Tragedy Next Door: A Tale of Two Cities

Holocaust History

While we’re traveling around Europe learning about the current immigration/ refugee crisis, it’s impossible to ignore the last major refugee crisis:  World War II and the Holocaust.  All of Europe has been touched by this history.  Specifically, we visited a Jewish prisoner camp near Prague and two homes where Jews hid in Amsterdam.  (Pictures below, I promise).  Seeing Holocaust history in person, and then reading the US headlines about refugees and immigration strikes an interesting parallel.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santanya 1905

It might seem like the current refugee crisis – especially in the US – has little connection to the Holocaust.  Except that at the time, we didn’t call it extermination.  We called it a refugee crisis. From 1933-1939, Hitler wasn’t specifically ‘deporting’ Jews, just encouraging them to go elsewhere..  Until 1942, the Nazis weren’t using gas chambers, just ‘prisoner of war camps’.

In retrospect, we all wish we did more, and did it sooner.
But at the time, we didn’t think the refugees were our problem:

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In fact, given the direct request to allow 900 Jews to seek refuge in the States, we literally sent them back to the gas chambers:

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“Today’s 3-year-old Syrian orphan, it seems, is 1939’s German Jewish child.”

check out the full article from the Washington Post, here.

Visiting a place where people stood by and watched the extermination of Jews and also a place where people sacrificed their own lives to save others from the Nazis reminds me why I fight for the rights of refugees, and work to share their stories.

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Part of sharing God’s love is speaking up for the silenced.  So, I share with you all a tale of two cities:  Terezin (Czech Republic) and Amsterdam (Holland/ the Netherlands).

Terezin

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Terezin (Theresienstadt) is about 45 miles outside of Prague, easily accessible via train.  As you can see from the pictures, the town is geographically designed as a walled fortress – first used hundreds of years ago. Before the war, the square buildings were either army barracks, apartment buildings, shops, schools, etc.

With complete knowledge of everyone in the town and the city of Prague, Nazis converted the former fortress-town into a Jewish prison camp, and moved thousands of Jews through the local train station to live there.  

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The train station is about 2 miles away from the town. The Nazis ushered 155,000 Jews through the train station, and then along the road from the station to town between 1940-1045.  At first, the Nazis moved Jews into army barracks  while the residents of Terezin continued living in their houses.   In 1942, the Nazis – which were occupying Czechoslovakia at that time – deported the locals out of their homes to use the space for Jewish prisoners.  Those Czech people left, and then came back to their apartments in 1948.  That’s right – the Nazis used their apartments as a death camp, and they returned there as soon as Hitler was done with them.  Today, the town includes a museum and a few historical sites, but 3,000 people live there – and they hate the tourists who come.  They’d rather we forget that 35,000 Jews (and other prisoners) died in this town, and that about 100,000 more stopped in this town on their way to other death camps, where they were exterminated.

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The church was used for storage, but the buildings to the right and left of it became ‘dormitories’ for adult men and women.  Some large buildings became ‘orphanages’ for children whose parents had been sent to Auschwitz.  Former apartment buildings now housed families of Jewish prisoners.

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The Nazis set up coffee houses, factories, shops, day care centers, medical clinics, and even allowed a synagogue on site in the town of Terezin.

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They invited the Red Cross in to see what was happening and scheduled an afternoon designed to show the world how happy everyone was to be in this ideal town.  The report told the wold that Hitler was ‘helping’ the Jews when no one else wanted them.

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I figured most people were upset about the Nazi’s discrimination, but it was shocking to see how blase the people of Terezin were about what Hitler’s troops were doing in their own homes.

Even today, Czech folks have summer homes and gardens literally bordering the cemetery filled with the ashes of thousands of Jewish prisoners.  We saw them on the road between the walled town and the train station.

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Amsterdam

While the people of Prague/ Terezin literally ignored 150,000 prisoners going through their train station, a few people in Amsterdam lived a very different story.

