When Jeanne Damoff traveled to Kazakhstan in 2013 to speak at a conference for mothers of disabled children, she wondered how she would be received. She’d never shared her story of beauty from brokenness with women from a vastly different culture, many of them Muslim. But they not only listened, they welcomed her into their hearts and homes, and God began to dismantle the tidy boxes and boundaries she didn’t know she’d built. That happy shift in perspective has opened opportunities to embrace a wealth of unexpected “neighbors,” both around the globe and in her own backyard, where she currently volunteers with Seek the Peace, promoting literacy, building friendships, and serving alongside refugees resettled in Dallas. It’s the most humbling grace to welcome my brave and wise friend, Jeanne, to the farm’s front porch today…
“Who is my neighbor?”
A lawyer asked Jesus that question, and as Jesus often did, He answered with a story.
A man was robbed and left for dead. Two religious leaders passed him by, but one man — a Samaritan — saw him and made a costly choice.
He chose mercy.
It’s hard to make sense of a lot that’s happening in the world right now, and the temptation is to follow the example of those religious leaders — to put on blinders and keep walking straight ahead, because what can we do in the face of so much suffering and fear?
Fear is a fog that clouds the brain and freezes the heart.
And before we know it? We’re like the lawyer in that story, desiring to justify ourselves in the limits we set on love.
A friend of mine sent me several reports from a Hungarian couple who are missionaries near Budapest and served the influx of Syrian refugees that arrived at the Keleti train station.
After days of providing food, clothing, and services to exhausted and grateful families, the wife observed a gradual shift in the appearance and behavior of some of the arrivals. “One thing we all have noticed. Some of these people looked different than the group yesterday, and all last week. Today’s migrants were mostly men, some who did not look that needy. Sometimes it was rather frightening. What do all these men want to do in Europe? We still served them with love.”
Reports like this weigh heavy on my heart, until I remember one, unchanging, overriding truth.
None of this comes as a surprise to God. And really? It shouldn’t surprise us, either.
Ever since our first parents were banished from Eden, humans have been aching for Home.
The biblical narrative reveals a long line of sojourners and exiles searching for a place to belong. From Abraham to the early Christians dispersed by persecution, God’s people have known what it means to be strangers in a strange land.
Human history is one long, epic story of the desperately needy seeking Refuge.
And God’s hand has been evident every messy step of the way. Indeed, God told Abraham it was His intention to bless all the families of the earth through him.
Though the scattered Christians probably would have preferred to remain in the Pentecostal glow of the Jerusalem church, God wanted them to carry the seeds of the gospel far and wide.
Sometimes we have to be shaken into our purpose.
We like our borders.
We crave stability and safety — the kind we can build a fence around and protect with security systems and strong locks on the doors.
But God consistently calls His children to live generous, hospitable lives.
With the doors open.
And when we choose to hide inside our blockades, He lovingly intervenes.
I recently heard a man say the biggest threat to the church isn’t the world’s brokenness getting in. She can build walls to keep the world out.
The biggest threat to the church is that she will succeed in building those walls.
We are His body, and regardless of what our governments do or don’t do, the church must welcome all comers. And yes, this means risk. It always has.
T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is a play about the 12th-century martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. As King Henry II’s soldiers approached, some of the priests locked the doors to the sanctuary in an effort to save his life, but Thomas commanded,
“Unbar the doors! Throw open the doors!
I will not have the house of prayer, the church of Christ,
The sanctuary, turned into a fortress.
The Church shall protect her own, in her own way, not
As oak and stone; stone and oak decay,
Give no stay, but the Church shall endure.
The church shall be open, even to our enemies. Open the door!”
The doors were opened — and Thomas was murdered.
In Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, Scott Bader-Saye wrote, “Thomas knows that in some way his martyrdom will be gathered up into God’s purpose, made part of God’s great ‘figuring’ of history . . . . Eliot places in the mouth of Thomas his own conviction that God’s good and joyful purposes will finally be made complete. It is this conviction, this hope, this trust that allows Thomas to let go of the fear of losing his life.”
So, here’s what I want to know. What are we afraid of?
Are we afraid of suffering?
Because God has promised we will suffer, and when we suffer according to His will, we fellowship with Jesus.
Are we afraid of death?
Because death will eventually come to us all, but God is big enough to keep us in our obedience until His purposes have been accomplished in and through our lives.
Are we afraid for our children?
Because the best gift we can give them is to follow Christ’s example in costly obedience.
Are we afraid of engaging the “stranger”?
Have we become so settled and complacent that we’ve forgotten we ourselves were once separated from Christ, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world?
Have we forgotten that —as long as we are here on earth — we, too, are refugees?
Are we afraid that they will invade our space?
That our comfortable, tidy church communities will get messy?
Because our churches don’t belong to us in the first place and were never meant to be comfortable or tidy. If the gospel is anything, it’s messy.
Do we really believe Jesus meant what He said? “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
That Hungarian missionary wrote of the men who didn’t appear to be in need, “We still served them with love.” Then she added, “The best part of today was to see the body of Christ coming alive.”
But we’re not in Hungary. We’re watching the Syrian refugee crisis unfold from afar. How can we be “the body of Christ coming alive”?
What can we do to help?
First, we can refuse fear.
Politicians may leverage fear for their own purposes, but the church doesn’t trade in that currency. If we claim to be a people of love, then we need to embrace Jesus’ definition of that word. (John 15:13)
We can petition and pray for our government leaders. They need wisdom and courage, and they need to know we’re willing to do our part.
We can confess our selfishness, repent, and give sacrificially of our time and resources.
We can find out if there are refugees resettled in our area (there are in mine), and look for opportunities to get involved.
We can donate money or requested items through WeWelcomeRefugees.com or other ministries.
We can present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, lay down our willing yes, and then keep our eyes and ears open, because He will take us up on the offer.
We weren’t created for self-seeking comfort and ease. It lulls us to sleep.
We were made to shine light in darkness, to love and serve our enemies, and to wash the feet of the least.
Like the Samaritan, we can choose mercy. And if we don’t, can we honestly claim to love our neighbor?
Terrorism is on the rise, and the world is facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, but none of this comes as a surprise to God.
And nothing is too difficult for Him.
We can be on the right side of His story — knowing our lives are gathered up into God’s purposes, and flinging our doors wide for such a time as this.
Because Refuge still waits with His nail-scarred hands stretched wide to welcome the sojourner Home.
Set our foundations on the holy hills;
Our city found
Firm on the bedrock of the Truth; our wills
Settle and ground.
Cause us to stand to our own conscious clear;
Cause us to be the thing that we appear.
Jeanne Damoff is a daughter, sister, wife, mom, mother-in-law, and grandmother. Light has swallowed up her darkness, and she loves to help people discover beauty and purpose even in their most broken places. Her ambition is to be small in her own eyes, to be present in every moment, to see God’s image in every person, and to discover His gifts everywhere.
Jeanne is an exquisite author and speaker, volunteers with local refugee and special needs ministries, serves as intercessor and counselor for The Lulu Tree, and powerfully blogs for First Aid Arts and at The View From Here. Jeanne and I pray you’ll consider bravely & boldly joining us in truly miraculous places like Seek the Peace and First Aid Arts and the work of WeWelcomeRefugees.com.