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The Path of Syrian Migration, Day 3

Throughout Holy Week, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, is making the European path of Syrian Migration with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the PCUSA Moderator Heath Rada. For the published version with visual media from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, click here. This post was republished with the author’s permission.

Holy Week Reflections: Wednesday, March 23 Budapest, Hungary

For most Christians of Protestant formation, very little happens on the Wednesday of Holy Week. It’s not Maundy Thursday, when the family gathers around the Table in hope only to be shattered by evening’s end as betrayal, recrimination, mutual suspicion and shame take their toll on disciples who have been living already with anxiety and fear of loss for far too long. Neither is it Friday, a day of judgment, abandonment and death. It is the calm before the storm, a time to think about who we are and who we hope to be, when the time of crisis is upon us.


We remain in Budapest today, conferring with colleagues in the Hungarian Reformed Church: a people in the calm both before and after last summer’s storm of refugees that riveted the world’s attention for a moment. At this Table were brothers and sisters who lead their denomination’s relief and refugee response ministries; the pastor of St. Columba in Budapest, a PCUSA teaching elder who serves the Scottish Mission in Hungary and the English speaking congregation of the Hungarian Reformed Church; the presiding bishop, whose presence and experience guide the Church’s relationships in a country that has endured many dramatic changes and faces, along with its neighbors in the European Union, difficult decisions about how people of faith practice welcome — to those who are strangers on their borders, and to those estranged and hurting at home. We are privileged to be at Table with these friends, whose struggle and faith holds up a mirror to our own attempts to be faithful, reminding us that in uncertain times, we see through a mirror dimly.


At the height of the refugee crisis last summer, when tens of thousands of migrants hoping for refuge and safe passage were stuck in the city’s railroad station and surrounding parks, the people of St. Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest noticed that they had a lot of room in their building, a building which for many years housed a residential school for girls. The session decided they could house 20 refugees a night, providing shelter and sanctuary for some of those most desperate. Within a few hours of the decision, church members and aid organizations came together to provide beds and bedding, food and material aid, kindness and welcome. It was a light in the darkness for scores of Syrian and other migrants, waiting for a chance to begin the process of resettlement. Today, though those numbers have ebbed, the congregation and aid workers of the Reformed Church of Hungary continue to accompany families who remained in Hungary to seek asylum there, providing them with language lessons, job training, and support in finding housing and work. As we walked around the hall where both worship and work take place, I noticed two plaques on the wall (see the picture below). They commemorate a Scottish missionary, Jane Haining, who in the forties served as the Matron of the girls’ home housed in St. Columba’s, teaching and providing motherly care to the Christian and Jewish girls who lived in community there. Though her Church recalled her out of fear for 4her safety as the war spread Nazi hatred throughout Europe, she refused to return to safety, saying that if her care was a light to the girls in times of joy, how much more was she needed in a season of darkness and threat. So she stayed, until April 4, 1944 when the Gestapo dragged her away for harboring Jewish children, and she was incarnated and died in Auschwitz. It seems that her memory and her presence linger in this place, providing light for the way of welcome, and strength for the journey.


In the calm before –and after— the storm, it matters how we choose to be Christ’s own in the world. The relationships we embrace with strangers and friends determine who we will be, when challenges to our security and appeals to retreat to the known and safe world would entice us. Like Miss Jane Haining, we are changed by those we recognize as bearing the face of God, and by those from whom we turn away, saying (as Peter did when he was recognized as a friend of Jesus) “I do not know him.” In these hard days of accusation, anxiety, and potential, may we listen with compassion to neighbors and strangers alike, and choose wisely.


The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance



Supplemental information:

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance assists refugees overseas through our mission and church partners. The ACT (Action by Churches Together) Alliance brings together a worldwide network of Protestant and Orthodox churches and their related agencies to coordinate their humanitarian assistance. Hungarian Interchurch Aid is a PDA partner and member of the ACT Alliance. While thousands of refugees and migrants have crossed through Hungary, Hungarian Interchurch Aid has helped set up shelters, provide emergency provisions (such as hygiene items, blankets,) and staff to provide emotional and spiritual care, particularly for the children and young people.


For more information on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to Syria, visit: The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is traveling the path of Syrian migrants who have fled war and are seeking safety through Holy Week. As she travels with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is writing and reflecting about the experience. Kraus worships with Highland Presbyterian Church and her reflections are reprinted with the author’s permission.

The Path of Syrian Migration, Day 2

Tuesday of Holy Week: March 22, 2016 Budapest, Hungary


Luke 23:27-28  “A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.’”

