Our Story

Finding the Rope When Life is Shipwrecked

I’ve never been one to be afraid of the ocean.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. There was that one time, as a 4-year-old where I lost one of my new water shoes while playing in the low tide, sucked off of me by the slurping waves of the Atlantic. With one foot bare and one foot covered and feeling sorry for myself, my mother assured me a nice fish probably made her home out of my shoe. It was scary to have the ocean take something away from me.

And, albeit not the ocean but deep water nonetheless, there was that other time where I had to jump off the diving board at swimming lessons in order to graduate to the next level. It ended up being 15 minutes of me teetering at the edge of the board, knees knocking, clutching onto my lifejacket. The bubbly lifeguard, named Cinnamon of all names, was treading below coaxing me to jump off while a line of impatient shivering kids stood behind me. The deep waters were an enigma, unknown and dark.

Yet there is always something so peaceful about sitting at the edge of the ocean’s shore, toes caked with sand, the waves lazily lapping up and then receding. Or grabbing a blanket and a friend and sitting before the water after the sun has sunk for the night, talking about the stuff of life and not being able to see where the shore meets the water and the water meets the sky.

Or when I wade out into its body, taking a deep breath, plugging my nose, and plunging my entire self into its cool water.  Slowly going further and further out until my toes barely brush the rocky bottom and realizing, in a reassuring sort of way, just how small I am compared to the expansive water.

I’m drawn to the power, mystery, and beauty of the ocean but also frighten by those same reasons.

Wherever You Will Lead

Remember that popular song we all sang so confidently in 2013? “Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon your waters, wherever you will lead me…”. This was back when I was in Bible college and my biggest worry was if I had time to grab a coffee before class or if I could make my measly part-time paycheck last so that I could buy… more overpriced coffee, probably.

I sang these terrifying words so boldly without realizing what I was actually singing, without understanding the journey God would have in store for me in just a few years, where my faith would be stretched in all directions.

At this point, in 2013, the Lord had already begun calling me away from the safety of the shoreline. I had left behind my three-fourths finished teaching degree to pursue Bible training – completely the opposite direction of where I thought I was going. And then a year later, I was beckoned even further into the unknown waves, literally across great bodies of water and into a foreign land.

The Ocean of God

I’ve been feeling like God is similar to how I view the ocean: beautiful, sure, but also powerful and mysterious and honestly a little scary.

God’s beckoning us into the deep waters can actually be really alarming despite what a trendy song lets on. As our feet stop brushing the sandy floor beneath us and our legs and arms begin to tread, things can look dark and uncertain fast.

Deep waters don’t feel like a fun day at the beach building sand castles. It feels like the waves are swirling and crashing and the water is blinding and choking and we’re doing all we can to keep our head above the waves. With the chopping waters getting higher, we desperately try to move towards the promise of the land we cannot yet see.

When the travel ban was put into place in early 2017, the little hold I thought I had on life was ripped out like a rug from underneath my feet. My prayers sounded like Jesus’ disciples on the boat while the storm began to brew. “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are all about to drown?” (Mark 4:38 TLB).

This same accusation darts across my mind when I stand before the literal sea in Turkey. Staring out at the Mediterranean I can’t help but image the thousands of families who had no choice but to board their sons and daughters and aging parents on illegal plastic boats, paying traffickers an exorbitant about of money, not knowing how to swim, just to find a safer life somewhere else. And the very waters that swirled around my ankles became the cemetery of those souls. God, don’t you even care?

medupdate-for-pbn
IOM|Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals Reach 88,736 in 2018; Deaths Reach 1,839

Looking for the Good

I’ll be honest for a second: I like to end my posts with something positive, something encouraging and spiritual. But with the season I’m in, I oftentimes have difficulty really believing those things I write.

I’m having a tough time squaring God’s goodness with the crazy things that are happening in this world. It’s hard to believe that the Lord has a perfect sovereign plan in all this mess. It’s hard to believe the Lord is good. Life on earth seems so broken and unjust and…sad. Does God really care that so many of us are drowning?

Treading in the deep waters, unsure of what will happen next, I search desperately for some word of truth or encouragement to grasp onto. When all God’s promises woven throughout scripture seem to be made for the next world, what can we grab onto while we are here in the dark? Hey, Jesus, can you throw us a rope down here? Hellooo?

I know God doesn’t promise a pain-free life nor does he promise to strike down every evil leader (ahh, wouldn’t that be nice?). But I know that the Lord promises to be with us through the deep waters. Not out of the deep waters, but through.

