In the Migrant Journey

The following prayer was written by Saulo Padilla, Director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Saulo came to Canada as a political refugee from Guatemala in the 1980s and is now a U.S. immigrant. He wrote this prayer as he participated in The Migrant Trail, a 75-mile walk along the U.S. /Mexico borderlands, intended to bear witness to those who have died along the trail in search of a better life in the U.S. We offer Saulo’s prayer in light of the tragic deaths of migrants in San Antonio this week.

I walk with my brothers and sisters in desolation.
Are you here God?
Please don’t be far.
I am afraid and my soul is trembling.
You cried in Gethsemane, come cry with me.

Walking on the highway with border patrol.
Many hunt for us and we are accused of breaking the law;
You have been persecuted,
come be our witness,
defend our cause.

Make known the roots of our suffering and the causes of our journey.
Make public that our intentions are in accord to your law.

Intercede for those who walk with us in this path.
Make their rights be known,
and their voices be heard.

Migrant shoes
Guide the feet of those who get lost.
You know the darkness.
Hold our hands.
In the dim night shine your light and direct our path.

Restore the lands of our ancestors.
Bring justice to our people.
Pour rain on their crops,
and give them peace to harvest their fruit.

Anxiety and fear are our companions in our journey;
replace them with peace and hope.

Nurture our spirits while we are far from home.
Be with our loved ones.
Do not let time erase the way back home,
so that we may not live in exile forever.

Crossing into Sesabe, Mexico and having a prayer service at a church there.
The desert is arid and thirst awaits us.
You know the desert.
You’ve been exiled.
Come walk with us,
and bring a fountain of justice into our lives.

Sow seeds of peace and justice in the hearts and minds of those who resist our journey.
Let us be seeds of peace and hope in our new home, this land of our exile. Amen.

From numbers to neighbours

This week’s guest blog is written by Rachel Clements, student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. She attended the Ottawa Office annual student seminar in February called “Refuge. Asylum. Displacement. Canada’s response.”

Amal’s eyes are dark like the depths of the ocean she crossed to get here, but they light up exquisitely when she sees me enter the room.

“Rashelle!” she calls out, greeting me by my name in Arabic.  It’s Saturday night, and I am visiting the hotel that serves as a temporary home to over 300 Syrians until they are able to find housing. Every night, a local organization runs ESL classes for the children at the hotel, but the excitement in the room makes me suspect that I will be doing all the learning tonight.

“Taa’li hon!” Amal beckons me to over to where her family is seated, and our attention shifts to the front of the room where a dozen men in traditional Syrian clothes perform zaffe, an Arab musical procession with drums and singing usually performed at weddings.

zaffe instruments

Instruments such as these are used in the Arabic zaffe.  Photo courtesy http://www.alazifoon.com

The room descends into what I can only describe as joyful chaos. The adults present are far outnumbered by the children who restlessly parade around the room; some with younger children toted on the shoulders of older siblings, some daring to dance in the middle of the chanting men. The women in the room respond with high-pitched tongue trilling, known as zalghouta, which is used to express the joy of the moment.

Amal places her younger brother, Hassan, in my lap as she gets up to join in the dancing. Hassan’s hands settle into mine, and Amal’s mother smiles at me through warm eyes. For some reason, I did not expect people fleeing war to be so open and inviting. But this was my ignorance. They had more joy to share than I.

From February 18-20, I was privileged to attend a three-day student seminar hosted by MCC’s Ottawa Office, focused on Canada’s response to refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons. The seminar afforded us the opportunity to hear from several politicians, civil servants, MCC staff, and NGO representatives currently involved in Canada’s resettlement efforts. A large focus of the seminar was on the newly-arrived Syrians within Canada.

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Jenny Kwan, NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. MCC photo

During MCC’s seminar, Jenny Kwan, MP of East Vancouver and NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, addressed some valuable concerns that Syrians face as they integrate into Canada. Kwan expressed concern that while the government is focused on meeting numbers, the capacity on the ground to receive the newcomers is deficient, and resources are not being used to their full potential.

A problem arises from governmental policy whereby funding is granted only to NGO’s that have been involved with resettlement efforts in the past. While these NGO’s are overburdened and running at full capacity, other NGO’s and community groups are willing to help out but are unable to receive funding. Without the mobilization of all our resources, integration into Canadian society is proving to be a painful and slow moving process. Month-long wait-lists for adult ESL classes mean that language continues to be a barrier to integration, and many Syrians feel socially isolated and unable to articulate their needs.

