Helmand. Kabul. Kandahar. Kunduz.
I have to look up the unfamiliar names.
They are distant places connected by a geography of terror and hate that translate into one thing: the Taliban.
And, this is Afghanistan to me: a far-away desert littered with murdered western bodies and black-robed terrorists. When CNN and Fox News and BBC are my only frame of reference, Afghanistan cannot be the place where a Muslim father defies the odds and risks reprisal just to ask the Taliban leader to allow his daughters to be educated in the back-room of a teacher’s apartment.
Nor can it be the place where a little girl gets an education and becomes the first woman from her village to graduate high school and go on to get a law degree at university in Kabul.
No, Afghanistan cannot be an articulate and beautiful young Afghani woman who becomes a lawyer in Kabul and lays her career aside to come to Serbia and help her people.
Afghanistan cannot be the place from which a young man, articulate in English, tells us of the trials he endured to make a journey that has gotten him to Serbia.
Nor can it be a young man who make the journey but is arrested in Iran. He endures 10 days of beatings, is returned to Kabul only to turn around and make the same journey through Iran again to gain freedom in Europe.
No. Afghanistan CANNOT BE these heroic, beautiful, mind-boggling people, because their stories do not sell prime-time views.
Their stories do not feed our stereotypes of terrorists.
So they go unheard.
And that can seem like nothing in the midst of our daily lives, but it is everything to the family that left their life behind to take a chance on hope.
I remember a man from the Middle East who said, ‘He who has ears, let him hear.’
Because that war over there is changing my life here. Suddenly, a global migration of eastern culture to western culture, of the Islamic East to the Christian West, requires more of me. It requires more of me than sending money to poor nations somewhere over ‘there’ and getting on with my binge shopping. It requires more of me than sending missionaries over ‘there’ because suddenly the world is moving out of the war zone and into my safe backyard.
And all of this moving requires me to listen and to hear because this meshing of cultures is complicated. This unexpected mass migration suddenly requires answers to questions that we have long forgotten to ask.
What is my responsibility to my brother?
It jabs a finger in social wounds that still ooze.
How do we understand gender equality?
How do we see past race or can we find a way to see people beyond and yet connected to their color, ethnicity, religion?
How do we respond to people who disagree with everything we believe to be true?
It pushes us into conversations that we do not want to have.
Is my life of comfort selfish or is it my right?
Who is my brother?
And I cannot hear the answer because I have forgotten how to speak with ears that listen. I hear stereotypes. I hear politicians. I hear bombs. I hear fear. And it is a cacophony of noise that beats peace into silence.
As Afghanistan wails for freedom from the Macedonian border, could we listen together to a story that begins like this: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God. It is a good story.
Could we listen to one another today? Could we talk and hear and respect the voices – even those that disagree with us and challenge us?
I believe, oh how I believe, that the Church must speak by listening. From immigration to gender to sexuality to race to politics to religion – he who has ears let him hear. And as we listen, could we pray for peace? Could we pray for peace in a way that makes our lives a prayer of peace?
As the cry ‘die here or go on’ reverberates from Macedonia tonight, as a chorus of mourning songs wail from Syria tonight … Oh, God let peace begin with me.
Rise up, Church.
(read the latest on Syria here)
How Can You Help?
1. Take some time to think about, pray for, and discuss the questions above.
2. Be intentional to include ‘the other’ in your life. Find somebody different than you: different religion, different color, different economic reality, different culture, and make a vow to simply learn from them and pray for them.
3. Stop posting hate speech or communicating hate about other cultures, religions, gender, and races. With respect to the Middle East – Arab or Afghani does not equal terrorist.
4. You can always give .. there are a lot of great organizations out there responding to the refugee situation right now. NCM-Central Europe is one of them and you can donate here knowing that all you give goes directly to refugee care.
5. Think about volunteering. There are a lot of great organizations, both domestic and international that work with refugees. Watch this blog for some upcoming information about how you can volunteer in Central Europe.
6. Intentionally follow what is happening in the Middle East using a variety of news sources from different perspectives. Ask God to help you hear truth in the midst.