Life in Limbo

Persians & Persecution

This week we are at a Danish Church Camp for immigrants and refugees.  I had planned to come to learn more about how the Danish Folk Church (‘people’s church’) works with refugees.  I am learning a little about that, and I promise to share in another post, but mainly I am learning about the culture of Persia (modern-day Iran).  Michigan has almost no Persians/ Iranians, so even though I know a lot about immigration, I don’t know much about their stories.

In case your geography is as bad as mine, check out this map:

persia Europe map.jpg

I think that this map is actually showing a tourist train route, but we can get the idea.  Iranians with  access to money or passports or transportation can fairly easily get into Turkey (or at least, they could in the past).  If they are able to get to Istanbul, they can take a boat to Greece or walk/train/fly into Europe.  Right now, Turkey & Europe are fighting over refugees and immigrants, but the reality changes almost monthly.

Most of the 100+ people at the camp this week have been persecuted
because of their Christian faith.  

I was able to lead a Bible Study about the Old Testament Book of Daniel.  In this story, 4 Hebrews are captured by the Babylonians (modern-day Iraq) but given a chance at a student visa and permanent ‘security’ in Babylon.  Daniel & his friends keep to their Hebrew faith despite significant persecution.  They are refugees trying to keep their ‘true’ faith.

I tried to lead this study, asking if the lives of the modern-day refugees in the group are anything like Daniel’s story.  Their stories blew my mind.

IMG_20160712_115518

The three Persians in this picture (they don’t like to be called Iranian, because they have been persecuted by the current Iranian government) all fled to Europe out of fear for their lives.

Maria was a teacher, and one of her students’ families loaned her a Persian New Testament.  Once she read about Jesus, she could no longer morally teach the version of Islam that the current Iranian government forces her to teach.  She says she loved her students too much to teach them lies.  But if anyone found out she was a Christian, she would not only be fired, but she and her entire family could be executed.  She loves her father very much, but had to decide between her faith and her family.  She decided to come to Denmark 6 months ago.  Her paperwork is currently in limbo – she might get to stay, or she might be sent back.  She speaks English (studied at University) and wants to go to California to be a teacher.  But she will probably never see her family again.

Maria is at camp because it is a week of peace.  This is the first time she has been able to sing loudly, and speak in groups about her faith, and talk openly about
choosing Christ over safety.

The two boys in the photo have similar stories.  One of them was not really practicing Islam.  He didn’t read the Koran or go to prayers.  But he loves his mother and his sister and didn’t like the way the government told him to treat women as lesser citizens.  So he escaped to Europe for a new life, and on the road, he heard about Jesus.  Now, he is trying to learn more about this new faith, and live as a child of God.

IMG_20160712_200057

The man on the left of this picture, in the plaid shirt, also shared his story with the whole camp.  He was a ‘business’ man in Iran – working with illegal sales of food and other items during the sanctions.  He said that he justified his rich lifestyle and crooked business deals as ‘helping’ the people who were suffering.  But then, his brother told him about Jesus.

Once Arash believed in Jesus, his entire life changed.  He could no longer participate in his shady/ unscrupulous business practices, but since everyone knew him as a crooked businessman, they wouldn’t hire him for a legitimate job.  Once his wife knew he was a Christian, she divorced him and turned his name into the government so he would be executed.  He escaped to Greece.

While in Greece, he met a friend at the camps, and they went to church together, and lived and worked in Greece for 2 years.  One day, another acquaintance told him, “you should go to Denmark”.  He didn’t want to go there, and he didn’t know anyone there, but he started to have dreams about Denmark, and the church prayed for him for a month.  Eventually, he felt that God was calling him to Denmark.  He arrived here 2 years ago.  When he first arrived, he was in detention center, and they took his wallet and phone and list of all his friends in Europe, so he didn’t have any way to call and ask for help from a friend.  He spent his time in Detention reading the Bible.