Anne Frank’s “Secret Annex”

Many people have read Anne Frank’s Diary in school.  Anne’s family was from Germany, and they were Jews.  In 1933, they immigrated to Holland to escape the Nazi regime.  In 1940, they tried to immigrate to the US, but were denied.  So, Anne’s father, Otto Frank, devised a way to hide his family in the ‘secret annex’ of his company’s offices, with the help of 4 other non-Jewish company employees.

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The two shorter buildings on the left side – just to the right of the tree – were the Frank’s company and hiding place. This is a lousy picture (below) but it gives an outline of the two buildings which together were a workshop and the secret annex.

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Soon, all 4 members of the Frank family, another family of 3, and an additional man were all hiding in the annex.  We couldn’t take pictures inside, but seeing the small space and walking through it was surreal.  Anne decorated her sleeping space with postcards her dad had smuggled into the annex before they went into hiding.

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All 8 of the Jews in hiding there, and 2 of the employees who helped them, were arrested in 1944 and sent to concentration camps.  Only Otto Frank and the 2 non-Jewish employees survived.  One of the helpers who was not arrested went through the annex immediately after the families were arrested and found Anne’s diary and notebooks – discarded by the officers, because they looked unimportant.

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Anne’s father, Otto, published the diary in 1947, and turned the annex into a museum in 1960.  It’s very popular in Amsterdam.

Corrie Ten Boom’s “Hiding Place”  

Corrie Ten Boom and her family were watchmakers in Harlem, about 12 miles outside of Amsterdam.  They were committed Christians who believed that the Jews are God’s chosen people, and disagreed with the Nazi policies.  They hid many Jews at one time in their large apartment house above the watch shop during the war.

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Corrie was very conflicted about the fraud and lies she had to use to keep the Jews safe. She joined the resistance movement, and worked with others to shuttle the Jews to other hiding places and to use secret ration cards to feed and clothe them. She survived the Holocaust, but her father and sister died in the camps.  She wrote a book called “The Hiding Place”, which became a movie in the US.

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A spy asked Corrie for help towards the end of the war, and her assistance led to the arrest of the Ten Boom family.  (All the Jews they were hiding at the time were safe.)  Corrie’s father, sister, and brother died in the camps.  Corrie Ten Boom not only survived the concentration camp – she and her sister led Christian worship services in secret in the camps.

Once she returned home, she spent a decade helping the war’s leftover refugees – Jews, Christians, Germans, Dutch, and anyone who needed it.

We tell stories now about those who helped the refugees – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany, the workers who kept Anne Frank and her family hidden, Corrie Ten Boom and her family.  But at the time, we only talked about the ‘problem’ of the Jews, and expected someone else to help the ‘refugees’ displaced by the war.

When my life is over, I will not be famous, and no one will visit my house in Ann Arbor.  But when I get to heaven, I want to be able to say that while on earth, I did all I could to share God’s love with others, even in the face of hate and adversity.

“You might not care if [politician] says Muslims must register with the government, because you’re not one.  And you might not care if [politician] says he’s going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you’re not one.  And you might not care if he says it’s OK to rough up black protesters, because you’re not one.  And you might not care that he wants to suppress journalists, because you’re not one.

But think about this.  If he keeps going … he might just get around to you, and you better hope there’s someone left to help you.

  • Retired Air Force Colonel Tom Moe, POW Vietnam

 

 

 

Quick Tour: Stockholm

How to see the city in 16 hours

After seeing Iceland, Denmark, and Norway, we just had to fit in time to see Sweden, too!
Even though we had only 36 hours in the city, we tried to see as much as possible.

First – a speed train ride from Oslo to Stockholm
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We love trains!  Plenty of space, access to all our luggage, and a great view!
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This particular journey stopped a few times in small towns, but most of the passengers were also trying to get from one country to the other.

After a night in a secluded air b&b apartment, we were off to see the town!

Subway Art the subways are full of interesting artwork.

