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Why Refugees Matter

June 20th is World Refugee Day.

I’ve been thinking about this day for several months.

Darfurian Refugees in Chad. (Photo Credit: European Commission DG ECHO- creative commons)

Darfurian Refugees in Chad. (Photo Credit: European Commission DG ECHO- creative commons)

There will be events, festivals, awareness campaigns, celebrations and times of contemplation. It’s a global day to celebrate refugees and to reflect on the trials and difficulties that they face on a regular basis. It’s a day to advocate for peace to end the violence and persecution that so many people face around the world.

I had big plans for World Refugee Day. I was going to write an eloquent piece and submit it to Huffington Post or another site that accepts guest blogs. My professional life revolves around refugees, and on many occasions my personal life does as well. I love my job and I love my calling, and I love to write. I was going to combine those elements and write a piece that would be perfect, poignant and striking. It would have the perfect blend of emotional appeal and factual information. It would compel the reader to take action to ‘welcome the stranger’ to our county. Did I mention that it was going to be perfect?

But I didn’t do that. I didn’t do it because to be honest, I’m kind of exhausted.

So instead I’m sitting at my computer on the eve of World Refugee Day, struggling to come up with words to type. I haven’t had time nor even energy to blog in months, because life is just so crazy. Working in the human services can be incredibly challenging and draining, and it’s also challenging to work to help and serve people who have been through so much in their lives. Trauma and pain are ever present in many refugees’ lives, terrifying experiences are woven in the fabric of their life story. The busyness combined with the sheer magnitude of fully understanding the plight of refugees can feel overwhelming.

But it is worth it.

Photo Credit: United Nation Armenia (creative commons)

Photo Credit: United Nation Armenia (creative commons)

I was reminded of that very fact just the other day. I was talking to a young man who felt comfortable enough to share his story. His family fled a war after his father and younger sibling were brutally killed. He, his mother, and his other siblings fled to the coast and got on the first boat they could find that would permit them to travel. They didn’t know where the boat would take them, they just knew that they had to get out. After a month long journey, they ended up in a foreign land where they didn’t speak the language or understand the customs. They lived as stateless citizens in this second country for five years. They were discriminated against because of their racial background. They weren’t permitted to work because of their status in this country. Several years into their new lives they were finally able to apply for refugee status. And several years later they found themselves on a plane headed to Atlanta, Georgia.

As I listened to my young friend share his story, I could hear the pain in his voice. At one point he paused and quietly said “This time was very hard for me.” But as he continued, I began to hear the hope in his voice. He has big plans. He wants to go to college and become one of the first lawyers from his ethnic background in Atlanta. He is so proud to be a United States Resident. He already talks about taking the citizenship test in a few years. He and his family embody the reason our country was founded. They faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds to make a new life. They live simply and are building their new life. My friend proudly told me about how they saved up to buy the couch I was sitting on as we ate chapati bread in his apartment.

Friends, refugees matter. They comprise a small population of our immigrant population in the United States but it would benefit all of us to seek them out and form friendships with them. They work long hours at really difficult jobs to make ends meet. They are patriotic and proud to live in the United States. They pay taxes and save money to open businesses in their community. They remind me of my own ancestors in many ways. My family is a eclectic mix of many different nationalities- most of whom immigrated to the United States to make a better life for their families. Some fled persecution, famine or other difficulties. They worked hard to start fresh and to create their own ‘American Dream’.

We are a nation of immigrants, and refugees are a beautiful picture of what makes our country great. Amidst the busyness of my life, the stacks of paperwork and the struggles that come from walking the journey with refugees during their first few days in America, I am reminded of this picture. Refugees matter to God, and they matter to me. They are an important part of our country, and I am so proud, humbled and honored to know many of them.

If you want to get to know a refugee family, let me know. I’d love to introduce you to some of my friends.



Photo Credit: upyernoz (creative commons)

Photo Credit: upyernoz (creative commons)

It was the darkest of days.

The world turned dark. The thunder rolled. The veil was torn. The earth shook and the people fell to their knees.

Hope seemed to be lost in that day. It was a Friday. It was a Friday we know as a Good day, but in that moment, I’m sure it seemed far from good.

“It is finished” Jesus cried.

