(This is the second installment of a new fictional series.  You can begin at the first installment by clicking here.)

The next morning began very early, as they always do here. There was breakfast to be cooked and paperwork by the droves to be completed. I saw Sarah and the little one, Ada, at breakfast. I explained that I had to complete several things for work, but that I would come find her when I was done. 

A few hours later, having been relieved by a local volunteer, I went to spend time with Sarah. I found her in her room, reading the Qur’an. Ada slept peacefully in a bassinet on the floor. Sarah smiled when she saw me and invited me into her room. We sat around the small round table near her window.

“I brought you some water. Ada seems to be sleeping well,” I said.  

“Thank you. Yes, she is catching up on months of stress and too little sleep,” Sarah replied.  

“How about you?” I asked. “How are you feeling this morning?”  

“I’m ok. Everything about my life is surreal and has been for so long. I have a hard time relaxing.”

“That certainly makes sense. I’m amazed by all you have been through. I read your history last night. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, I’m glad. It will save me the telling.”  
We both sat in silence and let the weight of her history wrap itself around the room.  
“Sarah, you speak English very well. Your papers didn’t mention how you became educated. Do you mind me asking?”

“I don’t mind. My father was a very wealthy man and he made sure that all of his children were educated by a western teacher that he hired to live in our home. We were very fortunate. Very few children, and even fewer girls, receive an education where I am from. In the end, it didn’t matter though. My fate was inescapable.”

“What do you mean, inescapable?”

“Well, when the war came most of us were more educated than the rebels but while intelligence may prevail over time, a gun prevails in an instant. Reason and argument were not entertained. Obedience was the only allowed response – as you have read.”

“Yes. Your story… I can’t imagine. I am so sorry.”

Again we sat, letting the silence swallow my apology and bear witness to the absurd inadequacy of words. There were never words that measured up to the pain.
After a while I asked, “You said you had some questions last night. I’m ready to talk about those if you are still interested?”

“Yes, I am. I hope you don’t mind my request. I thought, perhaps, it was too bold of me after you left last night.”

“Not at all. My concern is just that I may not have answers that satisfy you. But I think the best thing to do is to dive in and see how I can help. I think they told you that you would be here for a couple of months at least, so we have time. We don’t have to rush through everything today.”

“Will you be here for the next few months, too? Do you not have a home in America?”

“I do have a home in America, but I’m here for another six months. If we can’t get through everything in that time, then I can guarantee that I’ll have answered everything I’m capable of answering.”

We both laughed nervously.  

“Tell me what you are wondering about.”
With a deep breath, she began, “We read the newspapers in the camps. There was always a tattered paper making the rounds and being read to those who couldn’t read themselves. So we have been following the arguments in American about whether refugees will be allowed sanctuary. Many, including me, have been surprised by….,” she paused for quite some time.

“Go on,” I said.

“I’m not sure how to explain what surprised me. I guess, well, what I know of Christianity and Jesus made me believe your country would welcome us. What I know of your history, too. Many of us grew up hearing about the opportunity available in America to anyone who works hard. The ‘American Dream’ we heard was for anyone. Growing up in a closed culture with very little opportunity, many of us saw America as a land of hope. So, I guess my question is – What has changed?”
I sat looking at her. Her huge brown eyes so full of confusion, pain, and mixed still yet with hope. I could hear Ada breathing steadily as she slept. I smiled as a tear fell down my cheek. What has changed? Everything has changed.
“I’m glad we have months, Sarah. I think it may take months. I’m going to try and answer your questions, but I have to tell you that I can only tell you my perception of what is going on. The questions you have are heart questions, and I cannot see into anyone’s heart but my own, and even that is suspect at times. But I’m going to try, ok?”

“Yes. I know that you are just one person, but I’ve been wrestling with so many questions for so long. I’m just glad you are willing to listen and try.”
“Ok. The first answer is actually fairly easy and one I’m sure you know. People are afraid. The terrorists who attacked our country in 2001 and the Muslim mass shooters since have instilled a very primal fear in people. Many are scared that no matter how well our screening process is for refugees we may still be shepherding people into our country who will then begin recruiting and plotting to kill on a massive scale.”
“Yes, I did understand that this fear was very strong. I understand the fear, too. I mean, I’ve lived through exactly what is feared, right? I’ve lived through extreme religious fanatics coming into a peaceful town and killing so many. I understand fear, Addy. They killed… They killed my babies,” she ended in a whisper.