Mountains, viking ship, vampire bat, lightning storm, flowers, totem pole, and greek goddess 

Downtown & Castle
We didn’t take a castle tour, but we saw great things in the downtown area!

Skansen Open-Air Museum
This place was fun – kind of a Swedish version of Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI or of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.  Basically, a bunch of buildings from all around Sweden, representing a few centuries of history, were all brought to one park in the city.  We could walk around and see what daily life might have looked like in Sweden a long time ago.

I liked being the English tour guide, so David set up the app and let me lead!
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We got to see old buildings, but also a lot of very cute animals!  I got the sense that this was how city kids got to learn about country life.  🙂

We also saw a literal milestone – Swedish people were required to erect and maintain “mile -markers” made out of stone.
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Cathedral This Cathedral is where the royals do important things like weddings and coronations… but also where normal city people go to worship every week for the past few centuries.

They even use hymnals like we do in the states!

Shopping We aren’t really shopping while we’re here, but I had to take a picture by this store – it seemed like every Scandinavian had one of these bags (and lots of tourists in other Europe places, too!)

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After this long day of walking, our feet were very tired!  But we were ready to fly to Prague for the next part of our adventure.  Stay tuned for more great stories coming soon!

When does Peace Win?

Nobel Peace Prize Museum in Oslo

Alfred Nobel invented dynamite.  Not Peace.

But… all I knew about him was he established the Nobel Peace Prize (and a few others).

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In the 1800s, Alfred got rich selling death & destruction, but it wasn’t until he read his own obituary that he realized he’d prefer a different legacy.  So, he established the Nobel Prizes in his will.  The Nobel Peace Prize shall be awarded to the person or persons who has “done the most or the best work” towards fraternity, disarmament, and/ or peace.

For the first time in history, Peace won the day.

 

Over 100 different people and groups have won the Peace Price since 1900.  Refugee workers have won 4 different times:
1938 – Nansen International Office for Refugees
1954 & 1981 – United Nations High Commission on Refugees
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965 – UNICEF (today, most of the kids they help are displaced)

There are currently more refugees in the world than ever before:  60 million.  
That’s 10 times the number of people killed in the Holocaust.  24 people had to flee their homes every minute of 2015 – one out of every 113 people in the world.

Those numbers are so huge that it almost becomes easier to just ignore them.  What am I supposed to do to help 60 million people?

you can leave a legacy, just like Alfred Nobel:  
volunteer or advocate through LIRS or
donate through UNHCR

Stories & Images

UNICEF gave disposable cameras to hundreds of Syrian refugee children living in a camp in Jordan.  They developed those pictures and put them on display in the Peace Prize Museum.

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These pictures show children in the camps.  They don’t have a home, or a school, or a passport – sometimes, they don’t even have food or toilets – but they still have smiles and hopes, and family who love them.

Check out this recent article about the showcase:  http://nbcnews.to/1CjH4Rh

Maybe, someday soon, peace will win again.  Like Alfred Nobel, sometimes we need to read our own obituary before we realize we are killing ourselves.

(by the way… )

Alfred Nobel instituted 5 different prizes.  The other winners are showcased in a different museum in Stockholm, Sweden, which we also visited.  But it didn’t have anything to do with refugees 🙂

The winners’ display – each is on a separate piece of paper, and they all rotate through the ceiling!  

Is Freedom & Security the same thing?

Christian Immigrants in Oslo

While in Oslo, Norway, we had the chance to visit the American Lutheran Congregation there.  This church is about 55 years old – built by American immigrants!

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Norway is a traditionally Lutheran country – since the reformation 500 years ago.  But a handful of Americans working in Oslo in the 1950s wanted their own English-speaking American style church.  So, they reversed history!  After a century of Norwegian Immigrants to the US building European-style churches in the midwest, the Americans in Oslo asked for help from their American friends to financially support their new American-style building in Norway!