One day in Detention center, a Danish man came up to him and asked him in English, “are you reading the Bible?”  Aresh thought it was funny that a Dane and a Persian were having a conversation in English about a Jewish religion 😉 but eventually, he found out that the Danish man was a pastor in the Lutheran Apostolic Church of Denmark.

Aresh is now a member of that church, and leads the Persian-speaking refugee community at the church in the area.  He is a worship leader at our camp.  He can never return to Iran.  He will never see any of his family ever again.  He might not ever work full time again.  He might never have permanent papers again.  But he says that his life is better now that he has Jesus.

map of Christian persecution

These aren’t the stories I thought I’d hear.  I thought I’d talk to Muslims and Christians about humanitarian aid in Europe and political struggles.  Instead, the Christians all want to talk about freedom in Christ, and their new life in Christ.  The Persian Christians want us to all know that they want their country to allow Christianity, because more of their family wants to be Christians, but aren’t strong enough to leave their country and live as refugees.

Pray for Iran, please.  Pray for my new friends Maria & Aresh.  Pray for the Danish people who are serving them.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The “People’s Church” of Denmark

This week, we’re spending time in Denmark because a friend of a friend invited us to Church Camp here.   The camp is very awesome, but had spotty internet yesterday, so I am a little delayed in my posting.  More about Camp and Camp stories coming tomorrow, I promise!

IMG_20160709_184806.jpg

Denmark has been Christian for nearly 1,000 years, and it has been Lutheran since the Protestant Reformation nearly 500 years ago.  The Reformation – the arrival of Lutheranism – was a big deal in Denmark’s history, because it meant that they could separate from the “Holy Roman Empire” and be more independent.  That was important enough that the rich family which helped to bring about the Reformation to Denmark built the 3rd largest castle in the country.

DSC_0818.JPG

This thing is huge.  It was built in the 1600s, re-built a few generations later, then re-built again in the 1800s.  Now, it is a museum of Danish history.  And huge.

So today, about 80% of Danes are “Lutheran” – as in, they are baptized, confirmed, married, and buried in the local Lutheran Church.  Until 2005, many small towns didn’t have a way to distribute birth, marriage, or death certificates apart from the church.  But, now, only about 50% of people in Copenhagen are connected to the church at all, and only about 5% of the country attends church with any regularity.

Even though the average person in Denmark barely knows anything about the faith or the church, they still call it the “people’s” church.

Folkekirken logo 2012.png

Pastors are not government employees, per se.  They receive 40% of their salary from the ‘government’ or from some sort of imposed 1% income tax.  But the constitution says that the politicians cannot interfere in church business. Also, the elected church council ‘hires’ a pastor, kind of like in most Lutheran churches in the US.

Then, the refugees came.

Denmark has had immigration for a long time – it is a stable, European Union Country.  People come from all over the world to be here.

400px-COB_data_Denmark.PNG

26 years ago, the International Christian Church center in Copenhagen began Cross-Cultural awareness camps.  4 years ago, they began working with Persian refugees (from Iran and Afghanistan).  The current Refugee Crisis is somewhat stressing the “people’s” church – because, is it a state church, in which case, they should support the refugees the government has decided can live here, or is it a people’s church, in which case the people should decide what to do – or, an even radical idea – what if God wants us to tell these refugees about the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  What if the “people’s church” is called to use regular people to reach more people with the gospel?  There is a very real fear that the new immigrants, mainly from Muslim countries, will not want to integrate into the “people’s” Lutheran church.  But I’m meeting a lot of people this week who are excited to be in Denmark, where they can learn about Christianity, and be free to attend the church with people from all over the globe.

More Camp stories tomorrow – I promise!

 

Mercy in my Backyard

Today, many Christians around the world heard the story of the Good Samaritan preached in church.  My father was one of the preachers sharing God’s word for today – and this is an excerpt of his sermon.

Mercy!  Luke 10:25-37 

Run!  Go away!  Leave this place, now!  These commands have been given multiple times to an untold number of people as a warning that they need to quickly leave where they are to avoid physical harm or even death.  As a result of these urgent warnings to flee, many thousands of people have emigrated from their homes to new lands or countries where they have put down roots and become part of the fabric of a new society.