“At the same time though, last week in the camp…did you hear about the little one and her mom who died?”

“Yes, I did.” I couldn’t say anything more. A young mother had given birth in the night and both the baby and mother had been found in the morning, dead from exposure. It wasn’t the first time, either. There was just so many here. It was overwhelming.

“So you know what is happening. You see how many of us are dying to be safe. You know that we fear the same thing and we are dying trying to escape. Literally, Addy, we are dying to escape.”

“I do know, Sarah.”

“I know about your God. I’m one of the few that I’ve ever known who has actually read your bible. I know that your God instructs you to take care of the stranger. The story of the Samaritan – aren’t I a modern day Samaritan, Addy? Isn’t Ada?”

“I think you are, Sarah. It is why I’m here.”

“Yes, this is not about your heart though, Sarah, it is about the heart of your country. The heart of your leaders. Explain to me their hearts.”
I sat and looked out the window at a grey and cold winter sky. I prayed as I looked out. I prayed for the words that could explain a contradiction that I did not understand.  
Finally I began speaking.  

“I can’t explain it, Sarah. I can not explain it. I have had this same conversation so many times before I came here – except that I sat in your chair and asked people I’d known my whole life those same questions. They never answered in a way that penetrated my heart and I know that there is no way I can answer that will satisfy yours.

The thing that did change for me was when I finally realized that I was asking the wrong question. The question wasn’t – How can other people believe in Jesus and still say we shouldn’t help? The question was – How can I know that there is real risk and yet still feel like I should help?”

I became quiet then as I re-lived the tension filled conversations with my family as I told them I was leaving to come here for a year. Sarah sat with me and waited.
“Sarah, the only thing I can do is explain why I feel the way I do and to tell you that I am not alone. There are many who also feel this way. Even some of those who are saying no to refugees want to find a way to say yes.

I worship a God who commanded I love other people. Jesus said some form of ‘do not be afraid’ more than 21 times in our gospels. His second most frequent directive was to love our neighbors. ‘Do not be afraid’ and ‘Love your neighbor’ His two most frequent instructions. He admonished his disciple for raising a sword against the very ones who would kill Him. He said that he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. He told us to overcome evil with good. This God I worship and Jesus I follow, they said that to love them is to love and care for you. One love cannot exist without the other.

And even though I believe this, it doesn’t require that I become naive. As you are aware, you were searched for weapons before you came into the shelter. The conversations you have had with everyone, including this one, will be recorded and analyzed to try and determine if you wish to cause anyone harm. You will stay here for months while we do our best to determine your intent. But our goal, is that once we are comfortable that you mean us no harm, we will find a country who will provide a safe home for you and Ada.

But Sarah, the fact of the matter is, even if I spent every day with you for months on end, you could hide your heart from me. We may very well determine that your are of no danger, place you in a country, and learn that we were wrong. Learn that you committed atrocities and had planned to all along. I had to figure out what to do with that possibility…”

“So, ” Sarah asked, “what did you decide? How did you end up here if even you fear me?”

“No, Sarah, no. I don’t fear you. I’m sorry, I know that this is not easy to hear. I’m just trying to answer your questions honestly. Please, understand, that I trust first – we start, you and I, with trust. Ok?” I took hold of her hand, “I don’t fear you.”

“Ok. Yes, of course. I’m sorry – it’s just so hard to go from eight months of life and death survival to intellectual conversations about strangers who fear me. I’m sorry, go on, this is exactly the conversation I need to have. Help me see how you moved from fear to helping.”

“I remember very clearly the exact moment it all became clear for me. One day a few months before I came here, I was talking with a friend who was making a convincing argument that we needed to shore up our borders and just insulate ourselves from any risk of radicals coming into the country.  