By the time I had landed in Budapest after flying overnight from home, the world had changed again. Brussels endured three retaliatory terrorist attacks, many people died, and ISIS has claimed responsibility. In Idomeni, on the closed border between Macedonia and Greece, thousands of Syrian people who have fled from this same ISIS huddle in anxious misery, trying to find some way around the news that their desperate journey toward refuge in Europe will in all likelihood end here, in a barren field, with their eventual deportation to Turkey. Today, two refugees in Idomeni set themselves on fire in protest before a world that can neither find mercy nor kindness enough to break down the boundaries that are rising like an impenetrable wall, almost everywhere. Tonight we began meetings with colleagues in the Hungarian Reformed Church, to learn from each other how each are seeking to address this shattering moment of human need in countries whose hearts, and borders, are becoming increasingly narrow.


Like the women who wept followed after Jesus on his road to crucifixion, we weep for the deaths, the pain we see, and the suffering we know is still to come as refugees are refused entry to their path to new life and returned to Turkey in large numbers. We weep, and hear the words of Jesus, spoken not to the daughters of Jerusalem, but to us, sons and daughters of God who call ourselves the body of Christ. Weep for yourselves and for your children.


In Feasting on the Word, Jae Won Lee reflects on this text that Jesus is not rebuffing the women for their expression of sorrow and compassion, but rather, is joining in their lament and also redirecting it. They see the tragedy of an innocent man condemned to death; he sees “the status quo itself is destined for tragedy.”


A couple of years ago, a team from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance went to consult with a community following a devastating forest fire. In a meeting with faith leaders to plan how to share resources fairly during the recovery, several people expressed their fear that funds donated would go to residents of the area who were undocumented or to others in the community who might not be believers or deserve the Church’s gifts. They demanded to know: who would PDA help? One of our responders responded immediately and sincerely: PDA only helps the people Jesus loves.


Who did Jesus love, as he laid down his life for the sins of the world? What kind of world are we making, if we refuse our refugee neighbors the hospitality that was extended to us? While we worry about what we will become if our borders and our communities were to be flooded with refugees, what will we become if we do not let justice pour down like a flood and righteousness like an ever flowing stream? Even while we shrink in fear before the rising threat of terrorism and shudder at the cruel violence erupting seemingly everywhere, how can we say we are with Jesus, who answered the violence of the cross with trust in God and love for all our broken human family, if we do not love the people he loves?


Since these days are not only Holy Week for Christians, but also Passover for neighbors in the Jewish faith, let me close this evening with a quote from the Rabbi Hillel the Elder, a contemporary of Jesus, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am only for myself, then what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”


The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance


FACTS: From January 1 – March 8, 2016:

141,930 persons arrived by sea to Europe

  •   Almost half of these (46%) are Syrians.
  •   Almost all (96%) from countries with large displaced and refugee populations – Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.


410 persons are considered either dead or missing

Syria Infographic

Click the graphic for more information and for sources. Like will take you to the UNHCR website.


For more information on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to Syria, visit: The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is traveling the path of Syrian migrants who have fled war and are seeking safety through Holy Week. As she travels with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is writing and reflecting about the experience. Kraus worships with Highland Presbyterian Church and her reflections are reprinted with the author’s permission.



The Path of Syrian Migration, Day 1


March 21, 2016 Monday of Holy Week



During Holy Week and the first few days of Eastertide, I will be traveling with several colleagues from the Presbyterian Church, USA and our Moderator, Heath Rada, in Hungary, Greece, and Germany. Our purpose is to follow along the path of Syrian migrants who have fled the war in their homeland and are seeking safety throughout Europe and the world. As the United States continues to struggle to practice welcome to these neighbors from the Middle East, countries in the European Union are struggling as well. Germany has provided a haven for many, but borders are closing throughout many countries and migrants are stuck on the borders of Greece and in Turkey, seeking safe passage and refuge. Throughout this journey, we will be conversing with faith partners, who are engaged in this work, and trying to see through the eyes of our Syrian refugee neighbors in order that we might share what we have seen and learned back home. It is significant to me that this journey takes place during Holy Week, when Jesus walked his way toward the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem on a path that has become known as the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, or Suffering. For many Syrians who have fled their homeland as the war there enters its sixth year, the migrant journey—fraught with desperation and danger and the risk of death—is a via dolorosa, a way of suffering that too often ends in refugee camps, poverty, a reception marked by suspicion rather than welcome, or even a return to the place from which they sought to escape. Some fortunate few find safe harbor, welcome, and a chance to build a new life. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, working with partners through the ACT Alliance and Church World Service, has been providing financial resources to support those seeking to provide welcome and care along the journey. Each day of Holy Week, I will post photos and a reflection to mark this journey, and to honor those who are walking this via dolorosa. PDA’s catalyst for Refugee and Asylum, Susan Krehbiel, will also be posting facts and figures about the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East to give context and scope to these reflections.


