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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:



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.



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: 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.