From my viewpoint, things look out of control, swirling, crashing, and chaotic. And yet God can see the bigger, complete picture. There is a reason for all of this. He knows how all the puzzle pieces will fit together, how these knots of string will be worked out. God’s in the business of making beautiful things out of the messiness of life.

Float; You’re Not Alone

The Mediterranean Sea is so packed with salt that you’re able to flip onto your back, lace both hands behind your head, belly poking up, and, without much effort at all, float.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” Psalm 29:10-11

Just like Jesus in the boat with his frightened followers, God has the power to calm any storm, to part the waters, and stop the rain. Yet more often he commands us to be still through the storms and to trust in him. 

“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share. I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who are Christ’s have been given to him!” Ephesians 1:18

While I still can’t completely reconcile God’s good plan with this messed-up world, I’ll cling to what I know: there is a lighthouse out there somewhere, planted in solid ground, pointing the way forward. I will swim until I find it, all the while knowing I’m not swimming alone. 

And this: There is a calling on and a purpose for each of us and the things we go through.  When God draws us out into the deep, unknown waters, it may be his way of drawing us closer to him. Seek him.

Oh to have that sort of faith. To really believe it, to understand it and stand under it and to be certain that without a doubt, the Lord is right next to me.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

In His name,
Sarah

Resources

7 Books to Help Understand Immigration and the Global Refugee Crisis

51m5JkhX0bL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_SEEKING REFUGE
By Stephan Bauman, Mattew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir
(Non-fiction)

This title is part of my holy grail resources on the Global Refugee Crisis. While filled with facts, numbers, and statistics, the authors balance this with putting faces and the humanity back into refugees by incorporating true stories throughout. The fears and myths regarding refugees are addressed as well as the Biblical mandate to welcome the refugee. A book for Christians wanting to know what is really happening and how to help.

Notable Quote: “The Bible challenges us to persevere—in welcoming refugees in our own communities but also in the larger tasks of addressing the root injustices that force them to flee”.

 

36373417

THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS
By Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
(Fiction)

If the beautiful cover doesn’t grab you then the braiding of two stories – one ancient and one modern-day –  will. Told from a Syrian child’s point of view, The Map of Salt and Stars outlines the struggles and hardships refugees are presently enduring, not by preaching but by showing in a compelling and enchanting way. Nour’s story stayed with me long after I put down the book.

Notable Quote: “Don’t forget,’ he says, and Abu Sayeed looks up while he translates, holding the words back a little, ‘stories ease the pain of living, not dying. People always think dying is going to hurt. But it does not. It’s living that hurts us.”

 

51xxFa3T0EL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_WELCOMING THE STRANGER (Revised Edition)
By Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang
(Non-fiction)

A must read if you want to have an informed decision when it comes to the voting polls and to hold knowledgeable conversations on the topic of immigration in the U.S. Welcoming the Stranger provides an easily-understood history of immigration with relevant anecdotes and useful resources for individuals, churches, and small groups. A must read.

Notable Quote: “When we read the Bible as a sacred narrative of God’s interaction with humanity, we find that immigrants and refugees play many of the most important roles in the story. Throughout Scripture God has used the movement of people to accomplish his greater purposes”.

 

614ClzmOf3L._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_SEA PRAYER
by Khaled Hosseini
(Fiction, Short Story)

To commemorate the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy who drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea with his family in 2015, novelist, Khaled Hosseini writes a fictional letter from a father to his son on the eve of their journey out of Syria and across the seas. The 48-page watercolor-illustrated book has also been made into a 360 degree illustrated film, which can be seen here.

Notable Quote: “I have heard it said we are the uninvited.  We are the unwelcome.  We should take our misfortune elsewhere.  But I hear your mother’s voice, over the tide, and she whispers in my ear, ‘Oh but if they saw, my darling.  Even half of what you have.  If only they saw.  They would say kinder things, surely.'”

HONORABLE MENTIONS

download
The Girl Who 
Smiled Beads
By Clementine 
Wamariya
(Biography)

51UVX1ew0dL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_
A Hope More Powerful 
Than The Sea
By Melissa Fleming
(Fiction)

51o7CR4PN5L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_
Love Undocumented 
By Sarah Quezada
(Non Fiction)

Our Story

4 Thoughts from the In-Between

Hope waits but does not sit. It strains with eager anticipation to see what may be coming on the horizon. Hope does not pacify; it does not make us docile and mediocre. Instead, it draws us to greater risk and perseverance.
– Dan B. Allender

And just like that the breeze in Turkey felt just a little cooler; the green, lush leaves seemed to look just a little crisper. We turned off the fan that had been continuously oscillating for three straight months. We got out our heavier bedsheets and starting wearing long sleeves before we hopped on our motorbike. One day it was summer and the next it was not.

