—at immense risk to their own lives—who save him.

In one of the film’s trailers, Watney gives voice to a key passage at the end of the novel where he reflects on why people risked so much to save him:
“… they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. ... If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it's found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are [people] who just don't care, but they're massively outnumbered by the people who do.” 
This is the heart of The Martian—and it deeply resonates with the way I understand reality as a Christian.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis examines this attribute of our nature. When someone is in danger, Lewis says, you likely experience two equally important impulses: to help (herd instinct) or keep out of danger (self-preservation). Yet there is a third thing that judges between those impulses and tells you the right thing to do is help and the wrong thing would be to run away—a “Law of Human Nature” that “tells you to do the straight thing, and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do.”

Human beings all over the earth exhibit this, says Lewis.

That this thing judges between instincts indicates it is not one itself, says Lewis, and that leads us to contemplate whether “there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behavior” and “a Something which is directing the universe, and which appears in me as a law urging me to do right."

I loved The Martian for many reasons, but mostly because it resonates with the truth of the extraordinary reality that infuses and embraces our ordinary one—and me. And that brings God-talk into these open spaces.

This post is a slightly longer version of my column that originally appeared at MWR.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Our 'Tomorrowland' today

Imagine experiencing a future of such beauty and possibility that it transforms the way you think about reality and the choices you make in the present. That’s what happens to Casey Newton—an optimistic teenage girl who aspires to be an astronaut in a diminishing-NASA era—whenever she touches a lapel pin with the letter ‘T’ on it in the Disney film, Tomorrowland.

Casey is one of many dreamers, artists and inventors who have been given a glimpse of Tomorrowland in hopes of shaping a better future for humanity. That vision sends her on a remarkable and risky journey that changes the way she sees the world—and the fate of a humanity on the brink of self-destruction.

I resonate with Tomorrowland’s theme that our vision of the future can transform the way we live now. Early church believers fixed their vision on a future that helped free them to live risky, transformed lives that changed the world.

“Human life and consciousness requires, by its very nature, a projected future,” says Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy.

Unlike our present culture, which fixes its visions of humanity’s future on a closed-system of materialism, Jesus presents us with the reality of an unrestrained kingdom and “a future as good and as large as God himself,” says Willard.

Scripture tells us we will reign with God, and we shall be as the resurrected Jesus (1 John 3:1-2, Phil 3:20), who was not restrained by space, time and the physical limitations of our bodies. The mortal part of us, says Willard, will be “swallowed up by life” in a world restored, “a kingdom come in its utter fullness.”

It will be a life brimming over with beauty and possibility beyond our imagination—but our embracing of and belief in the reality of that future is imperative to our life now.

In order live in the kingdom, says Willard, “we need to have firmly fixed in our minds what our future is to be like… It must be something we can now plan or make decisions in terms of... In this way our future can be incorporated into our life now and our life can be incorporated into our future.”

In Tomorrowland, the present world is broken like our own. And like our world, too many do nothing.

“In every moment there's a possibility of a better future, but you people won't believe it—and because you won't believe it you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality,” one character tells Casey. “People don’t care about a better future because it doesn’t cost them anything today.”

Like Casey, the journey to our glorious future requires a risk-taking kind of life—a “lay down your life, pick up your cross” kind of life. But the result is the experience of that future breaking into our world. We experience the fullness of that future Kingdom now. And the experiences we have in this life, says Willard, “fill us with anticipation of a future so full of beauty and goodness we can hardly imagine.”

Our own experiences of that future—be it from Scripture, a breath of the Spirit, a moment in the Kingdom of God’s family—remind us that not only what is come but also here and now is overflowing with possibility, beauty and restoration.

And as we transform and live out together that reality, others can see it too. We become like Tomorrowland’s lapel pins, giving others a glimpse of a glorious world and future breaking into this one today.

This post originally appeared as a column at MWR.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Regina, an Iraqi refugee © Carmen Andres
I met ReGina on a cold January morning in Beirut after a women's Bible study for Iraqi refugees hosted by Heart for Lebanon. We stood next to a portable heater, warming our hands and feet. ReGina wore black, knitted gloves. Two fingers were missing from her right hand.
Then she told her story.
She and her family were from Mosul, a city of over a million people in northern Iraq. They were part of the Christian community there, which has ancient roots in the region. The Christians of Iraq are considered one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world, dating back to the first century AD, hundreds of years before Constantine and the formation of the Catholic Church.
One day, as she and her daughter were leaving church, a car bomb exploded. Regina lost those two fingers in the explosion. Her daughter has scars all over her body from the shrapnel, some of which is still embedded.
She fled Mosul and now lives in a rented apartment with her daughter and extended family members. Like many other Iraqi refugees, they are struggling to survive while they wait for the U.N. to approve their relocation to another country. Like most refugees, work is difficult if not impossible to find. Most refugees flee their homes with little or nothing, and what savings they have are used up quickly.
According to the UNHCR, ReGina and other Iraq Christians like her represented less than five percent of the total Iraqi population but made up 40 percent of Iraqi refugees living in nearby countries in 2007. That number increased after ISIS attacks in the past year and a half.
Lebanon is host to over 1.2  million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and the crisis is testing the limits of that country's infrastructure. Donations to organizations like Heart for LebanonWorld Vision and the World Food Program will help meet desperate needs of refugees like ReGina and her family. You can make a differenceHelp now.