Kwan called to attention the importance of community and familiarity for refugees. Though privately sponsored refugees arrive to be welcomed into a community of support, government sponsored refugees are often more vulnerable without a community to assist them in settling. They must rely on income assistance alone, and have difficulty finding affordable housing and access to medical care. Additionally, most school systems don’t have the infrastructure in place to accommodate for the arrival of the Syrian children. The language needs as well as trauma and therapy needs of these children must be addressed, otherwise Canada risks facing large fallout down the road.

In light of these issues desperately needing to be addressed, what can we do to help?

Kwan suggested Canadians should remain true to our identity of generosity and openness to others. Canadian citizens can fill the gaps in the integration process by contacting resettlement agencies and offering volunteer assistance. Many communities are beginning family match programs, where Canadian families are matched with Syrian families to act as a point of reference and support throughout the process of integration.

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Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party. MCC photo

Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, said Canada’s resettlement process has been slow in the past and is in great need of rebuilding. May called upon us to be patient with the new government as it rebuilds and begins to mobilize.

May also expressed great confidence in the federal Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, who has been mandated to look after long-term resources for refugees addressing matters such as PTSD, mental health, and isolation. These needs will continue to be addressed long after the refugees have settled into Canada. But in the meantime, May urged us in the same way that Kwan did, to be gracious and generous hosts. Befriending and becoming a stable, long-term friend to one Canadian newcomer can do more to ease trauma and mental health concerns than several clinical appointments can.

Heeding the advice of many of the speakers at the seminar, I now spend three nights a week at the hotel, trying to engage and connect with the Syrian children as they wait for permanent housing. Amal and I have built a friendship based on shared lessons in English and Arabic. She now affectionately refers to me as  “Okhti,” meaning “Sister.” The name Amal in Arabic means hope, and in many ways, this is what she is to me.

These children teach me valuable lessons. Each day when I greet them saying, “Keifik?” meaning, “How are you?” the children respond, “Al-hamdulillah!” meaning, “Thanks be to God.” I have learned this word of gratitude is used in all cases, no matter how the person is feeling, because all of life, in its blessings and discomfort, is a gift from God.

 

 

 

Refugees and Rights: A Compassionate Response

This week’s guest blog is written by Amy Matychuk, law student at the University of Calgary.

From February 18-20, I was part of a group of 30 students and MCC staff from across Canada who met in Ottawa to learn about refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons at the annual MCC Student Seminar. We heard from United Nations staff, from Members of Parliament, from civil servants, from MCC staff who work with refugees, and from volunteers with newcomers to Canada.Thomas' selfie photo

For two and a half days, we learned about displaced persons, Canada’s response to their needs, and ways in which we can help. Those who work intimately with refugees were able to provide our group with insights into the steep set of challenges that refugees face. I learned many details both about the Syrian refugee crisis and about refugees worldwide that helped to inform my perspective on how Canadians and Canadian Christians should respond.

Firstly, I was shocked to learn how few refugees have the opportunity to resettle in places like Canada and how many remain in refugee camps for indefinite lengths of time. I assumed that refugee camps were places of transition, but many people stay there long enough to have children and grandchildren. I found this fact heartbreaking, but also valuable to know as I respond to those around me who are upset or suspicious about the refugees the Canadian government is accepting.

So much of what news stories seem to focus on are things like security risks or the difficulty of integrating refugees or the amount of money spent on re-settlinmccstudentseminar-8g Syrians that could be used to benefit the lives of Canadians. In responding to these suspicion-filled narratives about refugee resettlement, I think it is helpful to focus on the humanity of people who have no choice but to spend huge portions of their lives with no opportunity to work, no access to education, and sometimes very little hope for their futures. Elizabeth May, one of the speakers, described the many years refugees spend in camps as “a waste of human potential.”

As Christians, we should be less concerned about our own wealth or safety than about being God’s hands and feet and participating in God’s work of, as Jeremiah 29:11 puts it, giving others the chance to prosper and to have a hope and a future.

Secondly, I learned about the difficulties refugees face once they reach Canada. As though being displaced from their home countries because of threats of violence wasn’t enough shock and upheaval for a lifetime, they often struggle with some aspects of integration.

