Everywhere…


“later that night i held an atlas in my lap ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered where does it hurt? it answered: Everywhere everywhere everywhere.” Warsan Shire    globe

My wife, Patricia, and I have lived overseas for 37 of our 57 years. During those years we have seen humanity at its most loving and perhaps at its least. We have held babies decimated by AIDS. We have walked the raunchy red light districts to meet women longing to turn their lives around. We have been robbed. And we have been treated so generously by many of the locals. For 22 years our home was Thailand, a land where more people were involved in the industry of sexual exploitation than there were born-again believers.

Just nine months after our arrival  in 1991, we experienced the first of two military coups. Scenes of  angry protests, the burning of cars, and more tragically, the shooting of live ammunition against unarmed student protestors filled the nightly news. The second coup d’etat, occurred in 2006, and was more divisive. The following years were filled with accusations and violence between the red (pro-democracy) and yellow (pro monarchy) shirts.  One morning in 2008 we woke up to the news that the yellow shirts with bats and clubs had seized the International Airport in Bangkok.  It became a prison and a dump for a week as they held  control for what they believed would lead to a final showdown.  The real turning point came in 2010 when the the red shirts decided to  blockade the downtown core for several weeks. The army was called in to disperse them once and for all.  I remember too well the panic in my wife’s voice as she exclaimed over the phone, “They are sending tanks into the streets, Peter!” The red shirts fled, but not after torching dozens of important government and commercial buildings in their wake. 

We moved to France in 2014, thinking life would be calmer. But anti-semitic riots broke out less than a month after we arrived. This time we encountered riot police, smelling the tear gas and burning tires as we zigzagged our way to join our two teenage daughters in the apartment. Six months later we heard never ending sirens signaling a deadly terror attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.  A dozen were left dead and others injured. Nine months later came another well-coordinated attack, this time on the famed Bataclan theatre and a few bars. It happened just as Parisians were settling down for a calm evening with friends. The death toll was over a hundred.  And then, six months later, after a short vacation, we left Nice only to find out upon our return that a man drove a large truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day crushing to death over 80 pedestrians! Add to these horrendous events the brazen attack on an 85 year old Catholic priest who’s throat was slit while performing his duties in front of his Catholic congregation. Understandably the country of France lived in paranoia believing the enemy lurked everywhere and the easiest group to identify came from those seeking refuge from all the wars in the mideast.

The Somali poet repeated the same word thrice, “Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.” My work required me to travel from time to time. I personally became aware of a divided world, everywhere its systems broken and lacking. This reality sunk deepest when in 2017 I travelled to Iraq to be with some of my American friends who worked for Preemptive Love Coalition. They were struggling with daily death and violence they had witnessed. I went to be a friend for them, but deep down I wanted to see, smell and be moved by the brokenness. 

When Matt sent me a possible itinerary of where we would visit I was most excited and afraid of a planned trip to Mosul. He asked if I would be up for that, to take part in a food delivery? Of course, I was. However, when I got there I breathed a simultaneous sigh of disappointment and relief when the team was told by American Intelligence that it was unsafe to go in. Instead we spent hours in a large camp called Arbat where thousands of displaced people lived in non-descript cement block rooms. There workers with arbatPreemptive Love Coalition had made many friends and created opportunities for self-sustaining.  It was there I was reminded of the need to show up and do something. This group lived out generously their slogan: 

“We are the first to show up and the last to leave…”

I returned to France where I was introduced to a young Syrian named Khaled. He had been largely depressed and rarely liked to leave the tiny one room apartment he lived in. The first time I met him was over a coffee. After the formalities, he blurted something that surprised me, “I hate all religion!” That was pretty well his opening line. I think I might have said, “Ya, me too!” And then he told me his story, how he loved his country and how  he joined the peaceful student revolution with high hopes to bring about needed change and freedoms. And then the government turned on them. Soon after the country imploded into sectarian and religious violence. Now I’ve known Khaled for over a year now. We have become friends. He has helped me get insight as to why people in that part of the world and in any part of the world would hate religion, one word, hypocrisy. 