We were sitting in a restaurant having this conversation when suddenly I looked out the large windows and saw a vision. Thousands of refugees huddled together. I could see men who looked just like the terrorists we had all seen on TV, but at the same time they looked just like the characters in the Bible stories I had watched on TV. I saw women holding their children. I saw toddlers crying and cold. Everywhere I looked were families and they were all looking right into me. From person to person I looked each one in the eye and I was not afraid. I didn’t see anything to fear. I only saw pain, hunger, fear, need – everywhere I looked, desperate need. 

 And then they were gone, replaced with cars and normal traffic.  I sat with my eyes closed, still seeing those pleading faces in my mind.

Finally I spoke to my friend –

“I think you are right,” I said slowly, “I think that we might let some radicals slip in if we let all the refugees in, even if we are very careful.” 

My friend sat back, relieved that I finally saw reason. He was so satisfied that I almost felt bad to go on…  

“But,” I could feel the tension rising with that one small word, “I feel like, even if that happens, it’s better than doing nothing.”

He started to launch back into his argument.

“Listen,” I said, “you make sense. Truly, I understand what you are saying. And I know it sounds a little crazy and maybe even un-patriotic to disagree. But what if the refugees weren’t overseas? What if there were five-thousand refugees in the parking lot right now? What if they were out there right now and they were dying from hunger and exposure?

And what if I told you that twenty were absolutely radicals. Would you ask me to watch the five thousand die because if we helped them the twenty would kill us?

I don’t even need you to answer that because I’m telling you that would be a death to my soul.

I think in this exact moment I understand what Jesus meant when he said, ‘He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.’ He didn’t mean not to own a sword. He meant not to live by the sword.

I think he meant that we can’t make decisions out of fear. Even if we have the biggest sword in the room. Because once we let fear make our decisions, we are living by the sword.  

We can protect ourselves AND love the refugees and take care of them. I have to go help. I have to help because if I decide not to help to save my own life, it will cost me my soul.”

“Then, I thanked my friend, paid our bill, and left to make my plans to come here.
So, I didn’t move from fear to helping – I moved through fear to helping. It’s still right behind me and sometimes all around me. But for me, I felt like I was choosing between deaths – I could either physically die because I was loving people in a dangerous situation, or I could die spiritually because I did nothing to help innocent victims.”

Sarah and I were still holding hands over the small table. Our eyes filled with tears over the enormity of it all. She desperately wanted to hear that there was a way for my people to stop fearing her people, and I wasn’t able to give that to her. I desperately wanted her to understand that even the people rejecting her were good people, but it was impossible for her to see past her brutal reality.

And then a small whimper called out from the bassinet. Ada was hungry.


“I just want you to know that I love you and I am going to do everything I can to help you and Ada.”

“I know, Addy. I know you will. Thank you for talking with me. I need to take some time to think about everything you have said. Will you be able to talk again tomorrow?”

“Absolutely – every day.”

“I want to explain how the words of your leaders are being used to turn people to the enemy.”

“I’ve read a lot about that, but I would very much appreciate hearing your experience first hand.”

“And then maybe we can dream of what the world might look like if fear were not a part of it. Wouldn’t that be beatiful?”

“Oh it would, Sarah. Let’s talk about that, too.”

She turned and scooped Ada up from the bassinet. Ada saw her mother’s face and lit up with the joy that is innate in every baby I’ve ever seen. Innate as if we were all made from one beautiful image…

I stood, gently kissed the top of their heads, and asked softly, “What does Ada’s name mean in your culture?”

Not lifting her gaze from the beautiful little ones eyes, she replied, “Grace.”

Of course it does I thought, and I went to begin the supper preparations.

“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy,” I prayed.

“We have room for a mother and an infant. Addy, You need to go find them.”
I had done this before. Gone out to find someone. The first time I was so excited to get to bring someone in, but I was soon freed from my delusion. I had to step over so many men, women, and children as I looked for the family that met our availability. We had learned that the refugees would not be seperated. After traveling so far, and surviving so much, these families would not leave one another behind. So, when we had space, it was critical that we find a family that met our vacancy exactly.
This time would be difficult because it would have to be a single mother with just the one infant child. As winter approached the younger babies were at great risk. We had tried to bring mother’s in with just their infants even if we couldn’t accommodate the whole family, but soon realized that it was cruel to ask the mothers to leave their other children, even to save the baby. The mother’s couldn’t choose to inflict any more pain on their families.