As I write, I am mindful that many of those migrants whose path we are following practice faiths other than my own, with differing beliefs and paths toward God. It is not my purpose to ground the journey of so many, whose religious beliefs deserve our respect, in my own tradition; but since it is from the Christian faith that I find the words and images to make meaning; it will be from that narrative that I frame these observations. At the Palm Sunday service in my home church in Louisville, the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell preached from the great hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 that speaks of the death of Jesus as an emptying of himself, a choice to relinquish power through accepting crucifixion, a shameful death reserved for those who were non-citizens of Rome. He thus identified himself, in his dying, with those who were powerless, poor, and barred from the privilege of belonging. Speaking about this contrast between our human obsession with power and success and Christ’s embrace of a way many considered shameful, Cynthia quoted New Testament scholar Diane Bergant who said: the best way to enter Holy Week with (Jesus) is in the company of those with whom he has identified himself: the poor and the broken, the humiliated and the marginalized; those who suffer the abuse of others…If we are to be saved we must go where salvation takes place—in our streets and in our homes where violence rages; in the dark corners of life where despair seems to hold sway; wherever the innocent are abused or the needy neglected; wherever there is misunderstand or fear or jealousy. We must go wherever Christ empties himself for (us).


It is a deep prayer for Holy Week that the journey we undertake today may take us to those very places, with the One who is Way, Truth, and Life for us.

 

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance



  • In 2016, the world is experiencing the largest number of refugees and displaced persons since the end of World War II – Over 60 million persons.
  • Syria is the single largest humanitarian crisis. Today there are 4.8 million Syrian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). This figure includes 2.1 million Syrians registered by UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, 1.9 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey, as well as more than 28,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa. Only 1⁄2 million of these are living in refugee camps, the vast majority are living in cities, towns and rural areas across the region.
  •  In 2015, the number of Syrian refugees continued to grow in the Middle East as the violence raged on and the death toll in Syria reached a quarter million. In the midst of such human tragedy, international aid to the surrounding countries waned, leading to cuts in food and other basic needs.
  • In 2015, 1,015,078 individuals arrived in Europe by sea in search of safety and hope.
  • As the UNHCR describes them: Increasing numbers of refugees and migrants take their chances aboard unseaworthy boats and dinghies in a desperate bid to reach Europe. The vast majority of those attempting this dangerous crossing are in need of international protection, fleeing war, violence and persecution in their country of origin. Every year these movements continue to exact a devastating toll on human life.


For more information on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to Syria, visit: The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is traveling the path of Syrian migrants who have fled war and are seeking safety through Holy Week. As she travels with colleagues from the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is writing and reflecting about the experience. Kraus worships with Highland Presbyterian Church and her reflections are reprinted with the author’s permission.

Presbyterian congregation creates a home for Syrian refugees

Family finds sanctuary with a Louisville church and the resettlement agency it helped found.

OCTOBER 2, 2015

Newly arrived Syrian refugees, Shadi and Hanadi Antakli with daughter Tuqa and son Hasan, at their Louisville home.

Newly arrived Syrian refugees, Shadi and Hanadi Antakli with daughter Tuqa and son Hasan, at their Louisville home.

Presbyterian News Service – LOUISVILLE

At a time when many countries are closing their borders to refugees fleeing war in Syria, one Presbyterian congregation in Kentucky has opened its doors, offering a home—and a chance at a future—to a Syrian family.


On Aug. 20, members of Highland Presbyterian Church gathered at the Louisville airport to greet the newest refugees to arrive in the area, Shadi and Hanadi Antakli and their five-year-old daughter Tuqa and 10-year-old son Hasan. After piling into cars, the volunteers drove the Antaklis to their new house.


When they arrived, the doors of their new home were open, and the lights were on. Inside, more volunteers waited to greet the Antaklis. The pantries were stocked. Food from their homeland was cooking on the stove. And warm beds were waiting.


“It’s a slightly surreal experience to think that you’re offering this place for a family to live that is entirely unknown to them,” says Matt Nickel, Highland’s associate pastor for congregational life and mission. “They don’t know what it looks like, how it feels. It’s not home yet. But soon it will be.”


