One of War’s Forgotten Casualties

NOTE: While I wrote this post three years ago, it is more relevant today than ever. I just got off the phone with a national leader who works with refugees and he described how his organization gets waves of new refugees after each international crisis. Currently, Syrians and Iraqi’s are pouring in, each with their own traumas, stories and humanity. The UN recently announced that 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced in 2013.


When pending or actual war invades the headlines of our news outlets and personal attention, we sometimes forget one of war’s worst casualties; displaced civilians.   In Libya alone, 75,000 people fled the country between February 19th and March 11th. Tens of thousands waited and continue to wait at the border seeking protection from their war torn homeland.

So what happens to them once they escape the war and oppression of their homeland?

Simply put, they become refugees who most likely will never be able to return to the life they once lived.  A migrant is one to leaves their country seeking socio-economic recovery, most often because of their homeland is experiencing oppression is some way.  In contrast, a refugee is fleeing physical persecution, oppression and/or war.  Death is an immediate reality.

When a refugee escapes their oppressive homeland, they most often have to live in a refugee camp awaiting resettlement in a more developed country.  While they keep their physical life, their daily reality is remains in dyer straights.  Sometimes refugees live in these camps for up to 20 years awaiting resettlement.

My wife and I work with a refugee family from Somalia each week.  After fleeing persecution in Somalia, they lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for years waiting for resettlement.  They are now in San Diego (which is a resettlement city) living in a crowded apartment complex alongside refugees from dozens of other countries.  The family we work with has 8 members and lives in a tiny two-bedroom apartment.

While modern day refugees have escaped physical death, they have experienced profound social and relational death.  First, they have been forced from their physical homes and the rich culture/heritage that make them up.   Second, a refugee family is NOT resettled alongside the rest of their extended family.  The family of our Somalian friends are now scattered all over the U.S. and Europe.  With their modest income, seeing the family they grew up with is now close to impossible.

The casualty of war that is often overlooked is that of the refugee’s loss of “home.” Everything they would equate with “home” has been taken (physical home, family relationships, culture, etc…).  It is no wonder that refugee’s often cling to their last symbol of “home” in the form of their inherited religion/tradition.  Without a physical setting or extended family, their identity is now only found in such tradition.

For this reason our friends from Somalia quickly cover their heads when we come to their door, have passages from the Quran on their wall and obey a certain diet.  Their tradition is all they have left and it offers them the security of “home.”

From early in the Story, YHWH commanded his people to make a “home” for the foreigner within their community and tradition.  Jesus always had a special place for the deserted outcast and socio-political refugee.  May those that follow Jesus (and those that don’t) mourn the casualty of the loss of “home” for those fleeing Libya today.  And may we honor their traditions while offering them a “home” within ours.

How can we help?

  • THIS is a good article with some suggestions
  • Follow the International Rescue Commission and/or UN Refugee Agency on Twitter to keep up to date
  • Get connected with local organizations that resettle refugees and help them in their transition to a new “home” -- See the IRC and UN Refugee Agency websites for more info
  • Pray and advocate for the stories of the refugees to be told and considered in time of conflict


Turning the Page of a Generation

It’s been a week since my last post and it wouldn’t make sense for me to jump back in without processing a bit of the past week.  After all, blogging is as much a devotional time for me as it is a writing discipline.

My wife and I lost both of our last two remaining grandparents. After a last minute flight to Omaha and a 4 hour drive to the small farming town of Red Cloud, we made it to the bedside of Jan’s grandpa.  Although he was extremely weak, we trust that he heard our voices and little Ruby’s cry.  Jan’s mom (Char) told him that we had all made it to be with him and that he was free to finally let go.  The next morning, with Jan, Ruby and Char at his side, he took his last breath.

The night before we left for Kansas we spent an extended time with my 93 year old grandma who lives down here in San Diego.  Her health was also deteriorating quickly and in our goodbye’s that evening, we had a sense it would be our last time with her.  After all the family made it to her bedside, her son (my uncle) told her that we would be OK and she was free to finally let go.  A couple days later, while in the Omaha airport to fly back to San Diego, I got the call that she had taken her last breath.

It was a week where the Entangled Theology of life and death was made a present reality.

The Pain

It’s strange turning the page on a whole generation.  Our parents are now the grandparents and the page turns.  The lives of our grandparents connected us to our heritage.  With a combined 180 years of life, they were around when WWI was at its peak and the Model T had only recently hit the road.  Further, they not only symbolize our roots in Ireland (Jan) and Sweden (me), but our childhood.  Driving around the small farm town of Red Cloud, Janny reflected on all the summers she spent riding tractors, swimming in the community pool and running around her grandparent’s farmhouse.  I think back to playing Little League and looking in the stands to see my grandma dialed into the action or when she would wake me up in the middle of the night to eat ice cream and play cards.  It will be strange not having Ruby know these two like we did.

The Joy

These two lived relationally rich and long lives.  To be honest, in their suffering towards the end, we prayed for a peaceful release from this life.   While it hurts not to have them physically present, we have years of experiences to reflect on and share with our children.  Further, it was incredible to be present with them in these final days.  We have no regrets and are now realizing that one of the central purposes for our move to San Diego was to be able to spend so much time with my grandma in these final months as representatives of our whole family.  Finally, as followers of the resurrected Jesus, we can’t help but be stirred to joy as we anticipate a reunion at the culmination of God’s restoration project for humanity.

Although a whirlwind of experiences and emotions that we would rather not have to endure anytime soon, we are reminded of the value of being fully present with those we love.  May we represent and extend the legacy that our loved ones pass on to each of us.

Thin Places: Today’s Celtic Spirituality

My friend Kenny and I get to hang out pretty often (The story behind our first meeting is pretty amazing: read about it here).  It is usually a random gathering as I see him sitting up against his favorite telephone pole as I walk to my favorite coffee shop.  Sometimes I act busy and just say hello, ask a few questions and keep walking to the coffee shop.  Other days, I slow down, sit up against the garage door next to his telephone pole and have some quality conversation. Kenny is brilliant and always remembers the content of our previous conversations, so it’s not hard to get into some meaningful dialog.

I don’t know where Kenny sleeps at night (he makes it clear that he doesn’t tell anyone), but he sits at the base of the same tree every morning and at the base of the same telephone pole every afternoon.  He and I have an informal “book study” going on, but he usually just wants to share a couple stories and show me the best coupons in the local newspaper.

St. Columba was a Celtic Monk who while living on the island of Iona off of Scotland would climb to the top of a nearby hill and pray a blessing over his brothers and over the land.  He called it a “thin place,” meaning heaven and earth were only thinly separated. Further, he had visions of all being restored to God’s original order.

When I sit with Kenny, I experience a “thin place.” When I choose to see clearly, I can see the face of Jesus in his eyes and I hope he can see Jesus in mine.  I picture the day when his fractured reality is restored and he not only has a roof to keep him from the soaking rain, but when his inner being filled with the Spirit.

I hope to seek out “thin places” in my daily life.  It is less about location and more about being open to participate in the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom as inaugurated in Jesus. It is about living into God’s ultimate vision of restoration in my life and in all Creation.

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