I put on my veil and layered clothes under the traditional garb that I needed to wear to blend in. The temperatures were dropping near freezing at night now. It would be warmer to wear one of the parkas, but if I went out in just my American clothing I would be inundated with pleas for help. Before leaving the shelter, I prayed for discernment and providence. I’d no idea how sharply that prayer would be answered.

It didn’t take as long as I feared. Fifteen minutes into the camp I saw a young mother huddled with her baby. I asked if she was alone and when she said yes, I asked her to walk with me. Discreetly I told her to take whatever she could carry that she wanted to keep, and immediately I saw the shift in her gaze. She understood that she had been chosen for safety. At least for now.

Quietly we made it back to the shelter without incident. I could feel her tension and relief collide as we made it into the door. She and the baby were quickly taken away to be checked by our doctors. They would be sure that any urgent physical ailments were addressed tonight. We would try to help with the mental anguish over time as well, but those wounds were much more challenging.

After a few hours I went by her room.  The baby had been checked by the doctors, as had the mother, Sarah. Both were severely malnourished. The baby was being fed every two hours in small doses, while Sarah was given the first hot meal she had had in over eight months.

I watched this mother tenderly feed her daughter, coo to her lullaby’s I had never heard, and I was struck once again at how similar we all are.  When she saw me watching she motioned me to come sit with them. It was late by now, the baby would finally sleep for some time, with a full tummy and a warm shelter. She thanked me and I thanked her. Then we sat in silence for a while watching the little one sleep.

Finally she broke the silence with a small sob. I moved closer and asked if I could put my arm around her. She collapsed into my arms, still cradling her baby. We were near the same age but our experiences made it feel like a vast amount of time seperated us.

I had read her intake papers so I knew that she had lost her husband and two older children in the war. Her husband had been taken by the rebels, but only after he resisted and tried to stay with his family. When they realized how important his family was to him, they shot the two children, right in front of Sarah and her husband.  A four year old daughter and two year old son.  Then they demanded again that he come with them. At that point he agreed to leave, and they laughed back towards Sarah saying, “No one is loyal to just a woman.” But she knew. He left because of the little girl who was asleep hidden in a drawer. His gaze said a million things to her, as she hoped hers had to him. She learned in the week that followed that he had been killed for not responding quickly enough to a command to murder one of their neighbors.

She and the baby had taken the money they had been saving to flee the country and bought passage on one of the small rubber rafts that we had all seen on the news. They didn’t have enough money saved to get all five of them out, but since there were only two now…   

That was eight months ago and she and the baby had walked another 300 miles to get to this camp. It was a miracle that they both survived the journey.

Now, holding her as she wept, I wondered how the world had come to this place. I wondered how we had reached a place in our humanity that things like this could happen. What I didn’t do though, is question how God could let this happen. I didn’t believe He did. We did this. We let this happen.  

I had not always felt this way – but one day a few years ago, bemoaning the state of the world and railing against a God who would let so much pain exist, a friend told me a modern day parable:

There was a man who was working with his friend along the railroad tracks. They were picking up debris and doing their best to clean up.              They had been making progress and having a great day, when in the distance the man heard a train approaching. As the train came closer them man moved further from the tracks and continued to fill his bag with trash. Finally he paused to watch the train pass and when he looked up he saw that his friend had his back to the train and was about to be crushed.

My friend asked me, “Is it the fault of the train conductor that the man is about to be crushed?” 
“No,” I answered, “he could hear the train and move out of the way.”  
“But the man is deaf,” he added. 
 “Then his friend should have warned him, ” I replied.
“Tell me why you think it’s his friend’s responsibility?” 
“Well,” I said, “he was there. He knew the risk. There was time and he understood that his friend couldn’t hear the train. He was the only one that could really help.”
“Yes,” my friend quietly said. “It is his friends responsibility to take care of him. The conductor can’t change the laws of physics. Even if he could, chaos would quickly ensue. And, besides, there is no need. Everything that is needed to avoid the tragedy is available. This is as it is with God. He has given us all we need to alleviate all of the suffering in this world. To alter the natural laws would ensure chaos. It is critically important that we take responsibility. As a matter of fact, we are the miracle that God provided.”