“Another fall is coming” our souls sigh. Months come and months gone. Every day the reservoir of our hearts emptying just a little. Winter turned to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall. We flip the calendar again.

And in its inevitability, it seems the world continues its march forward while we hang in the delay.

In my previous posts, I’ve likened our waiting season to the wilderness, to a locked door, and to an uninvited guest. All those symbols still seem appropriate and maybe it helps just a little to pinpoint what we are going through with a label. That’s such a human thing, isn’t it? To slap on a sticker, fit it into a box. Maybe it gives something for our brains to grasp on to.

Whether a rude visitor or desolate wasteland, this season, in its simplest form, feels like living in the in-between. Somewhere in the middle of yes and no. Go back or move forward. Stop and go. Arrival and departure.

The in-between is the struggle to embrace the uncertainty with the thousands of prayers that remain unanswered. It’s where the tension of wanting to do something scrapes up against the need to surrender to God.

Right now, I am a full-time student of the in-between. I’m still enrolled (apparently God doesn’t give free passes or audits for this season of life). I had originally titled this post “LESSONS from the In-Between” but I don’t have any authority to speak on this season of life that I’m still smack dab in the middle of.

I’m also not going to pretend that remembering these things is easy. Honestly most days I struggle just to keep my head above the water. I go through weeks without reading my Bible and Sundays where I don’t open my mouth to sing. But I’m writing these out so that they can be etched into my heart and offer an anchor for those days when I’m overwhelmed by the lack of control. Maybe they will help you too.

1. We are not alone

One silver lining in walking through the valley of the in-between and the not-yet is that we are not alone. A simple truth I read recently during a Bible study was this: God speaks in promises. Isn’t that a cool way to look at the Word? God’s heavenly language is cloaked in the heartbeat of a Father who loves his children dearly. He promises to never leave us, even when the path is uneven and neverending.

His promises can be found sprinkled all throughout Scripture, and I have found myself clinging to Psalm 91 in particular. This Psalm was sung at our wedding, used to bring a family member into the Kingdom, prayed over a sweet baby girl during her baptism, and now, tucked tightly into my fists as we wait in this season. I’ve written out this passage over and over, cried out to God through these words, holding on and refusing to let go. God promises to be with us every step of the way and so I wrap myself in the Word as I continue in the in-between knowing that I’m not alone.

2. Look for the joy

I’m pretty sure there’s a saying that goes something like, “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” that I find to be true, especially as we venture down this crazy road. When life is tough and it feels like our faith is shipwrecked, it is so important to look for the little glimmers of joy. And there are many. Oftentimes my vision becomes clouded by the worries, the impatience, and the uncertainty. It is then that I look to the little bits of light that are accompanying me in this in-between. And so, we take joy in going on hikes and looking in awe at God’s creation, reading good books, belly laughing out loud, baking yummy bread, and connecting over coffee and good conversations. I fully believe that one day, when we are out of the in-between, we will look back on these days and see that all these little things – baking and hiking and laughing – added up to way more than we realized.

3. There is purpose

It is so easy for us to slip into the mindset that our time is being wasted here while we wait to go to the US. We aren’t able to save a lot of money, build our retirement funds, or start growing our family. We are on hold, frozen in place, waiting for the page to finally flip over and a new chapter to begin.

The other morning I was reading through Luke 4 where, after being baptized and before the start of his ministry, Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness and is tempted by Satan. In the first verse, it states that Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness (NKJV). He didn’t just take a wrong turn and end up in the desert by accident. It was planned and appointed by the Lord. The wilderness, the in-between, the waiting season was all part of the plan.

God is not wasting this time. Perhaps he is preparing and training you and me for something in the future, something just around those mountains that stretch and loom over us (oh, I can’t wait to update this post when I finally figure out the things God has been preparing us for!). I have no idea where tomorrow will lead or how many more unexpected turns there are, but I know that I am growing right here, changing, stretching, refining. And the story God has for my family is far from over.

4. Keep going

This in-between won’t last forever. I repeat that statement to myself, almost like a rhythmic mantra, throughout the day to steady my heart when I feel especially anxious in the waiting. It’s temporary. Walking through the valley, treading through the wilderness is temporary. I will not always be in this place. Even when I’ve grown weary of the twists and turns and living in suspended animation, I know this won’t last forever. There will be relief. Somewhere on the calendar, God has circled the day that we will move from this in-between. But for now, I will continue on, draped in grace and strength.

Keeping walking. Keep hoping. Keep going.