And to the disciples, to the followers, those words must have torn through their hearts like a knife. Finished? How could it be? Where was the hope? This is it? Where was the promised messiah? Is this really happening? He’s there, on the cross, dead. Hope seemed to die with him on that tree.

Friday was a dark day, and I’m sure Saturday was dark too. But Sunday, oh glorious Sunday. Sunday fulfilled the promise. Sunday, which we commemorate and celebrate in a few hours, fulfilled the promise of salvation. Jesus rose! Death lost its sting, the grave was defeated. Oh beautiful, wonderful Sunday! It came to fruition. On the cross, Jesus took it all. He took our pain, our shortcomings, our failings, our hurts, our shattered dreams and broken hearts. He took on the burdens of humanity so we wouldn’t have to.

That’s how we have hope. The days can be so very dark, but we have hope in Jesus. Jesus endured the darkest of days so our burden could be just a little bit lighter. The burden is heavy, but He’s right next to us, carrying it with us. I’ve had some dark days. I remember a late night, a season of depression where I felt smothered to the point where I didn’t know how I could go on. I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe, but in the moment, I knew. I knew He was there. There was a battle, but He was there, fighting for me. There have been seasons of financial difficulty where I didn’t know how we would pay for groceries after that week. All of my dreams, all of my plans felt like they were slipping through my fingers like tiny grains of sand. But in that moment, I knew. I knew I still had hope, because He was there. I’ve been in frightening situations, on the brink of shattering abuse or assault. One step in a certain direction could have changed everything. But I believe He guided me. I KNOW He guided me.

I think of friends right now who are enduring pain I can’t even imagine. Medical diagnosis with an unsure future. Unimanigable loss of a child or spouse. The aftermath of abuse. Pain and suffering that seems unbearable. In the cloud of pain and darkness, there’s always a glimmer of hope. A promise of eternity shines ahead, illuminating our journey that can be marked by pain and doubt. There is hope in the cross, hope in the empty tomb. We can rise with confidence. Even when we strain to see ahead through our tears, He is ahead. He is leading this journey.

That’s why tomorrow is so important. Tomorrow paints the picture of perfect hope. To the follower of Jesus, everything is dependent on that bloodstained cross and on the empty tomb. It may seem bizarre and unbelievable to some, but it’s what we cling to. He is the King, He died for us, and He rose again, defeating the darkness and pain of this world. Does it mean life is perfect? No. Does it mean that the life of the Christian is easy? Of course not. But through it all, we can cling to this truth. And one thing is for certain:

We have hope.

The Hidden Plague

On Sunday I asked you to take a journey with me. We went halfway around to walk alongside people who are at risk. On the outside there was innocence, but the reality is that the little girls I described are very vulnerable to a hidden plague that many of us don’t even realize exists. I apologize if I seem a bit dramatic, but it’s very true. The little girls I’ve worked with around the world are at great risk. Their parents and siblings are at risk. There are billions of people in our world who live in fear of this plague. Watch this:

You may not consider violence as something that’s hidden. After all, we hear about it on the news nearly every day. But the reality is that there is a huge, systemic issue in the developing world that isn’t talked about. When we discuss issues and progress in the developing (formerly called ‘third world’) we usually talk about clean water, education, malnutrition, malaria, HIV/AIDS and other physical and health issues. But usually we don’t talk about violence. We don’t talk about the law enforcement systems that aid and assist child sex traffickers. We don’t talk about the justice system in parts of the world where a wealthy person can literally get away with murder by paying an attorney to steal evidence. We don’t talk about law enforcement and legal systems that operate solely on bribes. We just don’t discuss it. Gross human rights abuses are being committed every day and we are not talking about it. To a certain extent I can understand why. It’s pretty hopeless to think about such huge issues. I’m just one person, what can I do?

book-detailBut this is a plague of violence that is set to obliterate everything in its path. And Gary Haugen, the founder and president of the International Justice Mission, wants us to stop this plague. His new book, The Locust Effect, is a powerful tool and resource to get this essential conversation started. His argument is that we “can’t end poverty without ending violence” and after reading his book I definitely agree. He tells us tragic stories of people in the developing world who have been severely victimized and traumatized. Then he goes through and explains what is going on in the systems that are causing these grave injustices. And finally, he gives us hope by sharing stories of his colleagues and many others who are combating this plague and winning battles.