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Today, Pastor Joel (a graduate of Luther Seminary!) leads the congregation in English worship, including a very welcoming communion, and a very friendly children’s message.  There’s a multi-national feel to the building, with a globe-shaped candelabra in the front and multi-colored windows all around.

The congregation is really diverse.  When we visited, There were people of all Nationalities there.  Some looked Norwegian, but were actually American 😉  Some looked American but were actually South African 😉  Pretty soon, I stopped guessing! The congregation is full of members and visitors from all over the world, with about 25 countries or languages represented amongst their regular attendees.

We met two Farsi-speaking immigrants, too.

After a great weak at Farsi Conference in Denmark, we were surprised to meet more immigrants from Iran and Afghanistan.  I was even more surprised to learn that Javed and Mohammad had been in Norway for 9 and 13 years respectively.

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Do the math on that.  Mohammad (Denim jacket) came to Norway from Iran in 2003 – three years before the US imposed sanctions – and Javed (black jacket) came to Norway from Afghanistan in 2007 – around the time we sent a ‘surge’ of soldiers into that war.

They walked into Turkey and found a way from there into Europe, eventually landing in Norway.  They’ve been in limbo ever since.

Mohammad is embarrassed of his name.  He converted to Christianity in Iran, and fled to Norway fearing religious persecution.  Christian converts in Iran are disowned by their families, imprisoned, and often killed.  Even though he’s been here for 13 years, and the Iranian human rights violations against Christians is universally acknowledged, he has never received asylum status. Every 6 months he needs to re-apply for another 6 month pass.  He says that in order to get a job, he needed to speak Norwegian and have either a license or a degree, but that once he had such training, his asylum was denied, because he could theoretically work somewhere else.

Javed became a Christian on the journey.  He had heard of Jesus, but never had a chance to read the Bible, or hear about Christianity, or experience God’s love until he left that country.  He met Christians who were working with refugees, and had a chance to ask questions and read the Bible.  God worked through those experiences to change his heart and his life.

Despite these setbacks, they are thrilled to live in a country where they can worship openly and talk about their faith.  The freedom to worship is so important to them.
Even if they have no personal security – no promise that of a permanent home, or a long-term residence permit.
What a choice – freedom to worship or security to live safely.

No One can stop the Spirit of God

Their stories reinforced what we had just been learning in Denmark:  the Holy Spirit is at work in the Farsi-speaking people of Iran and Afghanistan.  But the more converts, the angrier the government becomes.  (More info on Iran and Afghanistan persecution of Christians.)

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Mohammad and Javed wanted to tell us about the Ayatollas of their country.  In their words, these men are not Muslims; they are power-hungry dictators.  In many cases, they cannot read the Koran, because they do not speak Arabic.  They try very much to impose their own version of Taliban-enforced Shari’a law on the people of their mosques.  There is no room for questions, no room for faith.  Just blind obedience.

We talked about the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

Martin Luther very much wanted common people to have the Bible in their own language, and to be able to talk about their faith, to ask questions and connect with God directly, in order to experience more grace in their lives.

This reality of Norwegian Christianity made a difference in the lives of Mohammad and Javed.  Once they read the Bible in their own language, once they talked with Christians who loved them and cared about them as people, they could no longer deny God’s work in the world.  Once they began praying to a loving God in their own language, they began to accept that Jesus died for them – that God’s grace was for them, too.

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What’s the Controversy?

When I hear stories like Mohammad’s and Javed’s, I remember why I’m doing this work. God knows our stories.  We aren’t statistics – we are beloved children.  Mohammad and Javed are God’s children, too.

But in a country that is majority ‘Christian’, the conversation about Asylum seekers is all about the economy.  Not about grace.
Immigration to Norway has grown from 5% of the population in 1992 to 15% of the population today, and people are getting scared. Even though immigration has had a positive impact on the economy, and asylum seekers like Mohammad and Javed really want to integrate into Christian churches, people are still carrying fear of immigrants.