 

In Him,
Sarah

Refugee Stories

The Girl at the Bus Stop: Stories of Refugees in Turkey

This is part three of a series titled “Stories of Refugees in Turkey”, dedicated to sharing the stories of refugees with hopes of giving readers a look past numbers and statistics into the dreams and lives of real people. Read part one and part two.


The bus stop overhang offers a feeble attempt at shade from the Middle East sun, but I arrived too late to snag a spot underneath it
. The stop is full of locals on their way to work and a few adventurous tourists keen on taking local transportation while visiting.

I drag the back of my hand across my forehead and consider what’s worse: dry heat or humid heat. The taxi stand poised next to the bus stop serves as a temptation to leave immediately in the comforts of an air-conditioned ride by paying more than ten times the bus fareI gaze at the seducing yellow cabs as I wave my cell phone back and forth in front of my face in a failed experiment to create a breeze. 

As we all peer down the road, waiting for the bus to turn the corner, a beat up car pulls up and out tumbles more people than a vehicle of that size should be able to fit. We all look up from our phones and our wristwatches and our conversations. Out steps several women dressed in layers of thin, draping fabrics and floral scarves wrapped around their faces, the cloth pooling at their necks. They carry a flurry of children, some anchored to their hips, some by the hand, and some running, happy to be out of the cramped car.

I notice the reddish brown hair, sallow skin, and tattered clothes and shoes from the children running in circles, the throaty, melodic sounds coming from the mouths of their mothers, and stares from the locals and am able to assume they are Syrian refugees.

Currently, there are 973,200 Syrian school-age children in Turkey with the number on a steady increase. As of the 2017-2018 school year, about 63% of Syrian children were enrolled in Turkish public schools or temporary education centers. In Turkey, all children have a right to free education including those from families who have sought asylum. And yet, many barriers still remain. Because Syrian families have hopes to return to Syria, parents have expressed concerns over their children attending schools taught in Turkish, for fear of losing their native language. Along with language barriers, Syrian refugees cited economic hardship, social integration with Turkish children, and lack of information on how to register for school as issues preventing them from enrolling their children in school.

645x344-1532370994111
Syrian refugee children play in a kindergarten at Midyat refugee camp in Mardin, Turkey. (FILE Photo) | Daily Sabah

Watching the women attempt to gather their energetic children close, one small girl makes her way towards me, giggling and staring. I make a mental note to look up how to say, “What’s your name?” in Arabic. The few lone phrases I do know escape me and wouldn’t have helped anyway. So I resort to smiling back at the child and giving a small wave.

Just months earlier, the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach. Alan Kurdi, dressed in a red shirt and blue shorts and with both of his shoes still on, had passed away in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. His family was determined to reach safety and security, but only his father survived. The photo of Alan had sparked outrage all across the globe, particularly in the West. And yet, now, three years later, little has been done to help the plight of Syrians and other refugees here in Turkey. 

With nothing to say to her, I contemplate jogging over to the market across the street to buy a treat for her and the other children but am stopped by the logistics of missing the bus and the awkwardness that giving food might bringI don’t have time to make up my mind because the bus approaches and everyone begins to shift, gathering their things and making way to the curb.

For a second I am amused at the mix of people – the tourists and me, local Turks, and Syrian refugees – all partaking in the same mundane activity. We all step on the bus and I still keep my eyes on the women and their children as everyone settles into the empty seats.

 

Turkish Coast guard member carries a baby into rescue boat after total of 174 Syrian refugees captured by Turkish coast guard while they were illegally trying to reach Greece's, in shores of Antalya, southern province of Turkey on March 12, 2016.
Turkish Coastguard member carries a baby into a rescue boat on the shores of southern Turkey after a total of 174 Syrian refugees tried to reach Greece.

There’s a commotion at the front of the bus between the driver and one of the Syrian women. The questions she is asking fluster the driver as he is likely impatient at the interruption to his clockwork routine. There’s some more back and forth jabber before the driver throws up his hands and exclaims, “Allah Allah!” (“Good Lord!”) in exasperation. I watch in sympathy, wishing I had the language to help get across what they were trying to say to each other. As everyone stares at the action unfolding, I hear the word hastane exchanged between the two and there is a final understanding that the group wants to go to the hospital.

Turkey hosts 3.5 million refugees (over 90% are Syrian). Registered refugees have access to free medical care and prescription medications. However, there are few Arabic (and Farsi and Dari) speaking medical staff and translators making it difficult to go to hospitals for medical concerns. Furthermore, according to Human Rights Watch, Turkey has begun turning away Syrians who cross into Turkey and denying asylum registration to those who are already here making it difficult to access free medical care.