For this new influx of Syrian refugees in particular, the government infrastructure for receiving refugees is sparse and disorganized. Because of linguistic and cultural barriers, they don’t know where to go grocery shopping, how to use public transit, or how to manage the very small living stipend that the government provides them (the same amount as a Canadian on social assistance).mccstudentseminar-9

These facts underscored for me how important it is to be on the lookout for those who need my help, as a Canadian and an English speaker but also as a friend, advocate, and listening ear. As a student, I can’t give much financially, but I realized that I still have time and skills that could dramatically change someone’s life for the better.

Thirdly, the presenters at the seminar challenged me to reconsider the way I view my rights as a Canadian. I can guard my rights jealously; I can protest that it is not my fault that I was born in a country that guarantees my rights to movement, expression, and religion, and that I should not be responsible for the well-being of people I have never met because I happened to be born in a wealthy country.

On their face, these statements are logical. Nothing legally forces me to be concerned for Syrian children in refugee camps, and there is no code that sets out my obligation to ensure their rights are respected. However, if I consider my rights as a Canadian alongside the values Jesus exemplified, I should instead be humbled that I did nothing to earn my good fortune. I should consider it the greatest and most significant expression of my rights as a Canadian that I seek to include others in the same freedom and opportunity that I enjoy.

In seeking to extend these rights as far as I can, I should avoid the temptation to fear that my own wealth or safety will be compromised. However compelling as these arguments may be, they are distractions that prey on my own greed and self-interest rather than enabling me to live as Jesus would have.

I hope that in the years ahead, Canadians will be able to look back and be proud of the welcome we extended when the vulnerable needed our help the most.

 

Elections and matters of the heart

By Rebekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office. For the Ottawa Office’ s Federal Election Resource, click here.

As I was drafting this post, the global refugee/forced migration crisis – an issue very close to my heart – FINALLY captured the full attention of media outlets around the world. It also finally made its way into the Canadian federal election campaign. It’s incredible how one heart-breaking story can capture the attention of so many people, even though a full year ago the UNHCR reported that the scale of people forcefully displaced around the world had reached numbers not seen since the Second World War – 60 million people.

Amidst the sadness and overwhelming nature of this crisis, my hope is that this global crisis and other issues like it remain at the forefront of the Canadian federal election campaign: creating energy, enthusiasm and excitement – driving substantial policy debates, discussions and plans, leading right up to Election Day.

Hannah and her eight children arrived in Jordan as refugees from Syria in 2914. One of the children has multiple disabilities. MCC photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen.

Hannah and her eight children arrived in Jordan as refugees from Syria in 2914. One of the children has multiple disabilities. MCC photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen.

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I remember the 1995 Quebec Referendum all so clearly. My brother and I were sitting in the family room, eyes glued to the TV, watching the Yes/ No votes swing between 51/49 and 49/51, respectively. My parents were watching with us, my Dad pacing back and forth across the room, saying to himself over and over again: “This is a social studies teacher’s dream… It’s a social studies teacher’s dream!”

It was getting late; way past my bedtime! I remember begging to stay up just a little longer, but to no avail. I would just have to wait until morning to learn the outcome. Besides, it was not until the wee hours of the morning when the official results were finally declared: 51% No, 49% Yes. The federalist vote had won!

Many of us remember the moments when our various interests and passions were first ignited. The Quebec Referendum was such an occasion for me. It ignited a passion for politics (in case you didn’t catch that already!): the process, the debates, the policies and definitely the elections.

My adolescent and teen years were full of election moments: explaining the First-Past-the-Post system to my classmates; accompanying my parents to the polling stations; my Dad quizzing us constantly on local candidates and party platforms in the car or around the dinner table; attending any and all local candidate debates; watching leadership debates on TV; meeting various MPs on a school trip to Ottawa; and finally casting a ballot for the first time!

GNMThere’s no doubt my own love for politics has strong roots in the excitement around elections and the political process in general. But for me, beyond the exhilaration of watching the election results roll in, are the ideas, issues and policies behind each candidate and party. These various key ideas and prospective policies are the building blocks (at least in theory!) that will define the mandates of the new Parliament. Election campaigns provide an opportunity to get directly involved in the shaping of the policies that will govern us!

