I will never forget after 9/11 and the war on terror was in full force. We lived in Europe at the time. I would listen to American radio over the internet. Often I would hear, let’s pray for our men and women in combat. Let’s pray for our mothers who have lost children in combat.
And of course I agreed and I did. The caveat for me was this…I had many friends from those countries where we were fighting. They too had children and relatives facing combat. They too faced the loss of children. I was compelled to pray for all sides. I hurt for all sides. I wanted relief for all sides.
Why? They were both very real to me. They were real people, with real faces, with real struggles and pains.
As terrorism continues to unsettle and dismantle our work for peace and dignity, there is a tendency to want to cocoon ourselves in safety. If we shut out the rest of the world, then surely we can take care of ourselves and all will be well, right? Not only do I think it is not possible but I believe with all my heart it is the wrong reaction.
Why? They are still real to me. Real places. Real people. Real faces.
I want to give you just one example. I met Hary over 15 years ago when we lived and worked in Belgium. He is one of the finest, best men I have ever known. He is a man of peace. He exudes hospitality, love and grace. When my dear friend, Janee Angel, a CBF field personnel since 2004, told us that she and Hary were to marry, I told her I could not have chosen better for her.
(CBF field personnel Janee Angel and her husband, Hary.)
Then Syria happened. Hary is from Syria. He and Janee have now been working and sacrificing for years to help Hary’s family get to safety. They were able to help several. A sister, brother-in-law and four children remained. The sister was able to get out.
Janee and Hary jumped through all sorts of hoops to get help for their brother-in-law and four children. Just as it looked as if maybe something would happen to bring them to freedom, the stress of it all caused the father to have a stroke and die. The four children ages 6, 10, 13 and 17 remain in Syria alone, bereft, without the love, guidance, care, and security of family. You can learn more about Hary and Janee’s family in her blog at Seasoned with Spice: an American woman in an Arab world.
Syria is real for me. These are real people. They had real homes, real lives, real dreams. Now they are tortured by a brutal civil war and terrorism. I was recently reading Hebrews 13. It is a passage we refer to often when we speak about our work among refugees and the mandate we as Christians are given to show hospitality to strangers. For some reason verse 3 never stood out for me until this morning.
“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”
That is how I believe God is asking us to look at Syria and other places in the same situation. As they are imprisoned in their own countries and tortured by violence, unrest, and terrorism, we are to remember them as though we ourselves are imprisoned and tortured. Can you even imagine it? I cannot.