This is a repost of a blog post made at For Such a Time is Nowa website I developed to raise awareness of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, where you can find out more about the crisis and how you can help.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Tale of the Fortune Hunters

"The Tale of the Fortune Hunters"

A spoken word video about the Syrian refugee crisis. 

Filmed by Maarten Smeenk and Directed by David Bonsink

Friday, September 25, 2015

They need much

Young Syrian refugee living in a tent settlement in the Lebanon | copyright Carmen Andres

It has been a long week, full of long days--sick kids, doctor appointments, back to school nights and meetings, work hours, work conference, phone calls, bills, cleaning, shopping, editing, gas stations and oil changes. And it's still not over.
Yet, every time I leave home, I know it will be there when I get back. When my kids get sick, my biggest struggle is coordinating schedules to get them to the doctor. I have a job--a good one that I love--and money to get food, gas and oil.
As tired as I get, it isn't even close to the exhaustion of millions of mothers and fathers living in tent settlements and refugee camps.
They had homes, cars and jobs; now they have nothing. Their kids went to school; now far too many work long hours for less than $10 a day. If they get sick, there are few if any doctors to help them.
We have much; they need much.
We can help.
This is a repost of a blog post made at For Such a Time is Nowa website I developed to raise awareness of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, where you can find out more about the crisis and how you can help.

Monday, September 14, 2015

'Fast' family

Sometimes, images echoing the kingdom show up in unexpected places.

Take Furious 7, for example. The latest installment in the Fast & Furious franchise took in $1 billion in 17 days. That’s faster than Avatar, The Avengers and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Interestingly, the muscle car and high-octane action franchise has a wide appeal. Forty-nine percent of the Fast & Furious 6 audience was women. The films attracts across ethnic lines as well.

In a Washington Post article, Stephanie Merry notes that the film’s success is due to a combination of factors, including appealing characters, charismatic and multi-ethnic stars, and car race and chase scenes “whose James Bond-caliber inventiveness and sheer grace let you ignore their absurdity.”

Then Merry notes the film’s surprising emotional core: “the loyalty of these engine-revving, brawling, backyard-barbequing street racers-turned-heist artists who consider themselves ‘family’.”

The Fast & Furious family centers around Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), a tough but good-hearted ex-con and elite street racer. He’s protective of his sister Mia, whom he raised after their father was killed. Mia falls in love with and eventually marries Brian O’Connell (the late Paul Walker), who becomes like a brother to Torretto.

Over the years, others—most of whom live on society’s margins and have little if any connection with their biological families—graft into this diverse, unified, forgiving family. Each brings gifts and talents which make them stronger together. They bond deeply and share their resources. Individual members often sacrifice their own best interest for the best interest of each other and the group.

“I don’t have friends,” says Tortetto in Furious 7. “I have family.”

This surrogate family is their primary group. “The most important thing in life will always be the people right here, right now. That’s what’s real,” says Toretto.

One of the most iconic images of the franchise is the crew gathered around a large backyard table sharing a prayed-over meal. In a culture fraught with individualism, it’s no wonder Fast and Furious family speaks to our craving not only for connection but deep bonds like theirs.

There’s plenty in the Fast & Furious world that conflicts with the Jesus Way of life, but I find this grafted-together, table-gathering family a thought-provoking image echoing the kind of family Jesus calls us to.

“Jesus radically challenged His disciples…to join the new surrogate family of siblings He was establishing—the family of God,” says Joseph Hellerman in When the Church was a Family.

“Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” Jesus asks. He stretches out his hand toward his disciples, a grafted-together eclectic group that occupies the margins of society. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers” (Matthew 12:48 Message). 

This family was their primary group, not only nurturing spiritual growth and formation but also serving as economic safety nets for each other. Noting Jesus’ conversation with his disciples after his encounter with the rich young ruler, Hellerman points out that Jesus expects this surrogate family group to reflect the practical benefits of biological families, including access to the material resources.

Early Christian literature is full of stories of the ancient church living this out. And let’s not forget all that table-gathering, the most basic of family activities and a simple yet profound act of resource sharing.