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Mohammad and Javed are showing the Christians of the world what it means to rely on God’s power and to seek God first.  They do not have wives or children, they do not have permanent residency, they do not have stable jobs or a promised future here on earth. But despite their lack of earthly stability, they are rejoicing in their Christian freedom to worship and pray and live their faith on purpose.

Freedom and security might not be the same thing.  But what if western countries were able to support both?  What if God is calling us to welcome immigrants in order to grow our faith?  What if by sharing our security, we can receive their shared faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I once had a life

2 more stories of Christian Iranians

We had the chance to hear so many stories from our new friends at Farsi Conference in Denmark.  Today, I get to share 2 of them with you.

First, please take 3 minutes to watch Thomas tell his story.

We got to spend a lot of time with Thomas, but even so, he didn’t want to tell all the details of his story.  It’s too painful to explain why you had to leave your entire family, who loves you, and your entire life, which was so full of promise.  Yes, he left for his faith, but I’m sure he’d prefer to have it all, just like I do – to be able to openly worship God in his own country, while living in peace with his neighbors and friends and family.  We live in an unequal world – where people like me get to have it all, and people like Thomas have to choose between faith and security. Thanks be to God, he has found a new life and a new family and a new church in Denmark.  I’m on this journey to share stories like his, because I want more asylees to have it all – a faith worth dying for, and a chance to live that faith surrounded by family and friends.

Another man at the camp we heard about but didn’t get to meet was featured in the local newspaper:

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click on this link for the Danish article and then, click on “allow to translate” when the pop-up from Google comes up 🙂  http://aoib.dk/artikel/engang-havde-jeg-et-liv
Mamood has PTSD and war wounds, leaving his children behind for their own safety.
“It is an unimaginably difficult life situation, and I need miracles. It was Denmark that made me a Christian. Here I experienced pure love in Christian congregations”

Please pray for Thomas, Mamood, and the Danish church which is welcoming them.  Thank you for your support and prayers while we’re on this journey.  Stories from Oslo coming soon!

 

Oslo

Anna & Elsa are on vacation

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Bottom Picture is the Akershus Fortress in Oslo.  It is on the coast of Norway, defending the city of Oslo.  It’s been there for 700 years, and has never been taken by force.
The top picture is the castle in “Frozen” movie where Anna and Elsa grow up.  The word is that the Frozen movie is based on Norway’s landscape, including this castle.

But, since it’s currently all melted and warm in Norway, the princesses seem to be on vacation. We haven’t seen them 😉 We did our best to look for them!

City of Sculptures

Oslo has this great, free, open park full of sculptures.  It’s called “frogner park” but nearly everyone calls it by the artist’s name “Vigeland”.  There are 212 sculptures in 80 acres of the park, but a lot of them are centered on this beautiful bridge and fountain area in the center.  I was super excited to visit… and then we got there to find out nearly every sculpture is a naked person.  Seriously.  How am I supposed to put that  on my Pastor Blog?

There are other great sculptures all over town, though.  Maybe because of this park (which was designed from 1927-1943), there are now fountains and sculptures everywhere – and they’re all clothed.  Most of them are Norwegian people we don’t know, but we thought these looked fun!

Pearl Seaways – a floating hotel

We splurged a little on a great overnight ferry ride between Copenhagen & Oslo, based on a friend’s recommendation.  This cost about the same price as a hotel room or transportation, but it was both in one!

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We got to float for about 17 hours between the cities, see the landscape of Norway, Sweeden, and Denmark, swim in the hot tub, sleep, shop, eat, use wifi 🙂 Overall, it was very fun.  Definitely recommend it!

This is the “Hamlet” castle, on the tip of Denmark, and a city in Sweeden on the coast. 

Icebergs & Vikings

The Oslo Opera House is a new construction – only about 10 years old.  It is designed to look like a giant iceberg, and tourists can walk on its roof any time of the day or night!

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There is a glass viking ship sculpture in the water just next to this (the marble of the Opera House glides right into the ocean).

