Thursday, February 18, 2016

Who Is My Neighbor?

I worked 8 night shifts in the Clothing Distribution tent
at 'Better Days for Moria' 
Since my return from Greece life has been a bit of a whirlwind...two snow days, a new grandbaby, preaching and funerals and other 'normal' responsibilities...oh, and Lent...yeah...we have started Lent!

Truth be told I can't leave Lesvos and the plight of the refugees behind, because their story could just as easily be my story, but by the grace of God have I been spared war, drought and homelessness.

To follow is the article I wrote for our local newspaper upon my return. To see more pictures, visit our mission team Facebook page: Lesvos UM Mission Team.

Please, keep this situation in your prayers...and I challenge us all to work to restore the humanity of those who are the least and the lost, here at home as well as halfway around the world.


There’s a story about a man who was beaten and robbed and left for dead along the side of the road. You may have heard about him…but then again, maybe not. He wasn’t famous or anything and people get hurt all the time. Our world is a scary place some times.

This one guy drove by, saw the fight but he was afraid of the goons who were beating the other guy up. And so he said a prayer for him and kept going. Another car drove by right after the goons left and saw the guy staggering around but he had a strict policy of not picking up hitchhikers, so he said a prayer and since he had places to go and people to see he kept on going.

But the guy wasn’t ok. Somehow he propped himself up against a tree and faded in and out of consciousness. There was a third car on the road that day. Like the others he had places to go but seeing the guy there on the side of the road he had pity on him. He pulled over and did the best he did to patch him up. He laid him down in the back seat of his car and drove him to the nearest exit, got him a hotel room, some food and paid for his nights lodging.

He told the hotel owner about the guy he brought in. He assured the hotel owner that he was fed, resting and regaining his strength, and if the guy needed another night of rest to go ahead and let him stay – he’d pay for the room. Before he left he made sure he was well stocked with bandages, food and clean dry clothes. And then he went on his way, it was late and he had miles to go before he could rest for the night.

Welcome to Europe
little ones
Right now our world is experiencing the greatest humanitarian crisis in nearly 100 years with the displacement of millions of people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other far away places in the Middle East. It’s the perfect storm of drought, war and the affects of terrorism. While the politicians tip toe around the issues (as they have to, don’t get me wrong), people are forced to choose between staying in modern day internment camps or paying smugglers thousands of dollars a piece for space on a tiny dingy and a shot of freedom. No one puts an infant or their beloved spouse in a smugglers boat unless the risk of the sea in less than the harsh realities of living in a slum in Turkey or languishing in a refugee camp.

The government of Greece, a country with their own economic troubles, was not prepared for the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees, their infrastructure is crumbling and they are overwhelmed by the needs of these people, many of whom are just passing through on their way to Germany or Austria.

The European Union is having its own trouble trying to find a way to absorb all of these people. There are concerns about their religion, the majority are Muslim and we are scared of those we know little about. The members of the EU are concerned about their numbers; these are big families, so who will pay for their care, housing and food? Will there be work for all of these people? And they are concerned that there will be radicalized terrorists in their midst, ISIS is a scary bunch and we don’t want to invite terror into our living rooms! All of these concerns are understandable and yet we are talking about people – men and women, children of all ages, just like you and me.

This is the face of the refugee crisis – something very bad is happening to millions of people and as people of faith I believe we have a responsibility to honor their humanity and to speak up about the crisis. I believe we have an opportunity to respond with kindness and compassion and show the world another way. One of these steps is by taking a risk and opening our doors here in America. An open door for 10,000 refugees is nothing compared to the huge numbers of refugees. We are better than this, what if each community pulled together and offered to take in a refugee family? I believe that we have a wonderful opportunity here to learn, to teach our children about other cultures and to enrich our communities with this sort of course of action.

'Better Days for Moria'
a humanitarian response to the refugee crisis
While I was in Greece I worked alongside dedicated Europeans, Syrians and Pakistanis as well as other Americans who are volunteering on the frontline of the refugee crisis. We didn’t have time to get to know the names or the stories of the refugees who passed through our camp, but we did have time to offer clean and dry clothes, a warm cup of tea, some food and encouragement for the next stage in the journey. Lesvos, Greece was their entry point into Europe but they still have a long and arduous journey ahead of them.

The truth is the people I met were like me and you. While we have a bit of a language barrier, we spoke the language of our shared humanity – and in them I saw my own ancestors who were refugees fleeing the religious wars of Europe, seeking a better life for their children and grandchildren.

How much longer are we going to turn a blind eye to the plight of the refugee? Or closer to home, the plight of the homeless? The Medicaid recipient who has lost her services in the past month? The veteran who is struggling with PTSD?

Jesus told the story I paraphrased above in response to the question ‘who is my neighbor,’ we call this the story of the good Samaritan because the man who stopped to help wasn’t even from around there – he was a reviled enemy – a Samaritan of all people and yet he exhibited compassion toward the least and the lost. Jesus asked the religious folk to whom he told the story:

“Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

These people are waiting for dry clothes at 'Better Days'
I went to Greece because my heart is breaking for the refugee crisis. I had been following the news, I have been praying for them and I felt compelled to go, to serve as best I could, and to come back and tell others about what I witnessed.

Yes, we need to pray, we need to become more aware of what is happening in our communities and in our world, we need to act with mercy and we need to speak to those who represent us at the state and federal level and demand justice for those who are forced from their homes due to war and terrorism.

There are risks associated with every act of compassion, but what this experience continues to teach me is that I have become complacent and risk adverse and this isn’t who I want to be nor is this what I want for my children and grandchildren.

My challenge for each of us in this season of Lent is to prayerfully consider and discern where your heart is breaking – for where your heart is heavy may be the place that God is calling you to go, serve and come back and tell us about so that together we may become a kinder and more compassionate society.

Who is our neighbor? My neighborhood has expanded this past month and I give thanks for the support that I have received from back home, and especially the people of Trinity United Methodist Church who gave so much so that I could re-present them on the frontlines of the refugee crisis.

If you want to learn more send me an email and let’s get together over a cup of tea and talk.