It was Saturday in Keleti train station. My friend, Chris, was giving out cardamon-infused tea to refugees like an ancient elixer that puts the world right again.
We saw olive skin and dark eyes wrapped in a black hijab. She was standing, tall and straight, like a sentry left to guard all that was valuable. There were 2 kids playing around her feet and several women lying on mats.
‘Hello, my name is Amina, which means peace in Farsi.’
Sometimes you fall in love with people. Maybe it is their story, or their soul that flows out of their smile, or the way they drop their head to catch your words, as if you were important.
Amina was Afghani and with her husband and family had been on the road of escape for three years. Her sister-in-law rested a heavily-rounded stomach on a mat beside Amina’s feet as she watched her 5-year old son play.
What happens to our world view when Peace is an olive-skinned woman wrapped in a hijab?
“We come from the part of Afghanistan where Pakistan and India meet.” Beginning her story with a socio-geographic lesson, ‘This is where the Taliban is very strong. Women are especially in danger. We had to cover and we were kept in our homes. If someone is rich – I mean if they have a car, for example, they are in danger. Nothing is tolerated.’
She listed the stops on their journey like a tourist might recall their itinerary. From Aghanistan in the night to Pakistan, where we were in constant danger, to India, and into Iran. From there, the tale of their journey paralleled the map that other sojourners gave: Turkey and the dangerous seas, to Greece, to Macedonia, thru Serbia, and into Hungary.
Amina was a wrenching narrative of violence wrapped in beautiful peace that grew more fascinating with every question.
‘How old are you?’
She smiled, and shrugged her thin shoulders. ‘Somewehere between 20 and 25, I think. My mother was uneducated and when I asked her how old I was, she did not know.’ She motioned to the old lady on her left, ‘My mother-law also does not know her age. We think she is somwhere between 70 and 75. The journey is difficult for her. She has bad knees that are very painful, but she runs when she must.’
On that Saturday, they had arrived from a camp where they were locked inside for days. At midnight on the 3rd night, the police suddenly opened the door and yelled, ‘You leave now. Run.’ And they ran, just as they had other times in other dark nights over the past years; through the brush and the forests of so many lands, crossing borders in the night, dodging guards and guns.
The grandma of questionable age ran. The pregnant sister-in-law ran. The child of 5 ran, because when freedom screams in the night, you throw a harness around courage and you run. These are truths of life that those of us from war quickly learn to heed.
Those of us from war? Exactly.
Us and Them
We are in the habit of using ‘us’ and ‘them’ like a cartographer paints borders on a map. The good and the bad. The haves and the have-nots. The free and the not-so-free. The rich and the poor. The saved and the damned. And the list goes on, with a breath of relief that we are not in the group called ‘Them’.
But, Jesus died for Them – if Them are wrapped in the sin of our humanity and bound by the chains of war.
But, Jesus bled and heaved and groaned for Them – if Them has skin of a different color and speaks in other languages and acts in ways contrary to how we conduct ourselves.
But, Jesus cried out in agony and stumbled in exhaustion for Them – if Them carry guns and worship other gods and take multiple wives.
But, Jesus screamed in the night and bore the name refugee for Them.
Are we Them?
Oh, how I hope I am part of Them for whom Jesus died.
The God-Journey to Us
God left heaven and came to earth – we say it so often that it becomes cliche’ like some star-lit tinsel that we hang on a cheap, fake Christmas tree.
The Being that had never been chained to form and that eternally existed in perfect union with the God-head … yanked on the stinking, rotting decay of flesh and sinew and body function to be born a man that squawked, and nursed, and was hitched to his mother’s side.
God became like Us because we are Them.
We are the Them for whom Jesus crossed borders, ran through the night, bore the name refugee and the smack of a whip, skinned his knees and traced the dark lines of crow’s feet as his olive skin aged.
Jesus became a Jew of Middle-Eastern descent, carried the blood of Rahab the prostitute and Ruth the Moabite of the tribe which Lot and his daughter birthed in incest.
It is a sordid-sort of journey that brings one to need a paper-cup of Chris’ cardamon-infused steaming tea. Maybe it is the kind of tea that Jesus sipped from Mary’s peace-giving pot.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
Courage for the Journey
We can argue about immigration and refugee rights. We can discuss the wisdom of letting Them into our borders. We can make lists, and point out danger, hold the keys, build the fence, lock the doors and bar the windows. But, eventually we find our way to one troubling little truth thanks to the Apostle Timothy …
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
Jesus ransomed Them with his body. And, WE are Them.
Is that sad? Or is it life-giving?
There can be no more Us and Them in how we speak or view the world from a Christ perspective. Somehow, someway and soon, we ought to yank on our courage and reconcile ourselves to this truth: we are not God’s favorite nation, or culture, or color, or political persuasion, or gender, or generation. When He looks at our maps that carve our borders into His created order, He is no respecter of those divisions.
Jesus crossed-over into Tyre and Sidon and conversed theologically with a Canaanite woman. This is enough to shut up our discourse of Us and Them.
I need a cup of your tea, Chris, and courage for this journey like Amina.
Oh, God, in this milli-second of Advent 2015, please give us courage to hear your cry of freedom in the night. Reconcile Us to your perfect mercy for All. Give us courage for the journey. Restore our peace in the midst of this war.
Each and every one of us have borders of prejudice and self-serving sin that we fear to cross. We cannot do it by ourselves.
And we do not say it often enough or feel it deeply enough or live it authentically enough, but we are grateful for your sacrifice to become like Us. You come to where we breed war and birth hate, where we build walls on borders in our lands and in our hearts. We are out of words, dear Word.
So, come, Lord Jesus, come. Heal our land. Redeem our hearts. Make us peace.