Dear World on World Refugee Day,
This is what a smiling picture of success looks like and don’t let the poison of any fear tell you any different.
This is the smile of a child refugee, a girl who is working hard to be a future doctor — because the world needs healers and believers and dreamers and peacekeepers and love leaders, in a world facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, with more than 7 million child refugees right now from Syria alone.
This is one very real little girl who once lived in Aleppo under a rain of bombs, who lived through a thousand 9/11s, day after day after day, who cowered when the windows shattered, when the rockets hissed, when the blood of children splattered on her in the streets.
Now she rides a pink bike with streamers down a quiet North American street, her two little sisters peddling behind, swept up in a wake of grace. Now she plants peppers with her Mama in their backyard garden, and kisses her Dad good-bye every morning as he leaves for his very own full-time job as a welder in a Mennonite workshop.
In a world of exploding headlines, there’s a braver world of us who are waging hope.
A world of us who says those nearly 3 million child refugees who have lost their access to any education because of war — the equivalent of every single person living in the city of Chicago, the third largest city in the USA — those children deserve to find books in their hands instead of guns, deserve to find skills before they become a lost generation, stumbling bitterly and and desperately for decades.
A world of us who say: The greatest risk to our security happens when fear is our main currency. Who refuse to become prisoners of hate but dare to be champions of hope. Who believe that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world and if God be for us than who can be against us — but if we’re against children made by God, than what does it matter who is for us?
A world of us who say: Every crisis forks your way into two roads: one toward hope and one toward despair. Courage determines your way — and the only way to get to abundance is through endurance.
And her parents have endured mortar fire and rocket bombings and birthing a baby out in a field because there was no safe place under a roof or even the sun, but her daddy never gave up believing that there was a way in this broken world to find a home that wasn’t the mouth of a monster. And he kept sticking to courage’s way, hope-ward bound and bound to Hope and took the way all refugees must take: extreme vetting through 18 levels of governmental investigation over 24 months, interviewed for hours at a time, more than 6 times, because vetted refugees aren’t a threat to anyone’s life, but are actually the one’s being threatened with losing their lives.
The truth is that your statistical chances of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack in the USA is 1 in 3 billion — so the data bears witness: any fear of being attacked by a refugee is not based in fact.
And the facts are?
This child refugee doesn’t eat grass for breakfast like they do in Aleppo — she eats granola on yogourt and she doesn’t go days without food — she goes weeks without fear. Her smile, her dreams, aren’t crushed under rubble in some bomb-decimated Syrian street — she’s wakes only to crushing grace and a tsunami of possibilities and an eruption of hope — her with near perfect 9-month-old grinning English.
“Look, Miss Ann! My swimsuit!” And she holds it up to show me — her first swimsuit, the one her hijab-covered mama bought her at Costco. She’s 11 and she’s never swam before because her country’s been a bloodbath of terror and I’m telling you: it can rent your heart with joy to see a child not running from waves of bullets but splashing in the backyard waves of summer.
She had told me once, after several weeks of joining our kids in our backroad chapel’s Sunday School: “I know what sin is.” She tells me in brave, faltering English “Sin is not doing — what God would want.”
And I cup her face between my hands and nod, her eyes looking into mine, reflecting my own lurking fears.
Yes, glorious, smiling Former Child Refugee, Future Doctor, you tell me: Sin is not doing what God would want — and when would God want us to bar our doors from children fleeing the horrors of war?And wars are won by winning the battle for hope.
Every refugee is a war survivor — and a hope warrior.
Every child refugee
is a hope prodigy.
And there is a world of us who will stand tonight and our hearts break that people are judged on the lands of their birth and the color of their skin,
that people are seen as worthless because it’s easier for us to care more about our comfort and less about anyone else’s very survival,
that people can be seen as Other instead of Ours, and if any of us think our God cares only about Our people and not about Other people, then we’re not worshiping God but an idol made in our own image.
But there is a world of us who will keep watch through the darkness with our torches of hope, and we will set holy fire to the night with our relentless courage and we will burn up despair with His rising Light.
There is a whole world of us Hope Warriors who don’t hold out mostly for ourselves, but remember how to hold on to each other, how to live given and love large and how to make hope our home — and make our home a beckoning refuge of hope.
And when she stands there, with her sisters, holding a string of lights up for me to see — I think that.
How success always looks like being a blazing, brazen star in the dark —- and together, we can all be millions of them, shattering all the dark.