For Christians, elections are also a time to consider the political implications for our faith. They are times to discern, with humility, how Jesus’ call to love our neighbours may be reflected in the public good.

My love for politics developed alongside my faith from a young age. For me, the intersection of faith and politics took the form of a passion and desire for justice, peace and human dignity, firmly rooted in the teachings of Christ and Scripture as a whole. I believe that it is the responsibility of both government and our society in general tobe champions of peace, justice and human dignity for all.

These principles can be reflected in any number of global and national issues. In the MCC Ottawa Office’s Canadian election resource, we speak to concerns raised by MCC program and partners in Canada and around the world and the potential role of government. Some of these include: responding to the global forced migration and refugee crisis, promoting peacebuilding in areas of conflict, supporting small scale farmers around the world, walking alongside Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and many more.

Each of us is impacted in our way by these and other key issues. For me, the global refugee/forced migration crisis is one of those themes always weighing heavily on my heart, striking to the very core. For me it symbolizes one of the fundamental places where my own faith and love for politics meet – in the deep yearning to protect human dignity, to reach out in love to our neighbours, and to build a sustainable peace for all.

What are the issues that speak to you? What ignites your political and/or faith passion?

At election time, as parties and candidates reveal their plans and promises on many key issues, we invite you to scrutinize, ask questions, join movements, get involved in your communities, speak to your neighbours and candidates, and ultimately show up at the ballot box. You won’t want to miss it!

The people behind the headlines — opening our hearts to refugees

We see it on the news almost every day – headlines of migration from around the world. We can become easily overwhelmed by the magnitude of the numbers; the millions of people on the move, in refugee camps, uprooted from their homes. But what about the people behind these headlines – their stories? In light of the growing global crisis of forced migration, it is critical to keep telling the stories and opening our hearts to the human side of migration.

June 20 is World Refugee Day, and all across the country this week people are marching, standing with refugees who have come to Canada and expressing solidarity with those around the world who are seeking refuge. We think of those risking their lives in precarious boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the Bay of Bengal; those making the dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico; the hundreds of thousands who have fled or are still fleeing violence in Burundi and Rwanda, Syria and Lebanon, and now living in refugee camps all over the world. All of these people long for peace and a better life for their children.

MCC's partner organization Iraqi al-Amal Association distributed material resources to internally-displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. These materials -- including blankets, infant care kits, hygiene kits, and relief kits -- were donated by MCC constituents in the United States and Canada and provide much-needed assistance to individuals and families currently staying in Kirkuk and Erbil cities. Iraqi al-Amal Association supplemented the MCC-donated materials with other materials purchased in Iraq, providing a well-rounded distribution to meet the immediate needs of the recipients. (Photo by Salar Ahmed)

MCC’s partner organization Iraqi al-Amal Association distributed material resources to internally-displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  (MCC Photo by Salar Ahmed)

A recent report by Amnesty International lines up with what the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has already said: with more than 50 million people around the world who have been forcefully displaced, either in their own country or beyond their borders, this is the worst forced migration crisis our world has seen since World War II.

Earlier this month Stephen Cornish, Director of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders Canada, challenged Canadians to recognize our shared humanity with those fleeing or living in refugee camps. We must also recognize our responsibility for opening our doors and our hearts with those those needing safety and protection.

In thinking about the concept of shared humanity, one passage of scripture stands out. A lesson from the very beginning, Genesis 1: all people are made in the image of God – the call and challenge for us all to look at others from God’s viewpoint. We support and respect each other, mourn together, but also are joyful together.

This also reminds me of a recent personal encounter with migration.

Last month Ottawa Mennonite Church (OMC) hosted the “People on the Move” exhibit, which is an MCC resource created with the help of partners around the world to tell stories of migration. It tells personal stories of refugees, people who have been displaced, or people who have had to move, seeking new opportunities. Along with the display, OMC invited many of their sponsored refugee families, as well as members of the congregation who have been involved in the sponsorship process to share their stories.

Among the panelists were people from Somalia, Iraq, Colombia, Syria and Canada, along with people in the audience who had come from Sudan, DR Congo and other parts of the world. It was a wonderful and impactful time of sharing and showing support for one another. There are so many highlights to share, but I will focus on two.