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And, while I was feeling very happy to be here, I decided to channel some of my inner viking, just for kicks:

 

 

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The cruise ship people seemed very friendly, actually.  I’d recommend a Scandinavian Cruise – if you don’t mind the cold!  (it’s probably just barely warmer than an Alaskan cruise).

Copenhagen

Just do it!

I never really considered Denmark as a vacation destination.  Most Americans who visit Europe go to England, France, Spain, or Italy. After a few days in Scandinavia, I’d definitely recommend it!

1.  Everyone speaks English

I thought it would be hard, as I don’t speak Danish (or Icelandic, or Norwegian, or Swedish).  But most people in those countries speak English, and they’re happy to help.  Even most of the store clerks can help us find something.

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ok, this is unusual, but the Danish Christian Bookstore has English language Christian music CDs 

2.  It’s easy to get around

We took public transport for about $4 per ride.  way less crowded and many fewer pickpockets than either Barcelona or Rome or Paris.  We also got to ride bicycles in Copenhagen, which is a bonus fun thing to do!

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3.  It’s Not that expensive

Everyone complains about the costs in Copenhagen and the rest of Scandinavia.  Honestly, we don’t see the complaints.  Taxes are included in the posted prices, there is no tipping at restaurants, and there are several free tourist spots.  Overall, a restaurant meal is about the same price in Copenhagen as it is in New York City.

The Trinity Church was free to enter.  The round tower was only a few dollars.  Parks and the outside of castles are free – or very cheap.  There’s plenty of reasonable options.

4.  It’s fun!

There are castles and cathedrals, an amusement park, and lots of lakes.  The weather in July is great for northern US folks – mid 70s only, and a light rain jacket was all we needed.  Totally recommend!

Radical Hospitality

When God’s Gospel is preached in Words and Actions

David & I got to spend 5 days at a Church Conference in Denmark, with Danish Lutherans and Farsi-speaking Immigrants.  It was awesome. We had no idea what to expect, and it completely changed most of our expectations.  Check out the video below for more info (it’s about 6 minutes long, but worth it – because the camp was so exciting!)

Peace and Welcome

One of the local Danish churches welcoming Immigrants also sponsored the Farsi Conference.  Our new friends showed us their church.

It reminded me of the Denmark version of Shalom – they are a new church, only about 30 years old, with a new building, only about 10 years old. They are very focused on mission work in their community and around the world, even though they are mainly a middle-class (not wealthy) community.  They have several staff, and they work to ensure new people feel very comfortable.

This is the church newsletter, a beautiful globe candelabra, and a personalized cross. 

The congregation has Bibles in several languages, translation of their worship, and even Farsi on the signs in the building.  Their pastor leads weekly Bible studies and conversation groups at the church, and also hosts “skype church” online with about 20 participants and a translator from all over the country.

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This church is becoming known for welcoming Immigrants.  In a country that is deeply divided about what to do with the Syrians flooding the country, this particular church is opening its doors to Persian Christians who are seeking Asylum in Denmark in order to practice their faith openly.  Please keep the church and its members in your prayers.

I’ll have one more story about Farsi Camp tomorrow, then OSLO info!

 

 

Building Relationships

What Summer camp was made for

We got to attend Church Summer Camp in Denmark, specifically for Farsi-speakers (mainly immigrants from Iran and Afghanistan) of all ages.  About 200 people were there, and it was amazing.  I’ve got a great video to share tomorrow, but right now – pictures!

Many of the Farsi speakers (from Iran or Afghanistan) knew each other before conference.  Either they have been to conference together last summer, they attend one of the churches or mission center which were sponsoring the conference, or they are in the same refugee camp or detention center.  But a lot of them didn’t know anyone when they came, and they must have been just as scared as I was – what will we do there?  Will I meet anyone friendly?  Does anyone there speak my language?  Where are we sleeping?  What are we eating? By the end of conference, though, we were a big family.

