Last week I visited a friend of mine named Mhanna in a refugee camp where he lives with his family. There were two new young faces in the tent that night, and so I asked Mhanna who they were. He introduced them as his younger brothers, aged 10 and 12, and explained how they had come from Syria two nights earlier. The bombs had been increasing in their village and they were forced to flee, but since the border to Lebanon has been closed due to the massive number of refugees already here, Mhanna used all his money to have them smuggled over the mountains in the night and into his camp.
I looked thoughtfully at each of the boys, exchanging pleasantries in basic Arabic and laughing with them as they laughed at my poor pronunciation. I reflected on what I was doing the summer I turned 11.
…I had played on my first competitive soccer team. Spent the night at my friend Garon’s house on a regular basis, where he taught me the art of adding chocolate sauce on my pancakes. I anticipated the thrill of starting my first year at Colony Middle School…
I looked again at the boys across the tent and was struck with the chasm of difference between their childhood and mine. And I wondered why.
Why was I born to such privilege and them to such destitution?
Why was I born (in the misguided opinion of many) to a nation of “good guys” and them to a nation of “bad guys”?
Why was I born into such opportunity and them into such tragedy?
I don’t reflect on these questions to make myself (or you) feel guilty. We don’t get a whole lot of say in how or when we’re born. However, I do reflect on them with genuine conviction, compassion, and a deep sense of responsibility: what is my “ability” to “respond?”
Though we can’t know why we were born into such blessing, we can ask the natural questions that follow: how do we steward the blessing we have received? How do we seek the best for those who have the worst, while also enjoying what we’ve been given?
I often think of Jesus savoring a long meal and – I imagine – laughing with his best friends after an even longer day of “work” and “ministry.” I like to imagine the Apostle Paul enjoying the view of the wine dark Mediterranean Sea in between shipwrecks and stonings and visiting young communities of friends learning how to follow the Way. I know Marisa and I were grateful to wake up one recent morning after we’d been in the camps and relax over a couple of cappuccinos from a popular modern cafe (yes, these people have an ancient and severe love of caffeine).
We tend to swing to one side of the equation, as most of us do with most things in life. There are those who see a need in the world and spend every ounce of their life and energy to becoming the solution; sadly, such people often lose sight of their own dignity and sanity along the way. On the other side are those who can’t or don’t want to cope with the gravity of extreme poverty or illness or depravity, and they respond with equal extremism of indifference or self-preservation.
As I read in a recent article about the influx of refugees in Europe, “…the fact is, we can’t care all the time. Our survival instinct compartmentalizes that stuff in a clever way that means we can keep functioning despite being aware of horrible suffering. But nor can we stop caring completely.”
There is a balance. There must be! I just still haven’t comfortably settled into it myself (tips much appreciated). Yet perhaps that is the very point. Maybe the tension, the wrestle, the “striving to enter rest,” and the ache to see all things made new is the very place we’re meant to live from. One of my fathers in the faith taught us long ago that running away from tensions like the one I felt in that refugee camp last week means we actually miss the plot.
What if we didn’t rush past the questions and onto the simple answers?
What if we didn’t pretend everything is perfectly black and white and void of mystery?
What if we embraced tension as a creative force to actually effectively build the world we want to see?
The older I get, the less comfortable God seems to be inside my boxes and the more comfortable I get in letting Him outside of them (He must find it entertaining that I offer Him this permission).
I dream of those 11 year old boys, who have recently joined millions of other children as refugees, knowing the God that I know: one that is not distant but near; mournful but always in a perfectly good mood; one that holds in His heart and his authorship a story that brings my personal drama and those boys’ lives together in glorious tension.
I don’t know why, but I’ve been blessed something fierce. And in the spirit of my father Abraham, I like to think I’ve been blessed so that I can be a blessing.