The Abukhousa family — Palestinians from Iraq — arrived as refugees in Altona, Manitoba in 2010. They were sponsored by an Altona group called Build a Village. (MCC Photo by Joanie Peters)

Laila (not her real name) is a young mother who arrived from Iraq last year with her husband and daughters. She spoke only a few words, but had a powerful message.  As a Muslim family, Laila and her husband were so joyful that a church community wanted to sponsor them, walk alongside them in this difficult time of transition, and build relationships, despite cultural, language and religious divides. The friendship between Laila’s family and several families from OMC was clearly evident. I don’t recall Laila’s exact words, but will paraphrase to the best of my ability, “We are people, just like you, who desire peace. We have hopes and dreams for our family.”

Angelica (also not her real name) and her family arrived from Colombia as refugees fleeing violence when she was just 12 years old in 2003. She shared about the difficult transition: the loss of her home, the challenges of a new language and culture, the end of a future in Colombia. But she also shared about the joys of community and support in Ottawa. One memory stuck out for Angelica on the day she arrived in Canada, a memory that is still vivid and still brings tears to her eyes. When she and her family descended the escalator at the Ottawa airport, a crowd of people awaited them, excited to meet them, greeting them with open arms. These were people who had never met her, yet their love and support was clear. Angelica has since become involved with other arriving refugee families, particularly another family from Colombia, because she wants to show them the same love and support which she received.

This year let us stand in solidarity with refugees here and around the world. Let us open our hearts to them. Let us seek to recognize our common humanity.

By Rebekah (Bekah) Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office.

Migration, food and friendship

I’ve been thinking a lot about migration these days, especially forced migration: people having to leave home, mainly due to threats of violence and continuing conflict, but also due to environmental destruction caused by drought, floods, and mining and dam projects.

The sheer numbers of people who have been forced from their homes speaks to this global crisis. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2013 over 51.2 million people (and another 5.5 million by mid-2014) have been forcefully displaced, including 16.7 million refugees and 33.3 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

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House of Hope and Light is a education and social activities center for 120 refugee girls affected by the Syrian crisis. The center is located in Nabaa, a very poor neighborhood in the Beirut suburbs, where many Syrian and Iraqi refugees have settled. MCC supports this ministry of the Greek Orthodox Church, including its education programs for girls.

As a policy office, we constantly follow government announcements and debates around Canada’s response: commitments to open our doors to thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq; access to health care for refugees and refugee claimants; and Canada’s long history of private sponsorship.

As we attempt to address global migration trends, it is easy to get bogged down by statistics and constant policy debates. How can we keep from getting discouraged and overwhelmed or giving up?

For me, it comes down to the personal. In my own life I’ve been able to develop friendships with people from all over the world, many who have experienced terrible circumstances firsthand. We’ve shared struggles, stories and, yes, we’ve even shared our favourite recipes — all with a side of advocacy.

It sounds cliché to reduce cultural experiences and personal connections to food, as if trying new food is sufficient to understand others. However, food does have real power over our emotions and relationships. When we’re feeling homesick, we eat certain foods to feel more at home, or — just the opposite — we like to try new foods to get a taste (pun intended) of new places.

But it’s not the food itself that helps us make personal connections. Instead, it’s the moments of time spent with friends or meeting new people, where they have told me their stories, while teaching me how to make favourite dishes from home. Through cooking and eating together, friendships grow, and so has my own dedication to advocacy.

While in Colombia with MCC I developed friendships with several families that had been displaced by violent conflict in their home regions, some remaining under threat even in the capital city. In one particular friend’s story, a group of paramilitaries killed her brother in their home village on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast and, after reporting this crime, the group turned on her family, pursuing them all over the country. My friend and her family found refuge within the Mennonite Church in Bogota and were well supported there before eventually being resettled to Canada.

I became close to them through my church and we shared many moments, sometimes talking about politics and their story, other times about her home region and life in general. One afternoon, before leaving for Canada, my friend, her husband and three girls came over to my house to teach me how to make typical Coastal dishes: coconut rice, fried plantains, and lemonade made with raw sugar cane. This experience is one of my fondest memories of my sojourn in Colombia: hearing my friend talk about her life on the Coast and her proud Costeña identity. We grew closer in the process.