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The conference was in this great facility that includes a grade school, a mission center, and a boarding high school – all Lutheran.  We stayed in dorm rooms, and ate in a cafeteria.

The conference was intentionally multi-lingual.  There’s 3 nationalities in the praise band (Persian, Danish, and South Korean), and we sang most songs in English and Farsi.  There were translation headsets for English and Danish speakers to use, so that the primary sermon could be in Farsi, to accommodate guests.  Song lyrics were often shown in Farsi, English and Farsi with European letters, and we would sing each verse multiple times in each language.

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Most Danish Lutheran churches do all their worship in Danish, with maybe one or two English praise songs during communion.  A few have headset translation for immigrants, too.  At this camp, we got to sing, pray, listen, and read the Bible in multiple languages.  The adults were so excited to do that. Many of them left their countries in order to worship Christ freely, so they wanted to praise as loud as possible!

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Meals were served cafeteria – style.  Breakfast was Danish (yogurt, bread and butter, oatmeal/cereal, coffee and tea).  Lunch and Dinner were a combination of Danish and Iranian foods – sometimes Iranian with a Danish twist. Evening dessert was danish cookies or cake, but with Persian tea.  We ate liver-pate and hummus, lettuce salad and tabouli, rice and potatoes, carrot cake and tzatiki.  David & I loved it!

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Dave & I even made a few new friends.  🙂  We were just as much out of place as the Persian immigrants, really, as we didn’t speak the local language, and didn’t know the local customs or any of the people.  But the Danish leaders of the conference welcomed us immediately, spoke to us in English, and tried very much to show us their gifts of hospitality.  Julie (coloring with me above) volunteered to translate for me much of the time when it wasn’t practical for a headset, because we were about the only people there who spoke neither Danish nor Farsi.  She did a great job, but also became a great friend.  Benny & Susanna and Thomas, a family from her church, and Pastor Klaus, her priest, also were incredibly nice, and willing to answer a lot of intrusive American Questions!

 

 

Sparrows, cages, and God’s presence in our lives

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
Matthew 10:29

I have heard many sermons about the sparrow verse above.  Mainly, in North America, the story goes that God loves us so much, because God loves even the little sparrows.  That is a great story for people like me, who are happy and loved.

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If you are a person living in captivity, you hear the verse very differently.

Sparrows in the field are quite happy, and have no worries (Jesus has another story about worrying less, like the sparrows).  Sparrows are only sold once they have been captured and held in cages. They have become a commodity, worth something, albeit very little, to the captor, who now holds the sparrow’s life in his hand.  The sparrows might wish for a miracle – to be set free again to return to their natural habitat. Instead, they will be bought and sold and killed – they will die in captivity.

The immigrants at this camp are now being held, in captivity, at the will and under the power of a powerful person who creates the cages around them.  They are not promised that Jesus will fix all of their immigration trouble.  God does not promise that they will leave the cage of detention.  God instead promises that even when they die, even in captivity, God will be with them.

The people I met needed to hear a different story about God than I did.  Maybe.

They needed a reminder that God cares about Sparrows – even in cages, even as commodities, even when they fall and die.  They needed a reminder that God is more powerful than the evil which enslaves us.

But don’t I also need that message?

Maybe I am not enslaved as a White American.  Maybe I do not have fear of my police or my government.  But maybe Satan is still trying to put me into cages.  There are always cages of sin all around us.  Sins that I do, and sins that are done to me or around me, and these sins create barriers to my freedom.  Sometimes I do not feel free to be who God made me to be, and instead, I am stuck in a small cage of human expectations and human experiences.

God doesn’t promise that all of our problems will be gone.
God promises that we will never be alone.

Because we are stuck in the cages of this earth, cages created by sin, Jesus left heaven’s freedom for earth’s cages – suffering death on the cross – so that the cages can be opened, and destroyed, and they can no longer define us.  We will be in cages here on earth.  And we will die in cages here on earth.  But eventually, we will be free to fly with God in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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