The United States has seen multiple waves of immigrants over the centuries that came to our shores to avoid the potato famine in Ireland, the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany that led to the Holocaust, and many other causes.  Often these immigrants or refugees, for that is indeed what they were, found a land that was not as welcoming as it could or should have been as our sinful nature often has a NIMBY attitude, that refugees be dealt with somewhere else and “not in my back yard” or community.  Unfortunately, even our own country that was founded on principles derived from Scripture has at times caused the formation of refugees due to our treatment of the Native Americans who were here before us, and the enslavement of people who “didn’t look like us”, among other events.

This process of refugee formation continues today at multiple locations around the globe, including wars in various Islamic countries, famine in parts of Africa, along with a lack of economic opportunity in South and Central America.  Throughout history, both those who were refugees and those who caused them to become refugees have turned to their god in an attempt to ensure they would receive eternal life, in spite of their ongoing attempts to attain temporal advantages at the expense of others.

O Lord, You are always Merciful and willing to help us in our times of need.  Help us to reflect Your love and mercy to those around us, who are all our neighbors, at all times, even when it is not convenient or those in need are perceived as our enemies.

You can read the entire story in Luke 10:25-37, but here’s the summary:
A lawyer asks Jesus, “who is my neighbor” in an attempt to find a loophole in the Jewish law, “love your neighbor as yourself”. Jesus tells the story of a man traveling a dangerous road between Jericho and Jerusalem, where a nefarious group robbed and beat a traveler, leaving him injured on the side of the road to die.  A priest passed by, but did not want to make himself ‘unclean’ by helping.  A Levite, or priest assistant, also passed by the injured man, but was afraid that he would also be robbed if he took time to help.  Finally, a well-to-do Samaritan was travelling the route and had compassion on the injured traveler, taking time and money to care for the injured man.

good samaritan.jpg
After the story, the lawyer admits to Jesus that the Samaritan was the one who had been a true neighbor to the injured traveler, because he had been the one to show mercy.  Jesus’ response was to instruct all listening that they were also to show mercy to everyone, even those who were different nationalities or held different religious beliefs.  This instruction was also given to us as we too are to be merciful to all people, even those who suddenly appear in our community, including those we had previously classified as our enemies, as the Jews had classified the Samaritans.

Our natural unwillingness to show mercy is just one of the many sins that we commit each day, which is why we need the Savior who came to earth for the sole purpose of living the sinless life we are unable to live and then took our punishment upon Himself, suffering the punishment and death we deserve for all our sins.  When this Savior lives within us as a result of the faith freely given to us by God, we will joyfully imitate Him in showing mercy to those around us.  Showing mercy to those less fortunate than ourselves is also contained in our Old Testament Lesson for today from Leviticus where we are instructed to provide for the poor and sojourner, which includes travelers, immigrants, and refugees by providing a portion of our bounty to them.

During this election year there is much discussion in the press and from the candidates of how to “deal with” the issues of immigration, both legal and illegal, as well as refugees.  Regardless of political decisions, each of us here should show mercy and support the church in its efforts to show mercy to those who have suffered from natural or political disasters and become displaced from their homes.  Among other projects, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is assisting our partner church, the German Free Lutheran Church, or SELK, in ministering to the thousands of Syrian refugees that have flooded into Germany during the last couple of years.

SELK refugees.jpg

As a result of the work of the SELK, where tens of thousands receive care for their physical needs, over a thousand Muslim refugees have become Christians.

Although the debate will continue as to the number of refugees to be allowed into our country from multiple areas, our task as children of the Heavenly Father is to show mercy to each of them, assisting them with their physical needs while proclaiming the Love of Christ to them through our words and actions.

Although most people will agree that we should always show mercy to others, few will actually put it into practice.  Each of us have probably passed up multiple opportunities to assist those in need over the years for what we perceived at the time to be legitimate reasons, yet we are to be imitators of Christ who is always willing to help us each time we call upon Him.