So now, because of that conversation, and many more after that. I see pain as a big reason – the reason, really – why we are here. To learn to alleviate the pain of others. I believe that when Jesus said the sheep and the goats will be separated by how they took care of people he made it pretty clear that this is our main job. That along with the great commandment to love one another, and the great commission to go show other people to love one another and take care of each other. It seems really clear to me. But I try to remember that it wasn’t always clear, and it still isn’t clear to everyone.  

Sarah finally began to settle a bit and sat back up, shaking me out of of my thoughts. Shyly she thanked me. I told her that she didn’t need to thank me. It was such a privilege to be with her. She was quiet then.  After some time, she asked if she could ask me a question. In hindsight, I almost wish I’d said no. But I did not, I said yes.

“Are you a Christian? I mean, are you here because you are a Christian? Because I’ve been thinking a lot these last few months and I am very confused about your country, your God, and now, perhaps… you.”
“Yes, Sarah, I am a Christian and my faith is what led me to be here.  But I respect whatever your beliefs and religion are. I, we, we do not ask that you denounce your faith to be helped. We will respect your belie..”
She interrupted me, “No, I’m not worried about that. The reputation of this place is well known. But I do have questions. Can we talk tomorrow?”
“Yes. Absolutely. I may not have all the answers, but I would be glad to sit with you. Can you tell me a little more about what you would like to talk about?”
“I am confused by some of what I know about your Jesus and your Bible. We all listen to the news from the U.S. and…well, I just have questions.”
I took a deep breath, “Ok, well, I think that will be a lengthy conversation best served by a good rest and hearty breakfast.” She smiled and with that I gave her a warm hug and left her and her daughter to their first nights sleep in a safe and warm bedroom.
I went back to my room as well. I wondered how I could possibly be ready for her questions tomorrow, when I still had so many of my own…

I’m getting ready to begin writing again on a regular basis.  This isn’t that.  This is just something I have to do to not fall completely apart all alone in a hotel room far from my family.

I left the office today and drove to my hotel.  As I do every afternoon, I called my husband, but he was in the midst of a project, so I called my mom to catch up on her week.  We chatted all the way to my hotel, up the elevator and then into my room.  I had left the TV on because it’s nice to come in the room to some noise.  I wasn’t really paying any attention, just chatting with my mom about Christmas but then I caught a glimpse of the TV screen.

Red flashing lights, a swarm of police cars, a ticker at the bottom listing the suspected fatalities.  

I collapsed into the closest chair, interrupted my mom mid-sentence practically yelling, “Has there been another shooting?!?!  Mom, has there been another?!?  I can not take any more of this…”

Her voice caught and with a tender voice she said “Yes, I didn’t realize you hadn’t heard.  There are 14 dead….it was at a facility for disabled..”  I stopped her, “I can’t talk about this mom.  I can’t handle this.  I can’t take anymore.”

And I turned off the TV and resumed our discussion.  I went to dinner with a good friend from work, and we didn’t talk of it.  We didn’t have the radio on, I didn’t look at my phone.  That isn’t at all like me.  I’m one to get all the information.  I don’t have to watch it all for hours on end, but I need to get all the facts and know what is known.

So now, in the background, I’ve turned into the news.  It is playing in the background as I write.  I am picking up bits and pieces. 

I can’t take anymore.

I logged in to facebook to see the standard barrage of gun right activist friends vs. gun control activist friends.

Can we all just stop. Stop fighting.  

Let us consider what a loving response might be and do that.

Let us pray for the families and consider what actions we might take to make the world a better and safer place for our little ones.

We should stop being full of fear – of one another, or the other.   For those of us who follow Christ – we are not to live with a spirit of fear.  Fear not.

Fear not.  Love your God and love one another as yourself.  Turn the other cheek.  Seek peace.  Be wise and loving.

Julie, fear not.  Julie, love your God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Julie, remember whose daughter you are and turn the other cheek.  Julie, seek peace.  Julie, remember to be wise and loving.  You don’t have to choose just one, you have to choose both.

Fear Not.  Love.  Peace.  Wisdom.  Love.


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