Everywhere. War, violence, persecution, hatred and poverty continue to wreak havoc on our globe. Since World War 2  there has never been a time on our earth when so many people have been forcibly displaced.  The UNHCR reports that at present 68.5 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced. That’s an astronomical amount. Syria, now in its eighth year of a civil war, accounts for the greatest number of people fleeing. Almost 65 percent of its population is either internally displaced or have fled elsewhere in search of safety and a new future. Other countries like Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, Venezuela, or even Colombia have broken down. The famines in the reclusive country of North Korea are starving it’s most vulnerable. While the genocide in Myanmar that dominated the headlines for weeks is sadly forgotten by most. Thank God for the many relief organisations worldwide that provide relief to the weary and broken. But the never-ending need has stretched most them to their limits.

Of course solutions never come easy. Until our politicians and leaders are stirred by the present crisis, our weary world will continue half-heartedly to use hit and miss strategies. In the meantime the need for resilience on the part of refugees has never been greater. After treacherous journeys over mountains, deserts and seas they find Families-who-have-fled-th-009themselves in strange places where language, money and boredom are their daily grind. They battle on with a lack of belonging and no neighbour to call when they need help. Their futures point to a bleak life on the streets and not much better in overcrowded refugee camps.  The demanding solution requires all of us, just like the various organisations and associations, to show up and do something.

Perhaps the most virtuous thing we all could do is to provide hospitality to those who no longer have a home, a culture or a sense of belonging. I love a new program dubbed 100 Nights of Warmth that one of the churches in Paris is creating. Nightly, twenty men, all refugees, will have a warm space to spend the cold winter’s night. They too need more volunteers to show up. And that is the lifeblood of our world, caring people who volunteer their resources, energy and time so our world will thrive into the future.

And so, here we are, now 37 years of living in countries not our own.  My wife and I are in some small way displaced people, but by choice, and with a roof over our head, a salary and comfortable with the local language. But we understand, to a degree, the culture shock, the adapting and the feelings of being lost. Perhaps this is why our hearts are being turned towards the despair of the Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, and other migrants of poverty and war. We want to show up by living out a story of generosity. If we could, and it’s in our heart to do so, we’d create a space here in Paris where those who were chased by bombs and bullets, those who don’t belong, the broken and afraid,  could sit and be safe and find ‘home.’ It will be a beautiful place where Hope is resurrected and Dignity gets restored. Travelers from a far-off country will come and be embraced with the a message of sonship and daughtership. It will be for many a happy place and maybe of new beginnings.

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Dear God, Wash Those Tears Away!


Wash the tears away, all away
The horrors of today and the cries of yesterday
Dear God, wash those tears away!

A little child lies on the dirt
No breath remains, no longer alert
A bomb, lethal gas, Oh Syria, you hurt!

She was only 12 when he came
The darkness covered, but he had no shame
It’s my fault, she said for years, I am to blame!

DumptearsTears…. 
Stream…
Down…

This man here lost all he had
Years on the street left him half mad
A little bread, a lot of wine, still he was sad!

And this young body was ravaged by disease
Daily pain kept bringing him to his knees
He groaned daily with tears, “Oh my God, please!”

These ones wore labels the others gave
‘Useless’, ‘You homo’, ‘hey ugly’, ‘stupid slave’
Both he and she wore them sadly to the grave!

Wash the tears away, all away
The horrors of today and the cries of yesterday
Dear God, wash those tears away!

The gun fired off again and again
Student voices screaming, it’s insane
Broken dreams, red-stained streams, now all that remain!

Sigh…sigh the memories we loath to replay
Unspeakable hurt we carry, too hard to keep at bay

They broke us all in many different ways!

Tears…. 
Stream…
Down…

Cry now, yes, it’s okay
It’s not your fault that you feel this way

The wounds you carry will not hold sway
Mourning lasts the night, but then comes the day!

He’ll wipe your tears, stop the stream, and wash the pain away!

 

Revelation 21:4 (KJV)
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Acidvicimtears

Toilet Talk Never Trumps Truth


Donald Trump has done it again, he has managed to insult all eleven million people of Haiti and a pile more in some countries of Africa. He did it with a vulgar comment. He called those places “s…-hole countries,” (Pardon my french!) And then he actually made a comparison to show how much better Norway was and asks why can’t we get more of them to America? It is shocking to hear those kinds of descriptors from the president of a country that prides itself on being a melting pot of cultures and nationalities.Trump-6 Maybe that is another problem, melting!