At the time, it had been more than two years since the Antaklis fled their home in Aleppo, Syria, in 2013. When Aleppo’s schools closed and medical services became hard to find, the Antaklis decided it was time to leave. “At the moment we felt our children [were] unsafe . . . [we] had to leave the country,” Shadi told a reporter from WAVE 3 News.


For the next few years, the Antaklis shared a small, crowded apartment in Istanbul, Turkey, with three other families. Cost of living was high, and survival was day to day. Finally, after a long process with the United Nations and Church World Service, the Antaklis boarded a plane to the United States to connect with Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM).


KRM, which houses its Louisville office at Highland Presbyterian, helps resettle refugees who have been legally admitted to the United States as victims of warfare or persecution. Though now a fully independent non-profit organization, KRM is supported with volunteers and funding from Highland Presbyterian, as well as from many other faith communities and organizations in the area. KRM traces its founding back to Highland when, in 1990, congregation member Donna Craig felt a call—after traveling to Nicaragua and witnessing the partly U.S.-sponsored violence there—to help people escaping dangerous places.


Now, 25 years later, KRM is resettling more than 1,000 people each year, says Cynthia Campbell, a board member of KRM and the pastor of Highland Presbyterian. “The main work is done by KRM staff as social workers, lawyers, and others help families register for school and government benefits, figure out vaccinations and medical care, enroll in ESL, and find employment,” she says. “What the church does is build a team of volunteers to help in the early days of a family’s resettlement, which includes putting together the initial household items such as furniture, cleaning supplies, food . . . really, everything needed so that a family walks into a house that is ready to go.”


Highland sponsors a family each year, and this year they wanted to support a Syrian family. They heard about the violence that began sweeping Syria in 2011, eventually leaving more than 200,000 people dead and 7.6 million displaced from their homes.


After spending two months preparing for the Antaklis’ arrival, the team of more than 15 volunteers is now helping the family adjust and access resources, such as the local community center and a class at Highland that teaches refugee women how to use an electric sewing machine. They take the parents to a halal grocery store and job interviews while others walk their kids to the school bus. The goal is eventual independence. “We don’t do anything they won’t be able to sustain on their own,” says Nickel.


Volunteers also drop by regularly throughout the week. “I don’t know much Arabic, but I do know shukran, ‘thank you,’ and the family is constantly saying that,” says Nickel. “They’re always bringing us water, juice or coffee when we visit. There’s a real kind of hospitality when you go over to their house.”


It’s those relationships that sustain the volunteers over many years, Nickel says. “Here’s a family who has lived through extraordinary circumstances and come to the United States with open hearts and so much to contribute to our community. . . . I guess they change us in a way too.”


“Hospitality is at the heart of the Gospel,” Campbell says, and apparently it’s at the heart of refugee ministry too. “We are all welcomed by the love of God, each one of us. And the obvious response to the gift we have been given is to share that same gift with others.”


That theology of hospitality rings true for Nickel. “There’s of course the call in Scripture to support and welcome the stranger. That’s the ‘head’ part of it, knowing it’s a good thing to do,” he says. “But for my personal faith, it’s knowing that I have received amazing gifts of safety, well-being, and support from my church communities my whole life, and sharing that with others is a way I can proffer my own gratitude for the life that God has given me.”

The bigger picture

Members of Highland Presbyterian know there are millions of other families in need of help. “To help just one seems like so little,” says Campbell. “But it’s something.” And that “something” is part of a much larger effort orchestrated not only by KRM but also by Presbyterian World Mission.


“The work we do is similar in that it is meeting the needs of God’s precious children,” says Greg Allen-Pickett, World Mission’s general manager. World Mission, he adds, though, has a different focus than KRM. “Our desire is to change the conditions so that people don’t have to become refugees, so that families never have to separate or leave their home.”


That’s why World Mission is partnering with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon to create a safe and thriving Syria. With the help of the newly formed Syria-Lebanon Partnership Network, U.S. Presbyterians are teaming up with Christian partners in the area to rebuild houses and schools, organize major relief appeals, and advocate for change through the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.


All of these efforts, from creating a home for the Antaklis to putting pressure on Congress, are part of one “faithful continuum,” says Allen-Pickett. “Our call as Christians is to work along that spectrum, whether it means filling a fridge with groceries or empowering partners to change conditions or advocating for policy changes.”


Every action, no matter its scope, matters, says Nickel, as long we as Christians remember the One who is the true author of this generosity and don’t give up when the media coverage dies down. “My hope is that we will be inspired to live our faith by welcoming refugees and that this won’t end when the Syrian crisis ends,” he says. “KRM has been doing this a long time and will be doing this long after.”


Click here to read Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons’s letter urging prayer and recommitment to refugees.


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