When the wind wakes this quiet part of the world early on Sunday morning, she meets us at the doors, the windows, with her long coat of snow laying across everything.
“They’ll all need coats this morning…” I stand at the window watching the white blow in. The snow’s falling in town, falling on the roof of our Syrian newcomer family, falling like hope of fresh things.
They will wake and go to the window too and look out and believe again, the way every breath is a prayer of hope, of brave believing.
They will find their coats in the front closet of the town house that our team is renting for them, they will speak in Kurdish to the children to find their boots on the shelf in the garage, they will wait at the front door till my sister picks them up, the newcomer Syrian Muslim refugee family whose house was bombed in Aleppo, and they will come again to our little country church surrounded by plowed, whitening fields.
They will sit beside us when we bow our heads and pray, they will stand beside when we all stand to sing,
“Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name.”
Zac’s mother, a Muslim refugee herself who’s found a crack and a way out of Aleppo, she asked her son this week through a bad wifi connection cutting in and out: “Zackarrais? Who helps you there? How do you have food? Clothes? A house? How do you stay warm?”
Zac pulls his youngest, little Mohammed, up on his lap, speaks it loud for his mother to hear on the other side of the world:
“The church, mother. The people of the church, they help us with everything here.”
I blinked it back.
In the past, the Church may have been defined by what the Church is against — but, in this defining moment in history, when the world is facing the worst humanitarian crises of our time, may the Church be clearly defined by what it is for.
And the Church has always been for the stranger, the sojourner, and the welcoming arms of the Savior.
How can we not move heaven and earth to let the broken in – when heaven moved and came to earth to let us in?
There’s the nativity scene my own mother set out in the foyer of our little country church. It welcomed us all when we came in — He welcomed all us weary wanders in.
“If the church helps you,” Zac’s aging mother told him through a static buzzing connection from the other side of the world —- “you must go help them, you must say thank you. You clean their church, you work for them — you must do anything, everything, to thank all the church for helping you.”
And there’s a whole world of people getting ready to eat thanksgiving dinners, there’s a whole world getting ready to celebrate the first immigrants, the first outsiders, the first refugees, who were welcomed in and there will be feasting around tables that the tired, poor and huddled masses were welcomed in and a whole country of descendants of refugees and immigrants will give thanks for the staggering grace of being welcomed in.
And in the middle east, there’s a Muslim family who is teary thankful that there is a church in the west that welcomed in their son and his wife and their 4 little ones and the story begins to change around the world when we live the story of Grace.
When the church opens its arms to change the world’s story — this is what changes the story of the church in the world.
Sunday morning in a country chapel, Zac murmurs to us, pointing to his children in their warm winter coats: thank you, thank you, thank you.
And the whole sanctuary fills with our rising, brave song:
“Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say: Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
After the singing and the service, after we bless the food of the potluck set out in the chapel basement, give our thanks for the turkey casserole and the baked squash and pumpkin pie, after we fill our plates, I lean across the table and ask Zac: “Do you hear from your family in Aleppo this week?”
Fatin nods and Zac says, “Yes —- a bit. Connection poor. Bombings every day. Sisters, brothers. No way out.”
Fatin holds up the thick slice of homemade bread on her plate, “No food — no way out of Aleppo. My brother — he not eat for days now.”
They both look down at their full plates, tears brimming. I look down at my own. How do you find words? Aleppo is a kind of holocaust.
I can’t swallow — all this burning in my throat. Why am I here? Why are they there? For such a time as this.
“No hospitals in Aleppo now.” Zac looks up, his eyes watery. “All bombed. No hospitals. No roads out.”
Why in this busted world do we drop chemical bombs on the innocent lung of playing children, blow up hospitals where flailing preemie babies grasp for breath to grow up and into a world where we desecrate and defile the image of God in each other?
Why do some of us feast while some of us starve and why do some of us go to sleep under roofs and snow falling quietly down and some of us go to sleep under bombs roaring down — and what if there was always enough given to this world if everyone in the world would just share what they’ve been given?
The Farmer looks over and quietly offers it to Zac like an offering, that our little country town’s churches have just received word this week that the next Syrian family they have been trying to bring to Canada will now arrive within 2 weeks.
“Yes? Another family? Coming here?” Zac points to the ground under him. The Farmer nods — yes, to our farming town.
“I go to them,” Zac nods earnestly. “I go to them when they come, okay? I’ve been given many coats for winter — We give them some of our coats.”
Zac has 2-3 winter hand me down coats in his closet that the church found for him, trying to size him right for the coming winter.
“In Syria? We want to help each other. To give something to each other. But we have nothing to give. All of us have no food, no house, no car, nothing.
We all want to help each other — but we all have nothing.
But now. Now.” Zac’s eyes again run liquid. He doesn’t have to finish the sentence — because I understand.
When you have something — you can help someone.
I look into the eyes of this man who came to this country less than 2 months ago with all his worldly possessions, three back packs for a family of 6 — and everything he has, he’s been given— and he wants to make everything he’s been given into a gift to give forward.
And I crumple a bit and we’re no different and I’m the same kind of different as Zac:
Our birthplace is grace, our education is grace, our income is grace, our house, life, and next breath without violence is all grace.
Nothing in your life might have been good — but for the goodness of God.
Nothing in your life might have been —but God has been kind.
Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
We’re no different and I’m the same kind of different as Zac:
Everything we have — it’s a gift we’ve been given.
Our work doesn’t earn us anything, as much as God’s grace that we were born here gives us everything.
There’s Thanksgiving coming, all this gratitude rising, there’s Advent coming, all His love descending, and there’s a broken, abundant way forward, the breaking open of doors and hearts and hands and an abundance of love overflowing all of us and flowing over all our brokenness and healing us all in the deepest ways.
Zac’s little boy smiles up at me and I can’t help but kneel down and cup his face close — and he’s not bleeding in the streets of Aleppo or buried under a bombed house or weeping in a bombed hospital. The snow’s falling outside.
When we have something — maybe we don’t lock our doors tighter, but open our doors wider.
Zac will give away one of his coats this week, to another refugee family welcomed in.
The world will give thanks.
The world will begin to prepare Him room, the One who so loved, He gave.
The snow is still falling when we head home from church.
Like the skies are breaking open to coat us all in new ways.
This is a story for all of us for right now —
Refugees are in our countries & in need of community. Refugees are continuing to arrive & will be in need of community. This holiday season — Will the church turn it’s back or open it’s arms in welcome?
The refugee resettlement program in the U.S. is at risk of being shut down due to fear & misinformation & it is important for us to speak out for the vulnerable & be ready to do what it takes to continue to live the abundant joy of the broken way — breaking open our hearts and doors and provide a safe haven for those desperately needing it.
The organization that we help co-found, WeWelcomeRefugees, is working on clear pathways for you to use your voice and get involved practically. Pledge your hands to welcome at www.wewelcomerefugees.com — to be part of those committing to stand with the least of these, and receive more information.