Dear Sweet Little Girl

This post was originally published on my previous website on January 1, 2016.

This all started with a little boy just a little younger than you and your brother.

This entire day, it happened because of Aylan's tiny, lifeless body washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean.

And quite honestly, sweet girl? I was discouraged for once. This optimist wasn't so hopeful this time around. I didn't let my heart hope for even a second... I thought I knew that Aylan's photo would cause a lot of retweets but not a lot of actual action.

I had accepted that all that would come across the air to Canada from Syria would be more stories of despair.

Yet here you are.

I suppose I forgot that there are good people in the world. I forgot that there are many, many people just waiting for an opportunity to birth Love into this world.

Because yesterday, sweet girl, I saw Love birthed into the world like I've never seen before. I saw the Body of Christ come together and come alive and bear His image to you and your family in one of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen.

I can only imagine how confused you must feel right now... They told you that you were coming to Canada, and then you got on a plane, travelled 16+ hours and were put up in a strange hotel in a strange city for the night. Then in the morning, you were shuffled out of that room and told to wait in the lobby.

Your poor parents were told nothing of a sponsoring group... Nothing of the God-sent apartment that had been rented for you or the sweet family with beds made in their spare room just waiting to host you for the week while the aforementioned apartment's paperwork goes through. Nothing of the team of people who have sourced furniture and found Arabic-speaking doctors and researched schools... none of it.

I can just imagine how disorienting this must feel. Like maybe this was all a bad idea after all.

And when I saw the tears and relief in your parents' kind, weary, and courageous eyes as our translator told them that we had been preparing to welcome them for months, my heart could've just about burst.

When the whole lot of us huddled into that conference room of that hotel - the whole mismatched group of us, beautifully brought together because of a desire to welcome you - and your papa said that thing about feeling like we are your new Canadian family? Oh, little girl, I think even the toughest of us were tearing up.

Because this is it! This is the Love we get to share in the midst of a broken world. And how could we ever say no to this? How could we dare to miss this?

And then we went to that restaurant serving up meals from your homeland and okay, the whole party of us? We were hard to miss.

So a regular at that restaurant leans to the waitress and asks What on earth is going on over there? and the waitress tells her the bits of our story that she's gathered in all of five minutes of us being there and soon after that regular customer leaves, that waitress is over at our table letting us know that our entire tab had been picked up by that stranger.

But it didn't stop there. That waitress herself picked up the tab for our coffee afterwards, and the owner sent you home with a box full of meals on the house for your first week in Canada... A taste of home to help with the homesickness.

And I'm realizing that we live in an ocean of grace. We live in a world where people are ready and waiting to birth Love into this world, and we can believe in the hatred we see on the news, or we can believe in Love.

Dear sweet little girl, it is just all too fitting that your family is ringing in the new year in a new country with a fresh start lying ahead. Yet I can only imagine how tough this coming year will be for you. It will be a long process of getting accustomed to life here - one that will at times be messy and frustrating, yet also, we hope, fulfilling and incredibly beautiful.

Know that we, your new Canadian family, will be there with you every step of the way.

Because sweet girl - we believe in Love and we pray that you and your beautiful family will come to believe in Love, too.

Dear Aylan (Part Two)

This post was originally published on my previous website on September 26, 2015.

You, little angel—I think you changed the world.

The last time I wrote to you we were all still reeling. We were just learning your name and your story and how we could have saved you and we were all shocked numb.

And I told you that all I could pray is that you did not die in vain. "That your death would, if not convict us, then embarrass us to action."

If I'm honest with you, Aylan? I wasn't feeling very hopeful when I signed off on that letter. I was angry.

I was angry that we would forget you.

But you know what? We haven't yet.

There are people all over the world telling the story of your people, hearing the story of your people and most importantly, welcoming the stories of your people into their own stories by opening their borders, their homes, their lives.

It became real this week, Aylan. Mennonite Central Committee matched our church family with the first of two refugee families that we will be welcoming into Canada and into our lives in a few short months.

And yeah, we have zero clue what we're doing.

Because there are fears and doubts and worries and just the straight-up inability to speak Arabic, you know?