Although few of us will travel the world to show mercy to others, each of us are commanded by our Lord to show mercy to those we come into contact with on a daily basis.  We are to share our bounty with them to provide healing of their wounds of body and soul, irrespective of what their nationality is, what their race or gender is, or what their religious beliefs are.  When we show mercy for those who are displaced for any reason, we are imitating Christ who lives within us and witnessing our faith to all those around us.  My prayer is that we will willingly and joyfully show mercy to others at every opportunity.  Amen.

Thank you to Deacon Ronald C. Nieman, of the Michigan District of the Lutheran-Church, Missouri Synod, for this guest post.  Full sermon was originally preached at Cedar Crest Lutheran Church, White Lake, MI on July 10, 2016.

 

 

Beautiful, but deadly: Iceland, Day#2

This Island wants to kill you

In a place where the sun never sets, the water is boiling, and the ground is a rocky mess, I understand why the first inhabitants believed in elves and trolls.  I mean, it’s gorgeous here, but it takes a very strong, independent spirit to figure out how to survive it.  Before Christianity, why not explain the northern lights as elves painting the sky?  If I had the choice to tell my child that the ground might burn their skin off, or share a story about trolls… I might choose the trolls.

Either way, not a lot of people live here.  The entire Island is about the population of Washtenaw County (300,000), with most people living near the capital city.  Almost everyone in the city speaks English and drives cars, so it’s easy to understand why so many Americans visit here – and there’s over 1.7 million tourists per year!

We drove something called the Golden Circle tour, which is 6 stops in about 400 Kilometers round- trip.  Took us all day, but we felt like astronauts or geologists by the time we got home!

Seltun Geothermal Area:  The ground is literally boiling sulfur.

DSC_0650

Karid Volcano Crater:  This was somehow created by an explosion under the earth.  Today, it’s just very full of bugs and ‘fresh’ water.

DSC_0669

Gulfoss Waterfall:  This is really beautiful, and the spray creates a lot of green grass.  DSC_0674

Geysir:  The one from which all other ‘geysers’ are named – really!  This one is very irregular, spraying 20-40 meters about every 8-10 minutes.  Nearby are boiling puddles. DSC_0702

As we drove around, we passed a lot of fields where sheep were grazing, and a lot of rocky areas that looked like the moon. Apparently, the early settlers liked the stability of the weather here – only about 30 degrees in winter and 60 degrees in summer.  Just right for some vikings.

 

Consecration Lake

Christianity came to Iceland in 1000AD – just 130 years after the first Viking settlers &  Gaelic slaves arrived.  The cheiftans peacefully decided to all get baptized together in this warm lake, in order to maintain peace with King Olaf of Norway.

DSC_0724

The  adoption of Christianity had a great side effect – it brought written language to Iceland.  The Protestant Reformation had a similar side effect – it kept the Icelandic language alive, during a time when they were a colony of Denmark.  (The Catholics required literacy, and the Lutherans required worship in local languages.)

The Icelanders also had a Parliament from 930AD until 1798, which met for two weeks every June.  They had chieftans from all over the Island come to visit, and commoners could watch all of the proceedings.

The location of the former Parliament is called Pingvellir, and now it’s a national park.  The area is on the banks of the largest inland freshwater lake, and it was accessible from all areas of the Island (although, it took 17 days of walking for the chieftan from the east to get there.)

Visiting a country with such a long Christian history was really interesting – especially because the Christianization of the country hasn’t really impacted much of the history or modern lives of Icelanders.  At least, not like Ireland or Poland or Italy – where being Catholic is synonymous with being patriotic.  Maybe Lutherans are a little more relaxed in their expression of faith.  Or maybe their history of Christianity highlights peace and democracy in a way that other countries haven’t experienced.  Either way, it’s a great way to kick off a European vacation!

 

Pictures of Survival

How we Survived

Most of the pictures of refugee children we currently see look something like this:

refugee family camp.jpg

Right now, a lot of Refugees who are arriving in Europe are stuck in camps like that one.

