Like many of you, Miki and I have been gripped by the news reports of the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris on November 13 – and the subsequent investigations taking place in the region. We’ve been both horrified by the violence and inspired by the outpouring of love and heroism of everyday people in a city we so dearly love.
Paris has been a dream of mine since I was a little boy. My parents recall me proclaiming as a young child that I planned to move to Paris and be an artist. My father’s family can trace their roots back to France. Miki and I honeymooned in Paris. I have been very fortunate to work and make music in France – and through that journey I’ve gained many beautiful friends in Paris over the years. I love “ville lumière” (the “City of Enlightenment”).
By itself, the fact that I’ve friends in Paris and have traveled there for different reasons over the years does not give me any particular insight into this event or justify your reading my sentiments here. The only reason I’m compelled to talk about this tragic event is because of our recent work with Syrian refugees traveling through Europe and their connection to this terrorist act.
When news reports started trickling in about hundreds of refugees making their way across the Mediterranean every day to seek refuge in the EU from their war-torn homelands, Miki and I started paying attention. Mind you, there has been an ongoing refugee crisis for years now in Turkey and Jordan – and I’m ashamed to say that it was out of sight, out of mind.
As the numbers shifted from hundreds to thousands of arrivals every day, we began to ask God if and how we should help. I’ve only had a few times in my life where I feel like I received a clear word from God – and one of them was the call to help these travelers as they made their way north into central Europe. Miki felt the same conviction – and we decided to act.
Knowing that we could not enter into this work alone – we began asking for your support to help us to do what little we could to try and assist in the humanitarian effort. We were surprised by the response – mostly positive, but also some very negative reactions to our plans. We’ve lost some support because of it, and have received both public and private criticisms of our efforts.
Miki and I really hadn’t considered the geopolitical implications of this mass migration into Europe. We simply saw people in need and felt called to help. As the negative responses came in, we began to understand how polarizing this whole event could be. People wanted to express their opposition from a political or strategic position, but we continually expressed our desire to keep that out of our decision. It’s not that we don’t have political opinions about what we’re witnessing – it’s just that we felt very strongly that God wanted us to focus our attention on the human cost and relationships.
In short, our work with the refugees in Serbia was life-changing. It was clear that we were right where we were supposed to be – and it was so much more than just handing out humanitarian aid. We felt like we were witnessing whole chapters of the Gospels occur before our eyes. And it was evident that this was only a starting point for us.
So imagine the disgust and heartbreak as details slowly came in about the individuals who brought about these sickening attacks in France.
The information has been changing sometimes hourly as the investigation continues – but what we know now is that there is a real possibility that at least two of the attackers found at the soccer stadium had traveled north from Greece within a group of refugees in early October. Syrian passports found nearby were registered with the Greek government upon arrival on the island of Leros on October 3. The Serbian government says that one passport was again used to cross its southern border in Preshevo on October 7.
My family and I worked in Preshevo – distributing a van load of humanitarian aid to 8000+ refugees waiting in the rain for busses to Croatia.
There are a lot of unanswered questions at this point about the authenticity of the passports, the true identities of the dead attackers and the motive of why someone with intentions to die would carry a passport in the first place.
Still, Miki and I have had to deal with the discomfort and anxiety of people with murderous-intentions exploiting the plight of these refugees and the people who are trying to help them. Its nauseating to think about.
At this point, I want to address my friends in France. We are so sorry. I don’t really know what else to say.
I’ve lost sleep and have been kicking myself about all of this. Could I have done something different? Did I put my family in harms way? The shame and confusion that hit us since the attacks is NOT of God. We know that.
We expressed (even before we left) our awareness that there were probably people in these crowds with ill-intentions towards the west. But when events such as Paris confirm it, it doesn’t make it any less troubling.
If nothing else, this is a telling reminder that Kingdom work is messy. It can be dangerous and infuriating. There are no easy solutions to any of this. People die. People have been dying since the beginning. And yes, people reject God.
There have always been temporary failures in Kingdom work. But I’m reminded that the same Grace that ensured the final triumph over evil is the same Grace that carries us today.
So where does that leave us with our desire to help refugees? What about my plan to bring more aid down to Serbia in December?
At this point, the plan is to keep going. Yes, some of the concerns raised have come to pass. But those were never our concerns in the first place and there are so many that still need help.
Here’s where our conviction resides:
We are called to love our neighbor. (Mark 12)
We are called to offer hospitality and care for others in need. (Hebrews 13)
We are called to love our enemies. (Matthew 5) Even the ones we’re not aware of in our midst.
We believe in the words written in Romans 12 by Paul – an ex-terrorist:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Overcome evil with good.
While there may be ISIS individuals within these masses, it is clear that the vast majority of these refugees are fleeing the threat of ISIS in their home countries. Many of these travelers are themselves victims of ISIS, just like those in Paris. And, among them may very well be another Saul of Tarsus waiting to become a Paul.
We believe God’s love, mercy and grace are for the refugees just as much as for you and me. In fact, we believe that only the blood of Jesus Christ can reconcile the darkness that pervades in this world.
Darkness cannot overcome the light. We, as the Body of Christ, are called to be that light.
We are also reminded that Christ was a undocumented refugee. Mary and Joseph had to flee with Him to Egypt to avoid Herod’s sword.
Matthew 25 says: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
We believe these refugees to be the least of these in our midst. For us in this time, serving refugees is serving Christ.
Finally, we believe that the lives of these refugees are intertwined with yours and ours. That our actions, our in-actions, our choices and our opinions affect one another from one end of the globe to the other. We still have no policy agenda to propose. We have no way to perfectly ensure my safety or the safety of those with whom these refugees are directly interacting.
We will continue to be overwhelmed with the magnitude of this crisis. We will have our hearts broken, and we may face more opposition moving forward.
We will still try to love as we hope to be loved.
And we will carry on. We hope that you will continue to join us in this effort.
Over the next few days, we will be telling stories on this blog about our work in Serbia with refugees, and hope that you will read them and find encouragement in all that we have to do – together.
May God bless and keep us all.