And wow, there's those nasty things people say on the internet about you and your people, little Aylan. How come we blame you for wanting a share of the security, the laughter and simply the breath in our lungs that we take for granted every single day?

And then there's this huge task ahead of us of finding an apartment and doctors and people to show our new friends how to ride a Canadian bus and shop at a Canadian grocery store. And then there's preparing for the stories and the trauma that this family might carry on their shoulders after their long, long journey out of a war zone and into our lives.

But here's the best part: we serve a Jesus who has filled our community with hearts to serve and gifts to share—doctors and teachers and expert-apartment hunters and people who know Arabic-speakers. And the most awesome people who are willing to spend their days finding and sorting furniture and household items to fill our families' not-yet-found apartments and others who are willing to clear their garages for a free place to hold it all in the meantime.

This is community.

This is how we come together as the Body of Christ to respond to the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

We're smack in the middle of history and when it's all said and done we want to be remembered as the generation who welcomed the strangers as if they were Christ himself, running into Egypt, fleeing Herod's slaughter as a refugee.

I remember reading an article back in Grade 10 while writing a history essay. It told the story of a boat filled to the brim with Jewish refugees and bobbing on the shores of Canada.

And I remember being so angry, Aylan, because do you know what happened next? We turned them away. We listened to our fear of the other and we told them straight-up to turn around and they sailed straight back to their deaths in those horrific concentration camps.

I remember thinking it—if I had the chance I would have let them in.

And here's that chance. Our chance to respond with love and open arms, so that a student much like me, writing her own history essay many, many years from now, will be able to say—

We welcome refugees.

We Welcome Refugees Edit.jpg
 
I was a stranger and you welcomed Me.
— Jesus (Matthew 25:35)

Dear Nameless Boy

This post was originally published on my previous website on September 3, 2015. Soon after publication, the boy was identified as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi.

This picture of you ravaged the world yesterday.

You stopped me dead in my tracks and yeah, the world isn't sure how to go on.

But then we will.

And I'm sorry, sweet little boy.

I am so. angrily. horribly. sorry.

And that sounds pretty pathetic and oh how worthless it is to you now, but I somehow have to say this anyway, for the sake of those that will come after you.

I'm sorry that we will solemnly shake our heads at that photo of you—today's top story—at six o'clock and then enjoy laughter and family time at the dinner table at seven.

I'm sorry that this week we're ready to cry an ocean of tears, and next week you'll be but a distant memory as we, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, embrace the first week of school and the flurry of activity that comes with it—things you'll never have the opportunity to know.

I'm sorry that as my country's leaders campaign to become the most powerful person in this country, we are more concerned with scandals and with pensions and with daycares and with rich guys and a squandered 90k than we are with you. I'm sorry that you and your people aren't a big-ticket campaign issue and I'm sorry that my people don't care enough to demand that you are.

I'm sorry that we think you're the government's problem.

I'm sorry that being sorry just simply isn't enough.

Because sweet boy, I'm downright embarrassed to tell you that as more than 2,500 men, women and children just like you have perished on the Mediterranean this year, here in my homeland—a place of luxury that you could probably only dream of—we've been "fleeing" our own homes to go on vacation. We've been up in arms about a lion. We've been seeing who can make and try the craziest foods at my city's annual exhibition. We've been arguing with each other over the saddest, most pathetic things.

Oh, I squirm while saying this to you—we've been living mindless lives instead of loving you until you're simply able to live.

We've filled churches on Sundays while you and your people filled boats and sailed straight to death—and are we really being the Church or just filling steepled buildings hollow?

Because we're full of empty good intentions and real-sounding excuses when we should be full of the love of Christ.

And sweet boy, this is my apology, this is my outcry, but mostly this is my confession.

Because while that mortifying picture of you should anger me and convict me until I'm nothing short of doing a radical thing like boarding a plane and personally escorting a family like yours to safety, the embarassing truth is that I'm probably going to tap out this blog post, retweet a few links, maybe make a donation, and then forget while I go to university to learn how to save the world when what really needs saving is you.

Here is the truth, tiny little nameless boy: I don't have the answers.

My soul aches a thousand aches to say that. I don't have the answers. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to save you and I don't know how to end a war that is continually pushing more and more of your people into the same situation as yours.