We don’t get a lot of pictures of their journey from their homes to the camp.  With the help of a professional photographer, Save the Children re-staged the journeys of several refugee children.

african refugees.jpg

You can see all 10 of their moving pictures here:  How We Survived.

70 years ago, the refugee crisis looked like this:

150910-wwii-refugees-20.jpg

and you can see more pictures of WWII refugees here:  What the last Crisis looked like. (click on the arrows under the top picture to see them all)

Vikings, Lutherans, and other Explorers

Adventure Day #1:  Iceland!

We’ve begun the first leg of our year-long Graduate Preaching Fellowship adventure – 6 weeks in Europe! The goal of this summer is to learn how churches throughout Europe are handling the current Migration/ Refugee crisis, and bring that information back to the US, to share with churches here as we also prepare to welcome refugees.

But first, a few days of Sabbath Rest in Iceland.

IMG_20160706_142131.jpg

We literally tried to fit an entire summer into the month of June, and by the time we were packed, we were nearly too exhausted to leave.  But, David had planned on this, and intentionally scheduled a three day trip to Iceland as fun kick-off. Great idea.

Iceland is an Island of Immigrants.  And Lutherans.

Around the year 871, Norse Vikings arrived in Iceland with Gaelic slaves.  There’s no real evidence of who lived here before that, and since then, no one else has really joined them. In about the year 1000, the entire country converted to Christianity, and in the 1500s they all became Lutheran.  So today, 90% of the country are descendants of immigrants, and 80% are Lutherans.  All of which I learned today, visiting Reykjavik, its capital city.

IMG_20160706_152609.jpg
The Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church, with a statue of Leif Erikson (first explorer) in front

Explorers are everywhere

We had a lot of fun exploring Iceland’s capital city today.  Even if the sun never sets, so it’s easy to stay up late and get up early.

Harpa Concert Hall & Explorers Statue

Tomorrow – off to explore the Island’s nature-scape (including the location of the largest baptism in history – when every Icelander converted to Christianity!)

Samaritans & Refugees

Who is my neighbor?

Next Sunday, Christians all over the US will hear sermons about the “Good Samaritan” , because the assigned lectionary reading is from Luke 10:25-37.  But in an era of refugees, maybe we can look at the story a little differently.

Jesse Carey from the Christian publication Relevant reminds us:

This isn’t just a parable about helping someone in need: It’s about helping an “enemy” that even the so-called religious were unwilling to care for.

His essay on “The Parable of the Good Samaritan in an Era of Refugees” is worth a read – for pastors preparing for sermons, and for Christians everywhere.

samaritan refugees

The Samaritan gave all he had to save a person culture told him to hate.
Now it’s our turn to go and do likewise.

Check out http://lirs.org/ for practical ways you can support refugees, migrants, unaccompanied children, and asylum seekers around the world.

 

 

Ready for the Next Adventure

I’m not exactly adventurous

Surprises are not my friend.  I like to follow the rules, live by my to-do lists, take the path of less resistance.  I’m afraid of roller coasters and I drive under the speed limit.  I take my vitamins and wear sunscreen.  I am scared of change.  I cried at my high school graduation, and on my wedding day.  I want to know exactly what will happen next, and prepare for every eventuality.

But, I’ve always been intrigued by the excitement of travel.  My parents took us all over the US on our summer trips – seeing 45 US states by the time I was 21 (I’ve now been to 49!)  I got to visit China during middle school, and I took a semester abroad in college.  Each trip opened my eyes to people, geography, and history, teaching me through experience what I had previously only read in books (lots, and lots of books!).

Travel experiences have connected me to God’s story in dynamic ways.  On an average Sunday morning in a basic US church, I can imagine friends all around the world doing the same thing, in their language, and it reminds me that our prayers are all heard by the same God in heaven, who cares about all of us.