Through the small opening of the two seats in front of me, I see a pair of round eyes staring back at me. It’s the same girl from the bus stop. I wave and smile again, my only offering. She peers her head into the aisle and around the seat. I motion for her to sit next to me and she gets up and takes the empty seat. We continue our same nonverbal exchange: smile and wave until we come to the stop in front of the hospital. A woman motions to the girl to get up, they gather the rest of the children, pay the driver, and step off.

Our Story, Refugee Stories

World Refugee Day in an Age of Zero Tolerance

“Today is ‘World Refugee Day’,” I say glancing up from my phone to my husband. We are still in our pajamas this morning, bed head and all. He hands me my cup of coffee and gives a sad laugh.

I tuck my toes underneath him as he settles in next to me on the couch.  He stares ahead silently for a minute before responding simply with, “We just have to put our trust in God.”

June 20th is what the United Nations has designated as World Refugee Day. “In a world where violence forces thousands of families to flee for their lives each day, the time is now to show that the global public stands with refugees,” it reads on their website.

Funny enough, today in Turkey is also the day where all refugees in our province must report to the police station for their weekly fingerprinting. Were you aware refugees had to check-in via fingerprint every seven days? My husband’s and my week is planned around this one event. After coffee this morning, he quickly left in order to avoid the large crowds gathering at the police station.

Today is the day my mother-in-law arrived back from an out-of-town trip (planned strategically so as not to miss her fingerprinting). Before she left, it took two days and multiple trips to the police station in order for her to obtain permission to even leave the province. Did you know refugees had to get permission to leave their province? Although armed with the correct papers, she still boarded the bus with an uneasiness settling onto her shoulders.

Today especially, I am ever conscious of the weekly fingerprinting, the jumping through hoops in order to leave town, the fear of traveling outside the city in case an officer stops and demands the proof of papers and identification. Refugees who are in limbo are forced to bow to being treated almost as prisoners while they wait to move forward with their lives. 4 1/2 years my husband has had to do this. What do you think that does to someone’s self-worth and dignity?

World Refugee Day comes just over a month after one of my husband’s acquaintances tried to leave Turkey. After threats of deportation and threats over his religion, he made the dangerous decision to put his family on a boat to cross into Greece. This painful choice — that was not really a choice at all — led to the tragic death of his mother, nephews, and cousin.

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
-Warson Shire

World Refugee Day comes one and half months after the U.S. enacted a zero-tolerance policy at the southern border where those who are seeking asylum are being separated from their children.

It comes at a time when politicians and leaders are using the Word of God to defend unjust, disgraceful policies.

This day comes when the Pew Research Center came out with a sobering statistic: nearly 1 out of 100 people are displaced from their homes. That is 65 million people displaced worldwide.

But with this rise in refugees and asylum seekers and an increase in people fleeing their homes from unimaginable violence, comes an uptick in keyboard warriors, people who sit in front of their laptops, coldly typing things like, “do it the legal way” and “get in line like the rest of us” and “but, but, but, it’s the law.”

A Call

For those living in America or in the comforts of a safe, stable home, to those with a job, family nearby, and a place to worship openly, to those who have no idea what is it like to raise your children while bombs are exploding in your city, or what it is like to fear your government, please listen.

Stop angrily typing for a minute and look around yourselves. Or better yet, look beyond yourselves.

Our elementary school history lessons have prepared us for a time like this. If you ever wondered what you would have done during the Holocaust, during the Japanese Internment Camps, or during the Civil Rights Movement, now is your chance. Like then, are you able to see evil as evil now? Unjust as unjust? Today will you stand on the right side of history?

An Apology

To my refugee and asylum-seeking friends, to those fleeing religious persecution, gang violence, domestic abuse, and to those only wanting a safe and peaceful life, if not for you but for your children, I am sorry.

I am sorry wealthy countries are slamming their doors shut to keep out those who were not lucky enough to be born inside the walls.

I am sorry you are judged and treated like a prisoner because of the passport you hold and the shade of your skin.

I am sorry you jump through every hoop possible, dance the dance required of you, do everything possibly right, and still, you are unable to find safety.

I am sorry Americans think it is a simple and straightforward process to flee your home and family.

“No refugee chooses to be a refugee. We do not choose to upset our lives, ripping out our hearts and souls, leaving all that we knew and loved for the unknown.”
– Hoang Chi Truong

I am sorry people have used the Lord’s name to justify the horrendous things happening.

I am sorry people have placed a policy enacted by a fallen man above your inherent worth as a child of God.

We see you.

We hear you.

We cry for you.

We want you safe.

And we want you here.