While Torretto’s crew probably isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he put all that in motion, perhaps it should give us pause. In some ways, the Fast & Furious family reflects Jesus’ kingdom family better than many of us live out today.

“The group, not the individual, took priority in a believer's life in the early church,” says Hellerman says in a Christianity Today article. “If we are really serious about spiritual formation, we must become really serious about creating churches that act like real families.”

This post originally appeared as a column for MWR.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Disruption in Natural Order

Refugees from the Syrian civil war rest at the Budapest Keleti railway station on Sept. 4. — Rebecca Harms, Wikimedia Commons via Mennonite World Review.

From A Disruption in Natural Order by Ryan Dueck:

The “natural order,” for our God, is bringing impossibly different people together and calling them “family.” 
The story of Scripture, the story of God is, in many ways, about the creation of a profoundly “unnatural order,” where Gentiles eat with Jews, where tax collectors and prostitutes mingle with religious know-it-alls, where gender biases are abolished, where last become first and first become last, where sinners and saints embrace realizing they are one and the same, where every tribe and tongue is brought together by the one God who made and loves them all. 
And this is what gives me hope, whether I’m anxiously glancing at the refugee crisis across the pond and wondering how things will unfold here in Canada, or I’m thinking about families I know and love that have kids with different colored skin and ethnic backgrounds. On a purely pragmatic level, it makes no sense to throw all this difference together in families and churches and cities and nations and expect it all to end well. On a purely pragmatic level, we should expect conflict and identity crises and scarcity and pain. On a purely pragmatic level, people should stay where they belong. On a purely pragmatic level, we should cling to what is safe and predictable, and “natural.” 
But, as followers of Jesus, we have been liberated from looking at things on a purely pragmatic level. As followers of Jesus, we are free to imagine families, churches, cities and nations that struggle and strain and stretch toward the glorious reality of God’s unnatural order.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Breathtaking: Grief & Hope

Syrian refugee child in a tent settlement in the Bekaa Valley / copyright Carmen Andres

Last Wednesday, the photo of little three-year-old Aylan Kurdie lying on the beach in Turkey went viral. He was one of 12 refugees who drowned when their boat sank in a failed attempt to reach Greece.
It hurt to breathe after I saw that photo.
Since last summer, I’ve been actively working with others to find ways to advocate for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. In January, I saw their suffering first hand when I met them in tent settlements and crammed with multiple families in apartments in Lebanon, which hosts almost 2 million of refuges.
I came back to the U.S. eager to share their stories. At first, I was full of hope and enthusiasm, but as months passed I grew discouraged and frustrated. It felt like their stories—be it those I shared, those shared by others advocating for refugees, or the ones on the front pages of newspapers around the world—evaporated into the air. It felt like the world was simply shrugging its shoulders and looking away. While I connected with Christian leaders and friends advocating for refugees, I was disheartened by the lack of priority and concern in churches in North American and the church as a whole.
Then came Aylan Kurdie. All that discouragement welled up with deep grief.His little body symbolized the indifference and inaction of us all.
“I just hope this photo of my son changes everything,” said Aylan’s father before he returned to Syria to bury him with his wife and their other son.
Maybe it has.
In the last few days, European leaders and other countries around the world have committed to taking in more refugees. Op-eds are popping up everywhere, focusing on everything from the ineffectual responses of the world leaders to the call to find long-term solutions. An Egyptian billionaire even offered to buy an Italian or Greek island in order to house refugees.
“All I need is the permission to put these people on this island. After that I don’t need anything anymore from them. I’ll pay them for the island, I’ll provide the jobs, I’ll take care of all the logistics. I know I can do that,” he said during a CNN interview.
But here’s what makes my heart quicken.
This morning, I read in the Huffington Post that Pope Francis announced the Vatican would take in two refugee families and called on European Catholic bishops to “express the Gospel in concrete terms” and have their dioceses do the same.
“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing death by war and by hunger, and who are on a path toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be neighbours to the smallest and most abandoned, to give them concrete hope,” he said.
“May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe host a family, starting with my diocese of Rome.”
Then I read a post by Ann Voskamp announcing the formation of We Welcome Refugees, founded by Voskamp, World Relief and The Justice Conference to connect churches, communities, organizations and individuals to respond in practical and tangible ways to the crisis—including sponsoring refugee families and finding concrete ways to embrace them into our communities.
These are the kinds of “third ways” I’ve been longing for. They remind of the resourceful, outside-the-box responses Jesus made in the gospels.
They remind me of what it looks like to love.
Today, there are tears in my eyes again. But this time, it is hope that is taking my breath away.

This post was originally posted at For Such a Time is Now, a website I developed to raise awareness of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, where you can find out more about the crisis and how you can help.