It’s easy to remain disconnected from huge social issues like this one. I know sometimes I feel so small and insignificant in this huge world- I think that there’s no way I can do something to make an impact on a problem of this magnitude. But that’s not true! We can all play a part in fighting for justice for the oppressed. We can all begin to have new conversations about poverty that include this concept of violence against the poor. And if you are a follower of Jesus like me, then this is your responsibility. All of us have different roles, but we are all called to seek justice.

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern”. -Proverbs 29:7

“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”. – Isaiah 1:17

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” – Luke 11:42

It’s clear and convicting. We can’t sit around any more. There are grave injustices in our world and you and I have the ability to address 150300_10101034241733303_626411828_nthem. It seems daunting or even impossible, but it’s not. Awareness is the first step. And I’d like to help you with that first step.

I’m giving away one copy of “The Locust Effect” to one reader. I’ll draw the winning name on Saturday, February 8th and will ship your book to you the next week. But if you just can’t wait until then, you can find the book at your local bookstores or online. Check out for more details.

Even if you don’t win the copy, you can still make an impact on fighting this plague by purchasing the Locust Effect. For every bookpurchased this week (through Sunday the 9th) $20 dollars will be donated to the International Justice Mission, up to $40,000. All of the royalties from book sales will also go to IJM. Your purchase of the book makes an impact against this issue, which is a great starting point!

So how do you win a copy of this amazing book? 

Take action! Share in the comments what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘justice’. Tweet this post or share it on Facebook to spread the word. Let me know in the comments section what you did. Each ‘action step’ will get you one entry to win.

A Million Steps Away

Parumsheela and me. Mumbai, India

Parumsheela and me. Mumbai, India

Take a journey with me. Walk down a dirt, trash lined path in Mankurd, Mumbai, India with me. The smell is pretty strong at first, but after a few minutes your nose gets used to the unusual scents. To your right, a man naps on top of a table with his goat. Up ahead to the left, a few women in brightly patterned saris squat outside small wood and aluminum huts, washing dishes. Their dexterity and ability to keep such a steady flat footed squat to do chores is astounding. You watch them for a moment before you nearly trip over a small grove in the side of the path. That was a close one, that grove houses all sorts of dirty water and sometimes waste. You realize where that smell is coming from. You’ve been walking for awhile when you finally arrive. There they are. A crowd of little ones run towards you. Some are in school uniforms, others in street clothes, but all are excited. And amidst the crowd, Parumsheela emerges. Her big brown eyes and wide smile bring a smile to your face. She grabs your hand and guides you to the small schoolhouse. The journey was worth it, just to spend some time with her and her friends.

The picture looks a little different in another part of the world. In Kajo Keji, South Sudan Nancy wants you to walk with her to get a little water in jerry cans. The walk is a couple miles through a winding dirt path with thick brush on either side. You aren’t as concerned about waste or human hazards on this trek, but your eyes scan the thick brush for any signs of snakes. You’ve been told that an encounter with a snake in Southern Sudan usually means that you’re in deep, fatal trouble. It’s sobering to think that this walk is normal for Nancy and so many other little girls in Kajo Keji, a several mile trek daily just to get some meager water for her family.

Precious Nancy, Kajo Keji, Sudan

Precious Nancy, Kajo Keji, Sudan

Another plane ride would take you into a community of tents and partially collapsed buildings. A short ride in an SUV and you’ve arrived in Kampung Mulia. You walk past the shell of a mosque and up a small rock lined hill. A few more steps along the bank of a muddled river and you’re at a small shack built from mismatched, warped wood. Everything in this community was destroyed by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, but a couple families came together to build a coffee shop out of driftwood. Rupiah equal to about a quarter gets you a steaming cup of black coffee with a little sweetened condensed milk mixed in. It’s pure bliss, but the company makes it all the more better. Nurul approaches, excited to see you. You do what’s customary when you visit: you hand her your digital camera and away she goes. The pictures she and her friends take tell a story words can’t adequately tell.

These sweet girls are a part of my story and I was recently reminded of them. I just finished reading a new book by one of my heroes, Gary Haugen. “The Locust Effect” comes out tomorrow, and I was thrilled to be selected as part of a ‘launch team’ of bloggers to read and review the book. The book is incredible, and as I flipped the pages, engrossed in the stories and concepts laid out, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet girls. You see, this book reminded me that they are at risk.

