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The Path of Syrian Migration, Day 6

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.

 

 

Easter Sunday, March 27: Samos Island, Greece

 

Today you shall be with me in paradise

The word is a rare one– used only 3 times in the New Testament, it might instead be translated “garden.” Paradise as God’s garden — a place where the scent of orange blossom is in the air, trees are heavy with fruit, the ground brings forth abundance, both in produce and beauty.

 

Such was my first impression of the island of Samos, where we flew yesterday to meet with relief workers who are supporting asylum seekers at their first stop after the sometimes perilous crossing across the Adriatic from Turkey. The scent of orange blossoms was heavy on the light breeze, and everywhere we looked, even so early in the season, trees were laden with olives, oranges, lemons. The sea was beautiful, with just a hint of the violence in the waves that has endangered so many on their crossings. Samos is a beautiful place…for some.

 

Our conversations were with representatives and relief workers from the IOCC and Apostoli, the response and development agency of the Greek Orthodox Church; with the team leader of the UN High Commission on Refugees office, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. At the camp– now a locked detention center–on the rocky hill above Samos town, several hundred asylum seekers from many countries, are no longer able to leave the camp for sundries, SIM cards or a cup of coffee in town. All time is measured here by two dates: March 20, when the EU approved its refugee return policy with Turkey, and April 4, when the deportations are set to begin. Many have already spent time in camps in Turkey, where conditions are rumored to be difficult, and they do not wish to have come so far on hope only to be returned. The aid workers describe a heaviness of depression settling over the camp as hope of a successful passage to Europe dims and their conditions worsen.

 

That heaviness was mirrored in the voices and stance of the Doctors Without Borders Staff and the UNHCR, who, according to the practice mandated by international human rights standards, they may no longer work for relief within the camp’s locked fences. “We do not support those who imprison refugees,” explained one of the physicians there.

 

At the port, small IKEA prefab houses wait for the continuation of migration– more numbers are expected even in the face of such small odds for success. It is hard to silence hope. On this Easter Sunday, we celebrate the triumph of hope over despair, life out of death. Let us also bind ourselves to the Love that death could not conquer, and in the name of the Stranger who on this holy day long ago greeted his friends by name in the Garden, believe and act as though no one, especially no refugee, will be condemned as a stranger among us, or refused welcome in our midst.

 

 

My favorite Easter hymn was written by a Reformed Church of Hungary pastor at the end of the 16th century: 

  

There in God’s Garden stands the tree of wisdom, whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations.

Tree of all wisdom, tree of all compassion, tree of all beauty.

Its name is Jesus, name that means “our Savior,” there on its branches see the scars of suffering.

See there the tendrils of our human selfhood feed on its lifeblood.

Thorns not its own are tangled in its foliage, our greed has starved it, our despite has choked it.

Yet look!, it lives, it’s grief has not destroyed it, nor fire consumed it.

See how its branches reach to us in welcome,

Hear what the Voice says: “come to me, you weary

Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow, I will give blessing.”

This is my ending, this my resurrection;

Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit

This I have searched for, now I can possess its, this ground is holy.

 

 

 

 
 

The Path of Syrian Migration, Day 5

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.

Good Friday, March 25, 2016: Athens, Greece

Today was a travel day, moving back from Good Friday in Hungary to the fourth week of Lent here in Orthodox Greece. It felt a little like limbo: Easter is just on the horizon after a long hard Lent, and now, we are back in the wilderness, wandering and waiting. We flew south over the Balkan Mountains, still shrouded in snow, and landed in Athens. Watching the forbidding mountains from the window of the plane, I marveled at how tenacious, how brave those thousands of asylum seekers are, risking sea and mountain and harsh judgment from their would-be hosts for the barest hope of refuge in Germany or some other country in Europe.

 

For us, it was different. From departure to arrival, our access and transit from country to country was effortless. We are in the Schengen Area, a large swath of Western, Atlantic and Eastern Europe where, for some of us, internal borders have been eliminated. There were no stops for passport control, security or customs, and in the Athens Airport we left for the city without showing any papers or documents. This agreement, signed in 1985, makes inter-European travel matter of fact, as easy as crossing a state line in the US. But for those asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Africa who have made the harrowing Adriatic crossing from Turkey or paid smugglers their life savings to be transported to safety, there is no Schengen Area. The borders of Europe are closing down, the US and much of the rest of the world is mired in political argument about the risk or value of refugees from the Middle East, and last week’s agreement with the EU may instigate a reverse migration crisis back into Turkey and countries of origin.

 

Throughout this week, I have been holding the passion narrative of the gospel of Luke close to my spirit. The story describes the many betrayals and human failures that resulted in the death of Jesus on the cross, in excruciating detail. Judas who betrayed him to death; Peter who denied him in fear, disciples who ran away, officials and leaders who jeered and judged. Sometimes, painfully, I identify with one of those, and with them, I weep. But the story also in two places draws our attention to another kind of person, a bystander. In verse 35, Luke says that after Jesus cried out, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, “the people stood by, watching.”   Then again, following the centurion’s horrified affirmation: “Surely this man was innocent,” Luke observes: and when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts.

 

I can’t help but wonder, is that all they did? Is that all we are doing? Watching, beating our breasts in a show of grief, and then returning home, to our own kind of spiritual Schengen Area, where life and passage between hard realities and painful stories is too easy?

 

In November of 1938, Nazi violence against Jews went public on Krystallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The Reformed theologian and German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, read that night from Psalm 74, and wrote in the margin of his bible, “how long, O Lord, shall I be a bystander?”

His eventual embrace of active faith, rather than passive standing by, ended in his imprisonment and death. Here at home, across the developed world, individuals and families fleeing war and persecution are seeking welcome, refuge, and sanctuary in our midst. To stand by is to accept whatever the powers and principalities determine is best for those whose demands are inconvenient and hard.   To choose welcome means to embrace uncertainty, risk, and a wider, less convenient understanding of the world and our place in it. My prayer tonight comes with the words of a sixth century hymn:

 

One:

The cross is the way of the lost

The cross is the staff of the lame

The cross is the guide of the blind

The cross is the strength of the weak

The cross is the hope of the hopeless

The cross is the freedom of the slaves

The cross is the water of the seeds

The cross is the consolation of the bonded labourers

The cross is the source of those who seek water

The cross is the cloth of the naked.

 

ALL:

O God

you have made us for yourself,

and against your longing there is no defense.

mark us with your love,

and release in us a passion for your justice

in our disfigured world;

that we may turn from our guilt and face you,

our heart’s desire. Amen.

 

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

For more information on Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to Syria, visit: http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/syria/ 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 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: http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/syria/ 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: http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/syria/ 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.

 

 

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