And I will never understand any of this while I am on this side of heaven.

Here is where I would usually write something to the effect of, “What I do know is that I serve and cling to a Jesus who has already overcome all the brokenness in this world.”

And yes. Yes, I do. I certainly, most definitely do. That is always and enternally humanity's blessed hope.

But for your people that are still bobbing on the Mediterranean, I'm not sure those words are enough—unless my people act on those words like they are true.

And for my people that are still mindlessly bobbing around our luxurious world, I think those words might be too much—we take them as a licence for inaction when we actually have a role to play in overcoming the brokenness of this world.

Nameless boy, I feel like weeping as I say this all to you.

And I simply hope and pray that you did not die in vain.

That your death would, if not convict us, then embarrass us to action.

 
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
— Isaiah 43:1

When Oceans Rise

This post was originally published on my previous website on October 9, 2014.

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.

As one of the many airplanes that carried me back and forth over the Pacific this summer descended on the Philippines, these words poured through my earbuds - over the plane's whirring engines and the wailing baby 6 rows up.

Oceans became a little bit of a landing tradition.

You see, many places in the Philippines have the most gorgeous landings.

You come in over the ocean and as you peer out the window, it rises towards you and you don't quite see land until the landing gear is touching it.

So, I mean, I'm definitely not a nervous flyer (quite the opposite actually), but these landings can be a little nerve-wracking, too.

Talk about trust without borders.

And so it is with all beautiful things - they're also a little scary, a little nerve-wracking.

Beauty requires trust.

We sang Oceans at youth group last night - When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.

And I'm right back on that plane.

And I'm standing right there again - the tide slowly rolling in and out, its calming rhythm keeping time to the words I'm speaking to a rolling camera and countless teens back home all at once.

The beach where we filmed part of  True Story: What God Wants Us to Do About Poverty .

The beach where we filmed part of True Story: What God Wants Us to Do About Poverty.

But this beach is no Sandals ad. A slum is sprawled out behind me, and the curious faces of the Filipino locals—mostly children—stare at me from beyond the camera. Four Canadians and an American with a camera is no daily occurrence.

The watermarks are just visible on the stilts of these childrens' homes behind me, and the day before when we had visited their homes, we're told that their homes will sometimes flood during high tide.

When oceans rise...

And me? I'm just numb.

The reality of it all comes at me in waves.

When our team leader leaned over to me in the van on the way back to the hotel and said, "It's hard not to become desensitized to all this. But I just constantly remember how very real this is. This is their lives."

And when later that night my roommate and I realized that those kids were still there—they are still there—sleeping in those potentially flooded homes.

And most recently, the staggering reality of that place hits me at youth group. While singing Oceans.

The words leave my lips: When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace. For I am Yours, and You are mine.

I'm painfully aware of what I'm saying.

How easy is it for me to sing those words?

When oceans rise, my house doesn't flood. Plain and simple.

Of course my soul can rest—the floors of my home aren't soaked with those rising oceans.

Sure, I've got waves crashing at me but not quite as literally as those sweet Filipino children I met on that beach.

How is that fair?

I'm painfully aware that I'm angry.

I'm angry at my culture and my comfort zones and I'm angry at me.

Angry at how easily I'm able to sing those words and at how I so pathetically want need the comfort that allows me to easily sing those words.

To be painfully blunt, I'm angry at how much I don't care once those Filipino children aren't right in front of me.

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I'm angry at all the ways I don't want to change for the sake of justice, and oh man—isn't it an ugly world where I can sing a beautiful song about rising oceans while a Filipino family's greatest trouble is a rising ocean beneath their home?

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.

Beauty requires trust.

And isn't that it? Those words I spoke on that beach to that rolling camera: the God we serve has a perfect plan to bring beauty to this ugly world.

All He asks of us is trust.

He asks us to trust Him enough to say yes to our part in this plan, and that is all. That is our hope.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You may call me.

Yes, God. Wherever You may call me.

I trust You, for I know that beauty requires trust.

And in a world where oceans rise into those Filipino homes and into my life, I trust You and I. say. yes.

When oceans rise—

My soul will rest in Your embrace.