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Recently I had a wonderful conversation with a Yazidi family over a meal. We talked about many things, but one comment from one of the sisters stuck with me and impressed me greatly. Her comment was in stark contrast to much discussion about refugees in the media and misconceptions by many Americans. There is a misconception that they are a drain to our economy and society and that they want to stay on government assistance.

My friend shared with me about how an American asked her if she liked America because of the assistance she and her family receives. She shared with that person a comment that resonated with me strongly. Her answer was, “We like Lincoln and America because- HERE WE ARE PEOPLE.”

Here we are people. I thought about how the Yazidis were labeled as less than human by those who were perpetrating genocide against them. I thought about the centuries of oppression and discrimination they have lived through. I have heard their stories about being oppressed. They like my home city of Lincoln because- HERE WE ARE PEOPLE.

Being treated with kindness and respect after years of oppression that left emotional and psychological scars made her feel human She has scars emotionally. But- HERE WE ARE PEOPLE. This caused me to reflect on that old saying-What Would Jesus Do?

What would Jesus do if he were living here in Lincoln? After all, he ate in the homes of those rejected by the self righteous hypocrites of that time. I am certain he would visit their homes, visit their community centers, and spend time with them. In Matthew 9 in the bible it says of Jesus as he looked on the crowds of people that, “He was filled with compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless…”

How will we who call ourselves Christians respond when we meet refugees? Will our hearts be filled with compassion or will we choose to remain ignorant and judge? It takes more effort to let ourselves be filled with compassion because that requires us to do something for those we have compassion for, but if we do choose compassion, we will grow closer to Jesus at the same time.

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I often think about how in the bible, Hebrews 5, that it says Jesus was made perfect through his sufferings. I think about this because of the wonder of a perfect person, Jesus, who was perfect in all eternity before coming into this world, was made perfect. It seems to be a contradiction until I balance it with Hebrews 4 where it talks about Jesus is sympathetic with us in our weaknesses. Why? Because he lived in this world as a man. He experienced the hardships of this life.

Among the things he suffered was being a refugee because as an infant and toddler Herod was seeking to kill him. He also encountered bigotry because of where he was from, which was Nazareth. One of his own followers exhibited this when he said, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

In today’s climate of racism and bigotry towards refugees and immigrants, I wonder what Jesus would say to people who come to him to ask for help in prayer and yet have prejudice towards refugees and immigrants. Would it be a gentle rebuke or would it be something stronger such as things he said to the religious leaders?

This thought should be a source of pause for all of us who pray to Jesus whatever our denomination is whether evangelical, Lutheran, Catholic etc. Whatever branch of Christianity we come from, we are seeking to follow a person who himself lived his first years in this life as a refugee and also faced bigotry because of where he was from. If we express prejudice towards others openly or keep it hidden and subtle, this thought should stop us and hit us like a ton of bricks:

Jesus said, “For God so loved the world…..” The world meaning ALL PEOPLE. Who are we to hate people God loves? 

The good news is that all sin can be forgiven. Racism and prejudice are sins but they can be forgiven and also overcome. We can overcome these sins in our hearts with the help of the person who experienced it himself- Jesus.

 

At first glance, it would seem that western Christians, especially those in the U.S., have nothing in common with refugees that come into our country or are still in refugee camps whether the camps are in Thailand, Malaysia, Iraq etc. After all, we live the most affluent lifestyle of any country in history.

If we stop and think about it though, we will realize that we share a common theme- suffering. Western Christians do not suffer the same as our refugee friends. We do not flee from governments or hate filled groups trying to kill us. However, the person we seek to follow, our Lord Jesus, suffered for us. His suffering began shortly after his birth when his earthly step father Joseph was warned to take the child and Mary and flee to Egypt because Herod’s troops were coming to kill Jesus. His suffering on our behalf culminated in his death on the cross.

Suffering is part of the Christian heritage in this world. It has been since the birth of the church when Christians fled persecution at the hands of people like Saul of Tarsus. Christians hid in the catacombs in Rome to escape persecution. Christians are still persecuted in this day and age in many places in the world.