Then, I met a boy with a bike

Just a few months after traveling to Europe in college, I met a man who is also very responsible and sensible.  But he’s also a lot of fun.  Fun enough to build his own motorcycle and drive it around town.  I did not think that riding the motorcycle with him would be fun.  It sounded terrifying (No seatbelts!)

But, because I trusted him, I tried it once, just to be nice, and I prayed for angel protection the entire 2 minutes I was on the back of that motorcycle.

IMG_20160702_162017 (1).jpg

13 years later, I love riding on the back of my husband’s motorcycle.  But I won’t ride with anyone else.  I know that my DH has passed a safety class, and takes every precaution to keep me safe.  He drives slowly, and takes breaks for me; he chose a bike that keeps me comfortable.  The only other person I would ride with is my dad – who also takes those precautions.  I was raised with high standards.  🙂

Time for the next adventure

The exciting part of the picture above isn’t the motorcycle (we’ve been riding that for years).  The adventurous part of the picture above is my white collar – I’m just about ready to be ordained as a reverend in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  And in the months between now and then, I get to travel to 16+ countries on 3 continents, as a representative of the ELCA, learning more about the church’s work with the current global migration crisis, because I received Luther Seminary’s Graduate Preaching Fellowship.

If you had told me 5 years ago that today I would be packing my clerical collar as I embark on a 6-week European adventure, I would have laughed at you.

Getting ordained feels about like my first ride on that motorcycle.  I’m not sure where we’re going, or how long we’re going to be there, but I’m praying for angel protection, because there is no seat belt, and I am scared to death.

Going to Europe this time feels only a little less scary than my first trip there 14 years ago.  That time, I knew I would be homesick, and I knew I would be scared, but I didn’t know how much those 16 weeks would change my life.  Now, I know I will be homesick, and I know how much these 6 weeks would change my life.

But this time,  I’m not scared.

Last Sunday in church, we sang this song together:
     I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind
     The God of angel armies  Is always by my side
     Whom shall I fear?
A lifetime of travel has taught me something important about following God, wherever that faith might lead us:  If we are going where God has sent us, nothing can stop us, but if it is our own idea, it will fail. (Acts 5:39)
The next year, hubby & I will be traveling around the world to learn more about God’s work in the world, especially in the midst of people on the move.  We strongly believe that God has prepared us for this moment, and we are excited to embark on the journey.
Please keep us in your prayers.
Follow the blog (click on the “follow” button on the right) to get updates.
Invite me to visit your church or community group, to share pictures and stories.
We can’t wait to see where this adventure leads us.

 

Can you Imagine?

It could happen here, too

When North Americans hear about the refugee crisis, it sounds so far away.  The most common response I hear is, “I cannot even imagine what it’s like”

We cannot imagine a situation so chaotic that we would leave without our passports, without a map, without a plan to go somewhere legally and safe.  We cannot imagine choosing which child you would carry onto a boat or across the desert – knowing that your hands can only hold one of them at a time.  We cannot imagine that our government would forget and ignore us.

But maybe the West Virginia Flooding or the failed evacuation of NOLA during Hurricane Katrina can give us a clue.  Sometimes, a disaster hits, and there is no warning.  There is no time to exit quietly, to plan a reasoned escape, to gather the prescription medications and the family photos, to empty the bank account and fill the car with gas, to charge your electronics and wear the right shoes.  Sometimes, we just have to run.

But I cannot imagine what that looks like.

I haven’t had to escape a storm, or flee an attacker.  My life hasn’t been threatened, and my government hasn’t disintegrated.  So even though I spend a lot of my time learning about why someone becomes a refugee, I cannot truly imagine what it looks like.

Alicia Keys imagined it for me.  For World Refugee Day, she and her team produced this amazing video:  What if it happened here?  What if California was the civil war?  What if my family was fleeing?  What would it look like?  This is about 9 minutes long, but worth your time.

I still cannot truly imagine what it is like to leave behind everything.  But I can imagine the relief of finding someone who is helpful and kind.  And I can hope to be that kind person at a point in the journey.