Margaret Mead and James Baldwin once had a conversation on America that went like this:

MEAD: It isn’t a melting pot, is it?

BALDWIN: No, it isn’t. Nobody ever got melted. People aren’t meant to be melted.

MEAD: That old image from World War I is a bad image: to melt everyone down.

BALDWIN: Because people don’t want to be melted down. they resist it with all their strength.

MEAD: Of course! Who wants to be melted down?

BALDWIN: Melted down into what? It’s a very unfortunate image.

I love this conversation. It’s hilarious, yes, and I agree, people weren’t made to be melted down! People all have an identity. I carry continually around in me dutch ancestry. And its true of us dutchies: wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t budge! I am proud of my heritage. And you are probably too of yours. No one asked my permission though to be dutch or to like Gouda or to be anything? We are who we are. Every last one is uniquely made and shaped by many factors. Deep down in every person’s heart is a desire to be real, accepted, loved and to make a difference in this world.

Trump isn’t the first to show prejudice, it has been around as long as man has. A nice guy named Nathanael once heard about this new prophet in town and asked where he came from. Philip said, “Nazareth.” That was all Nathanael needed to hear to discount this new prophet guy named Jesus. He says, my paraphrase: “Are you kidding me! Can anything good come out of that shit-hole Nazareth?” (Apparently Nathanael spoke french too! Pardon!)

But Philip wisely said, “Come, see for yourself.”

The biblical record agrees that Nazareth was so obscure that it wasn’t even mentioned once in the Old Testament. It was a rude and crude place where they spoke with an accent belittled by the whole population. They even had a label for those who came from that area, ‘Galilean!’ That word was not a compliment, but a racist epithet. And guess what, this despised place is Jesus hometown for thirty years!

Isn’t it so much like God to do something like this? Mmhm. “Lets make sure that Jesus goes and lives in the fringes!” (Fringes = the backwater, the wrong side of the tracks, the trailer park, Hicksville, a s-hole of a place)! Paul reiterated this weird way of God, that is to chose men and women that the culture of the day overlooked and exploited and abused, the nobodies, and God does this why? This is the point: “To expose the hollow pretensions of the somebodies.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 Whoa! That’s God!

With one little word, ‘Nazareth’, Nathanael was immediately blinded to the amazing possibilities of the grandeur of Jesus.

I am sure that many Africans and Haitians today wished they could live in a country like Canada or France, (maybe not the USA right now). Life has not been easy for them. Earthquakes and poverty and famines… But imagine, to hear a man from the highest position of authority of one of the wealthiest countries say that they don’t count, that they come from an outhouse country; must be devastatingly humiliating. How can this president or anyone be so blind to the beauty of whole races and cultures? But yet, maybe, hopefully, his insensitive comments might have the opposite affect too. May it spur them on to greatness.

My first language was Dutch. I was so good at speaking dutch that when I went to school for grade one in New Brunswick I didn’t understand what was going on. I must have looked overwhelmed. The school told my parents to stop speaking Dutch in the home so I could catch up. But to this day I still have a slight accent when I speak English. I have often been asked if I come from Newfoundland or Ireland!

But though I experienced some language challenges young, I was taught well that I am a unique-never-to-be-repeated-creation of God! This God knew that one day the Dutch boy who barely passed grade one would speak for Him not only in English, but in Thai and now in French, (accent and all)!

I love this question, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It reminds me that what God is after is not my pedigree, my nationality, my invincibility, nor my brilliance, my superpowers, my perfect accent, or my attempts to do great things, He is after the real me! He chose me, and He called me by my name.

So here’s the thing, this amazing guy that spent his childhood, teenage years and young adulthood living in the worst of place in Israel, from this, um, outhouse town, Nazareth, comes God’s very best. And before Jesus did anything significant, not a single miracle, not one public teaching, the Father breaks his silence and says, “I am so proud of this one, that’s my son (accent and all)!”

That’s why I believe that when God looks at you and I and every Haitian and whoever, you get the point, He doesn’t see us through the filter of disgust, disappointment or doubt. He doesn’t see our skin colour, eye-shape or hear our funny accent… He just sees us through grace and love. He knows you have His DNA and he knows that He can inspire you, develop you, and deploy you to be a blessing no matter where you were born.