It is hard for Western Christians to understand suffering as our brothers and sisters in many places in the world do, but it is part of our heritage. I often wonder what Jesus thinks of Western Christians attitudes and actions toward refugees. There is a theme in the bible about sharing in suffering. The verses are related to sharing in the suffering of Christ or the apostles, yet there is connection. Some joined Paul in his suffering through giving and prayers.

It is my conviction that we can join in the suffering of Christ by reaching out to those who have suffered. In many communities in America, refugees have been relocated from various parts of the globe. We can reach out to them in friendship to help them with their new lives. For refugees in camps around the world, there are ministries reaching out to help them with basic needs. We can support those efforts. The least we can do is to pray for refugees. Imagine the impact if we skipped a few visits to a coffee shop each month to support an effort to assist refugees.

But first of all, let’s try to imagine what our Lord Jesus thinks about refugees since after all, he was a refugee at the beginning of his earthly life.

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My home city Lincoln Nebraska has the largest population of Yazidi people who have come as refugees in the United States. I have enjoyed teaching them and getting to know them the past several years. The numbers have grown since the genocide a few years ago. I can still remember seeing the video footage of Sinjar Mountain being full of people who fled from the dangers in various cities and towns in Iraq to escape the genocide.

I have felt a burden in my soul to try to spend more time with my Yazidi friends in Lincoln. They have been through terrible atrocities and are trying to make a new life here in America. I keep thinking of a John Michael Talbot song that has the lyrics of- “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands no feet on earth but yours”. My desire is to show my Yazidi friends the love of God by helping when I can and through friendship.

Sharing a meal together and talking is a wonderful way to share friendship. I love to eat food from other countries and experience other cultures by sharing a meal. On Saturday I shared a meal of Biryani with my friend Khudaidah and Waheda. They were my students several years ago. We have kept in touch via Facebook off and on, but I wanted to catch up with them. The Biryani was delicious and the company was great.

I have to admit that our conversation was intense at times as we talked about the genocide, but I am grateful I could be there to listen and show I support them. There is no quick fix for what they are going through, but an understanding and empathetic ear can be a small piece in the puzzle of lives being pieced back together.

I hope to visit them again soon and also to check in with more of my Yazidi friends here in Lincoln as well as people from other countries and cultures and hope that in doing so I can be Christ’s hands here in my community.

 

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Tuesday evening I went to a meeting to listen to Nadia Murad a young Yazidi woman from Iraq. I have had many Yazidi people as my students in my ESL classes and have enjoyed getting to know them. I am saddened by hearing their stories about the atrocities they have been subjected to. Much of Nadia’s family was killed by Daesh commonly referred to as ISIS, but I prefer to say Daesh. Nadia was kidnapped and endured being forced into being a sex slave, escaped, was brought to Germany to receive medical care and therapy, and now she works with the UN as a Goodwill Ambassador speaking out for the Yazidi people and speaking out against human trafficking and sex slavery.

As I sat listening to Nadia and the others share their experiences and the experiences of the Yazidi people, I had the same thought I have had before many times. If I lived in Iraq, I would be subjected to the same treatment the Yazidi people have suffered. I am not Yazidi. My religion is different. I am a Christian or as Daesh would called me- Nazarene. My home would have an Arabic N put on it to identify me as a Christian. I would face the same horrors my Yazidi friends have faced. I would be given the choice to convert or die.

Christians and Yazidis have very different beliefs, but in Iraq and Syria they share the same fates. There are other pertinent reasons  why we Christians should care about what has happened to the Yazidis. First and Foremost in my mind is the fact that Jesus loves them. He came to seek the lost. He came to die for our sins out of love for all of us. The fact the Jesus loves them places great value on them. Other reasons could be listed, but the fact that Jesus loves them should be all the motivation we Christians need.