Nurul and me, Kampung Mulia, Aceh Indonesia

Nurul and me, Kampung Mulia, Aceh Indonesia

My sweet friends Nancy, Parumsheela, and Nurul are a mere step away from becoming victims. They walk a delicate line in their communities of relative safety and extreme exploitation and victimization. Their families may be one small loan away from complete slavery. They could be one short walk to a well away from being raped.  Their lives were challenging but still so innocent when I met them. Even Nurul had innocence about her. She had lost everyone and everything in the Tsunami, but she still hoped. She still dreamed. She still loved to pose for pictures and play dress up. Parumsheela loved to play tag and jump to pop bubbles. Nancy could spend hours braiding my hair, wrestling with its unfamiliar texture and many knots.

After finishing The Locust Effect I feel even more inspired to action. I was reminded that while these girls are a mere step away from systemic violence, you and I are a million steps away from the painful stories of many who are just like them. We need to step closer to them. A million steps is too far, we need to walk alongside and take the journey with people around the world who are desperately poor, and desperately vulnerable. This post is just a teaser for the meat of the book. It comes out tomorrow, and this week I’ll be featuring it. My tweets and at least one more blog post will be dedicated to discussing the concepts and lessons I learned from the pages of  “The Locust Effect”. And, I’ll be giving a book away to one reader at the end of this week. So stay tuned my friends, let’s dive into discover how “the end of poverty requires the end of violence”.

Beautiful Grace


What images come to mind when you read that word? Dirty? Disheveled? Unkempt? Mismatched? Out of place? Worn and torn? Whatever comes to mind, it probably involves something that is less than perfect, less than ideal. It is probably something that would not be considered beautiful.

When I think of ragamuffin I think of the late Brennan Manning. Manning was a priest, author, and called himself a ragamuffin. He was an example of grace and second chances. He was an alcoholic who struggled with his flesh, sometimes very openly. But regardless of his struggles, he loved Jesus. He loved his Abba, and he was painfully aware of God’s grace. His writings were raw; the stories he told clearly came from a long life filled with both joy and pain.  And I’ve heard that his relationship with his ‘Abba’ was intoxicating and contagious. I wish I could have met him.

My high school youth pastor first introduced me to Manning’s work. I tore through “Ragamuffin Gospel” as a naïve, sheltered and judgmental 16-year-old girl. It was unlike anything I had ever read. I was raised in the church and was there nearly every time the doors opened. My church was grace focused but along the way somehow I missed the truth of the radical, unrelenting, beautiful grace that Manning wrote about. A father who runs to us despite our shortcomings. a father who forgives and loves despite our sins and prodigal natures. That book began a journey for me- a journey that I’m still taking to this very day. I was salvation based but much of my worth came from my works. I judged others whose deeds were not as ‘good’ as mine or whose sins were ‘worse’ than mine. Manning wrote with such passion for the holy grace that God gives us.  It has nothing to do with what we do, but rather who we are- Abba’s Children.

I just finished reading Manning’s final work- Prodigal. Tears sprang to my eyes as I read the story of Jack Chisholm. He was the ‘people’s pastor’ of a nondescript but all too familiar megachurch in the United States. He fell from fame because of one fateful night. Everything fell apart, leading Jack on a journey of true grace. I won’t ruin the entire plot for you, but it’s an incredible story of forgiveness and redemption.

We all fall from grace; we all do things to miss the mark. We hurt each other, we hurt ourselves, and we drift away from the grace filled life God has for us. We all do it, but the church tends to cast judgment on others. Like I mentioned previously, we judge others whose sins are deemed ‘worse’ than our own. But we are all ragamuffins. We all mess up. All of our shortcomings are the same. We judge others while hiding our own sin and pride. (Well maybe you don’t, but I know I sure have). But our shortcomings are there, and they aren’t perfect, they’re rags.

Friends, none of us are perfect. But it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it matters who you are. You are a child of Abba- our heavenly father. He doesn’t hold your sins up against you. He doesn’t weigh your good against your bad to make sure you are heavier on the ‘good’ side. His arms are open wide for anyone who wants to sit in his perfect grace.

Rest in that grace today friends. There is nothing more beautiful than Abba’s love and grace.

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