When she closes her eyes and blows out the candles, the smoke slips a bit of the bonds of here and ascends to the place of prayers.
Sham looks up from the cake and grins. The room erupts in cheers.
Sham miraculously turns 11. This is her first birthday as a new citizen, this side of the ocean, far from ISIS and a bloody war and the shrieking bombs that shredded her house and the boy next door.
Sham is alive. Sham is miraculously 11. Sham gets to live.
I watch her mother watching Sham winging round the room. It’s almost been a year since we waited for them at the airport, waited for them to wing away from the hell of Aleppo and into our anxious welcoming refuge.
“You all look so happy tonight,” I murmur the words, us both turning to watch Sham, watch the room lighting with the laughter of Syrian and Canadian children. I can feel how this moment, these children, these faces testify:
Open your life to the other, and you may open your life to other angels without ever knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1-3)
“Yes — so happy. Joy — that we are — Free.” She finds my hand, squeezes it, finds my eyes — and she’s radiant.
Yesterday’s ache can become today’s joy —when you never stop believing that tomorrow will wing into hope.
The first people on the planet were migrating refugees.
Adam and Eve were wanderers who begin the human migration story, and the people of God were uprooted and upended refugees desperate to settle down, and the last book of the Revelation ends with the Apostle John in exile on the Isle of Patmos.
The Word of God has always been a word for welcoming the stranger — and all of our stories is a migration story.
Not one of us isn’t a migrant far from home.
And God Himself comes to as the Refugee Christ who left heaven to save us.
When the file arrives unexpectedly in our inbox in early summer, I am the first to read it.
A family from — Africa. Victims of horrific violence. Would we sponsor them as refugees?
Adopt them and support them for a year? Find them a house, make them a home, find them employment, schooling, health care, English training, transportation, help them rebuild their slashed and burned lives?
They have three little ones. Three boys. And — a lost child, whereabouts unknown.
I turn to the Farmer. “Somehow — whatever we have to do — we have to figure out how to say our yes.”
Because sometimes: Your one brave yes is how God destroys a tangling net of nos.
Hope is a lifeline that leads you to courage — hand over hand, don’t let go.
It is one of God’s first genesis acts toward humanity: care for refugees. God strings together skins for the exiled Adam and Eve, wrapping around them what God Himself stooped and stitched together, to protect them against the elements with His handmade love.
Every exodus has always been the same: God, in a pillar of strength, in a rising flame of hope, in a comforting shroud of presence, He has always stayed with the refugees, has always moved with the migrating people.
Manna for the migrant and relief for the refugee, has always been the will of God.
This is the heart of God — and the heart of God for our hearts: “Your God… loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
It’s been almost a year since Zak, Sham’s dad, found a way out of the detonating misery of Aleppo and walked brave off that plane, leading Sham, her 2 little sisters, her brother, his courageous bride, Fatin, to safety.
Our hearts had broke for the monstrous hell we read in the news and it broke our hearts right open, and Zak had found that crack in the universe, in our hearts, and it looked like hope. It looked like the doorway to freedom.Broken hearts can break us open and make us we into a doorway for someone’s freedom.
And now Zak works a 60 hour a week, welding and drywalling — every waking minute, rebuilding and remaking a busted world with his bare hands.
Now he gives back, contributes, supports. Now he calls the Farmer, “I dream again. I am saving now. I save and buy a little house of our own now? You help us with a roof first — and now I find a roof —- and I give my roof to help another family.” And the Farmer chokes it back, nods.
Yes, Brother Zak.Love is a roof and we are live well as much as we are roofs for each other.
The good life means we are good roofs for each other.
The whole of the Old Testament closes with the word of the prophet Malachi, who, in Malachi 3:5, echoes the words of God:
“I will be a swift… against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”
Because this is the truest: Christians are saved by the Refugee Christ, who left heaven to save us, and we are always saved from a thousand things when we welcome in the refugee — when we open our doors to Christ.
“…for I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave Me clothing… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:35-41
When the Farmer tells Zak when we are going to head to the airport to welcome our second refugee family, Zak tells the Farmer in his thick Syrian accent: “I call my boss. He understands. I come with you. I come to welcome them too.”
The Farmer smiles through the brimming.
“Just — they aren’t from Syria, Zak,” the Farmer speaks quietly. “They don’t speak Kurdish — and I don’t know how well they will speak English? They are flying in from Africa — from Namibia.”
And our Zak, he leans in, he grips the Farmer on the shoulder, and he looks him right in the eye:
“But…..” Zak says it slow, punctuating every word with bits of his heart, “They are human, aren’t they?”
And the universe reverberates.When we remember the humanity of the other — there is no other. There is only us.
Because we belong to each other, we don’t belittle one another.
Christianity means you embrace everyone’s humanity.
When you’re a follower of Christ — you’re free to see the face of Christ in every face.
We are all family here, because we all have the same Maker here. Thinking about this changes absolutely everything.
When I head home after a lunch with Fatin and a room full of brave newcomer refugee women and their North American sisters who get to do life with them, my side hurts from the laughing too loud, the rib pokes, the reaching across tables for their homemade pastries.
My heart hurts a bit, enlarged with loving them all them so much it beautifully aches.
I slow, after I turn at Knapp’s corner, down by the woods, and that’s when I see it. Something’s caught in the ditch? A monarch butterfly — lighting its wings? But she’s — not in flight? Her wings wildly beat — but there is no soaring.
When I step closer — I can see.Proximity always brings a kind of clarity.
The monarch is trapped in a spider’s web. A swollen spider hangs over it, suspended like a bomb about to drop, about to devour.
Yet the defiant butterfly keeps opening her wings, opening her wings, like she is gasping for hope.
Like she’s beckoning me — beckoning me to pay attention. Begging me to do something. Can’t I see that her hope’s all strung up in these sticky silvery gossamer threads?
The stilled spider — suddenly drops. I jolt, startled. He hangs close over those gilded wings, like he’s eyeing where to lunge. The butterfly desperately flits, gasping.
Wait undecided — and it will be too late. I lean in, stretch out my hand — and break the web of that tangling net.
And the butterfly ascends, lands on nearby tree, extends wings — and I reach out, pull away a few of the remaining net bonds.
You are as free as you set others free.
If you aren’t freeing someone — you are still in bondage to something.
There’s nothing as freeing — as setting others free.
And the butterfly lifts and I stand there witnessing it again —- how the bound ones can fly free.
• Mennonite Central Committee is in urgent need of Canadians who are willing to sponsor a refugee family through the Blended Visa Office Referral Program (BVOR).
• To learn more about how you can resettle a refugee family from crisis to community, be in touch with your nearest MCC provincial office at http://mcccanada.ca/supporting-refugees or by calling toll free # 1-888-622-6337