Maqlubah, the national dish of Palestine

Maqlubah, the national dish of Palestine

Another memory comes from Ottawa. While at a recent event on Israel/Palestine, I won a door prize: a free cooking lesson from a Palestinian Canadian. Sitting in her living room looking at maps and pictures, and later chopping onions and smelling the spices in what some have dubbed the national dish of Palestine — Maqlubah — we learned the story of her long journey from Palestine to Canada.

Adeba (not her real name) was only five at the time, but she still vividly remembers the sound of helicopters flying low to the ground as her family was forced from their home in Jaffa in 1948. The family moved from Jaffa to Gaza, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait and eventually Canada in 1997. Adeba clearly will never stop talking about and advocating on behalf of her homeland of Palestine. It was an honour for me and my companions to hear her story and get a small taste of her beloved homeland.

These stories, among others, offer messages of hope, but also challenge us to continue our work; whether that is addressing root causes of migration, supporting initiatives that allow people to remain in their homelands; or welcoming newcomers into our communities, and learning about their lives through sharing time, stories and, yes, food.

We encourage you to get involved with these and other issues within your own communities or through taking advantage of any MCC opportunities. For example, every May, MCC in Alberta and Saskatchewan offer a three-week learning tour opportunity for Canadian university students called Uprooted which examines the issue of migration while visiting partners and projects in Mexico (both the northern and southern borders). This learning tour allows young adult Canadians to meet with and discover first-hand the issue of migration within the Americas and how it impacts the lives of tens of thousands of people every year.

By Rebekah Sears, policy analyst for MCC’s Ottawa Office.

Light through the cracks: a lesson from Naaman

This reflection on 2 Kings 5: 1-14 is written by Jon Nofziger, Constituency Engagement Facilitator for MCC BC. Jon has served with MCC in Germany, England, Haiti, and Nicaragua, as well as Miami, Winnipeg and Abbotsford.

How do we experience the reality of God in the chaos of the world today? Sometimes God works in unexpected ways and we miss recognizing God’s actions.

Peace candle

Naaman was a man of great authority, held in high esteem, second only to the king of Aram. He was popular, a folk hero, a victorious military leader. Yet he became afflicted with the skin disease leprosy. He feared that his condition — and his loss of beauty — could  lead to dismissal from his prestigious position. For Naaman, leprosy may have been as much a spiritual condition as a physical condition.

Naaman attempted to purchase healing, a pattern that is still prominent today. Many people use wealth and power as leverage to gain “healing.” Many today are perishing form the “leprosy” of power. When have we sought to purchase our healing?

In the story, Naaman became angry when the prophet Elisha failed to receive him with the pomp and ceremony he felt he deserved. Naaman’s pride prevented him from seeing how God could act in simple non-pompous ways. Many of us are like Naaman — we believe God must personally attend our pleas and it must be a grand show. If things don’t turn out as desired, we conclude that we didn’t get God’s attention or we have not been faithful. Why do we, like Naaman, expect God to respond in a set manner or time frame?

The story provides two “cracks” that shine light on how God acts. The first crack is a little slave girl – a weak insignificant person, someone on the margins of society — who cares for Naaman’s need and points him in the direction of God. The second crack is Naaman’s servants, who convince him to follow Elisha’s mundane instructions to wash in the river, and not wait for the pomp of a pre-conceived expectation. Sometimes it takes “simple” events or people to open our eyes to divine light shining in through the cracks.

Like Naaman, we too can believe our own “rivers” are cleaner than God’s; thus our own plans are as good, if not more complete, than God’s. How do we substitute our way for God’s way? Do our expectations try fit God’s methodology into a box in ways that we can “see and understand.” We need to be open to seeing the distorted light oozing in through the cracks. True faith is assurance that God is working in our lives and in the world, even when we don’t perceive the signs.

In the Lord of the Rings series, the great wizard Gandalf says, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay: small acts of kindness and love.” It is the Bilbo Baggins of this world — the slaves, the servants, the marginalized ones — that demonstrate how God will ultimately destroy evil.

In the MCC world, it is often the ordinary people who provide the cracks. As Doug and Naomi Enns, our MCC reps in Lebanon and Syria, inform us — ordinary folk are opening their churches, mosques, homes and lives to offer refuge to thousands of people fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq.

All of us have cracks in our lives. I believe God shines through these cracks. As we move forward as the church, may we encourage one another to see God/Christ in the unlikely actions and people who point us to the cracks. In his work “Anthem,” poet Leonard Cohen puts it this way:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.