As I sat listening to Nadia, I felt compelled to pray for her. I met her briefly before the meeting began and shared with her that I would be praying for her. She smiled and gave me a hug thanking me. I saw the sadness in her eyes. The sadness of a young woman who endured terrible things and has lost most of her family. I will be praying for Nadia, my Yazidi friends, and the Yazidi people to experience the love of Jesus.

There are still over 300,000 Yazidi people living in refugee camps in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They cannot go home yet. Perhaps they never will be able to due to the oppression the they have always faced. They need food, medicine, and other items for basic living.

There are hundreds of thousands of Yazidis scattered over the world living as refugees in places like the U.S., Germany, Sweden, Australia, Canada and other countries. They need help building new lives for themselves in their new countries.

They need our prayers, our love and our care. They need us to be the hands of Jesus reaching out in love to help them.

Samaritan’s Purse has been active in reaching out to and assisting the Yazidis. A link for that is:

Samaritin’s Purse Work with Yazidis

 

The Yazidis also have an organization called Yazda at yazda.org.

 

 

As Gandalf talked with Frodo in the mountain, he shared this advice with the young hobbit who was despairing the situation they were in, and even though it is from a book/movie, such advice is so valuable for us.

 

 

 

 

 

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This picture is from a flower clock that I saw when I visited Geneva Switzerland in June 2004. Clocks are reminders that time continues to tick away. When I was young, I felt like I had all kinds of time. Now that I have more yesterdays than I will have tomorrows in this world, I realize how short the time we are given actually is.

I have been given time to live in this life at this specific time in human history. I do not want to waste my time wondering why I am living now as opposed to some other time in history. My time in this life has been appointed to me now. I have been given time to live out what was written in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His craftsmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which Go prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Each day I try to remind myself not to waste a day. I have today and that is all that is certain. My desire is to make each day count. As a teacher, it means looking for opportunities to encourage my students and instill a sense of hope for the future as they try to learn English. As a servant of Jesus, it means taking time to pray, sending that message of encouragement, sharing God’s love with others. More and more for me it means valuing the little things as well as the big things. Opportunities are not found only on a ministry trip to another country, they are waiting for us each day as we go about our daily lives. We never know where, when, or how the small things for us can lead to something much bigger. But even if it is only a small thing that does not seem to lead much, I try to remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat……….. I tell you whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for Me.” As I try to show His love, Jesus considers it as being done to Him. That alone should be sufficient motivation to make each day count by showing the love of God to others whether in little ways or big ways.

Where will the road go?

 

 

 
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He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” A quote from Lord of The Rings that illustrates the thoughts I normally have as a new year approaches.

I often wonder if the Lord had shown me all that was about to transpire in my life when I stepped out to follow Him, if I might have backed off out of concern or from feeling overwhelmed. At times it may feel frustrating to not know the whole answer and be told to trust, but when I think about how in Psalm 119 it says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path”, I realize it is for the best to not know all before we step out. His light for us on the path guides us step by step. A lesson I have learned, and yet still need to learn, is that it is WHO is guiding us that is more than the path itself. If I can remember that it is Jesus who loves us and died for us who is our guide, it makes the experience of the journey more worthwhile.

One example is my involvement with my Brasilian friends. My interest in Brasil was peaked by my friends Isis and Eduardo from Brasil who lived in my city while in graduate school. Through my friendship with them and others from Brasil, I had the recurring thought that someday I wanted to go to Brasil. My church sends a group there each June and after hearing there would be interest in having a teacher go, the wheels were set in motion for my first trip in June 2013. As a result of that trip, I studied Português for one year at the University of Nebraska. This led to me meeting more Brasilians at UNL, continuing to practice my Português, and best of all enjoying friendship with many Brasilians at UNL. Following the path that God has before us is a process of letting it unfold as we follow His voice. My current involvement with my Brasilian friends portrays that so well. I met some friends from there, stepped out to go on a trip there to serve, ended up studying the language, and now many friendships and opportunities are part of my life.

As I write this, I wonder, where will the path lead this year as I step out my door. Where will Jesus guide me to this year. As Bilbo said at the end of the Return of the King movie, “I think I am quite ready for another adventure.”