Two friends from Eastbrook Church recently published a wonderful article, “From Captivity to Freedom,” in The Living Churchon the Yazidi community in Lincoln, Nebraska. I guarantee that you will be moved by the powerful words and photos by Asher Imtiaz and the poem by Mari Reitsma Chevako. This is a great follow-up to some of my recent posts about displaced people and their plight. Here is an excerpt but please read the article in its entirety.
As a photojournalist and a Pakistani living in the United States, I was searching for an experience in the heart of the country that was authentically American and different from my experiences in previous travels. I chose a trip to Nebraska for the Independence Day weekend. What I found was something I hadn’t expected.
The city of Lincoln is home to 2,000 Yazidis from northern Iraq, many of whom have fled the Islamic State. ISIS invaded Yazidi villages in northern Iraq in August 2014. The people scattered, some to nearby cities, and some to Mt. Sinjar, which some people consider the resting place of Noah’s ark. Because the Yazidis’ faith combines threads of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, many Muslims consider them idolaters and polytheists. ISIS has claimed the right to enslave them in an effort to force their conversion.
By many accounts, ISIS rounded up the Yazidis and moved them to other locations in Iraq, where families were separated and dealt with according to their sex and age. Adult men were shot and killed, adult women were enlisted as servants, young men were taken as fighters, and young women were forced into a system of sexual slavery in which they were bought, sold, and raped over time by multiple men. The fighters eventually turned to married women as well. Thousands of Yazidis remain missing and thousands of Yazidi women are still in captivity. The United Nations has urged its member nations to recognize the genocide against the Yazidi people and to bring ISIS militants to justice.
I have followed news of the Yazidi people since 2014, but I had not met any Yazidis. Once I learned they were living in Lincoln, I began searching for them. The first man I met works at Target. I asked if I could meet with him at the end of his shift. He told me he had to attend a wedding, so I asked him if I could join him. He graciously said yes… [read more]
I originally wrote the following blog post in 2011 as a series of reflections on Leviticus while reading through the Bible in a year. I’m re-posting it today because it fits the themes I’ve been writing about in terms of Leviticus and displaced people.
When I grew up, I spent a lot of time watching Mr. Rogers. I’m not sure why, but there was something about the songs, sweaters, and shoes that just kept me coming back for more. Mr. Rogers loved to ask that simple question day after day for his riveted little television audience: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
In the Bible, we find the theme of being a neighbor all over the place, even if it is a bit more serious than Mr. Rogers. When Jesus is asked what the most important commandment in all of the Hebrew Bible is, He answers by saying that we are to love God with all of who we are and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34). Jesus’ summary statement ties together two commands: love of God and love of neighbor. Like with a coin, they are two sides to the same law of love.
The commandment to love God is fairly easy to grasp. Jesus draws from the celebrated Hebrew shema found in Deuteronomy 6. The shema is an identity marker for the Jewish people, in which they are called to worship and adhere to God alone.
The second half of Jesus’ words, however, comes from the often neglected book of Leviticus. In the midst of instructions about rituals, guidelines about annual ceremonies and festivals, and list upon list of what to eat and not to eat, we find these powerful words: “love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). Leading up to this statement, all sorts of relational situations are mentioned: stealing, lying, partiality in justice for the poor or the wealthy, slandering others, seeking revenge because of a grudge, making life difficult for the blind or deaf, and more. Into the midst of many real life situations, God is saying that the ideal of loving our neighbor must be worked out in every social arena. It is our response to who God is. How we love others matters to God.
A friend shared this creative rewriting of the Apostles’ Creed from an immigrant perspective with me this week. Apparently it was originally written by Rev. Jose Luis Casal, the Director of Presbyterian World Mission and an immigrant to the USA from Cuba. It is thought-provoking.
I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.
I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home, who fled
his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country
he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate,
the servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured, and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints begins
when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.
I believe in forgiveness, which makes us all equal before God,
and in reconciliation, which heals our brokenness.
I believe that in the Resurrection
God will unite us as one people
in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time.
I believe in life eternal, in which no one will be foreigner
but all will be citizens of the kingdom
where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.
In response to our MissionsFest and preaching on displaced people both by me and Jenny Yang of World Relief, our mission team offered a list of next steps as our response to displaced people and the needs of the world. I’ve slightly edited it for online readership.
SHOW HOSPITALITY. Thanksgiving is coming! Invite a refugee family/individual, or an international university student to your home to share a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Questions? Just ask. Sign up at the MissionsFest ministry booth in the Lobby this weekend or email Maritza Diaz
GET INVOLVED by attending a Next Steps class. Have your questions answered about connecting globally and locally with the world’s refugee community. Sunday, October 29, 11 am in Fellowship Hall.
MEET SOME NEW FRIENDS at Eastbrook’s International Language Center (ILCT). See what happens at our center and consider tutoring a refugee. Find out more at our Southside Informational Meeting on Saturday, November 18, 9-11:30 am at the ILCT (4204 S. Howell Ave., Milwaukee).
PRAY for Eastbrook’s international workers using the prayer insert in this weekend’s bulletin.
SUPPORT Eastbrook’s Missions Budget financially for 12 months and help fuel ministry around the world: eastbrook.org/giving
My approach to this topic, however, was to engage more deeply with the theme verses chosen for the week from Leviticus 19:33-34:
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
I sought to provide an overview of the book of Leviticus and its vital role in our own faith today as the New Testament people of God. In particular I focused on Leviticus’s theme of holiness, giving attention to four aspects of holiness that we must grasp clearly:
God makes His people holy.
God is making His people holy.
Holiness is personal in nature.
Holiness is relational in nature.
Here is the video and sermon outline of my message, “God of the Displaced Ones, part two.”
In her message, “God of the Displaced Ones,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, Jenny Yang went through a lot of notes on displaced people, including statistics, figures, quotes and more that I wanted to share here.
A total of 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015.
It is the first time in history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.
The tally is greater than the population of the United Kingdom – or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand – combined.
On average 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade earlier, when six people fled every 60 seconds.
Graphic from UNHCR
3 Reasons for this:
Conflicts that cause large refugee outflows are lasting longer.
New or reignited conflicts and situations of insecurity are occurring more frequently.
The rate at which solutions are being found has been on a falling trend.
Two weekends ago, I began a new series entitled “God in Blank Spaces.” The idea of this series is to connect our thinking about who God is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with what God does in our world. One question I pondered quite a bit is this: if God is who we say He is, then what does that mean for the world in which we live?
This past weekend, we had the privilege of hearing from Jenny Yang, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at World Relief, as the first weekend in our missions festival, “God of the Displaced Ones.” Jenny is co-author with Matt Soerens of Welcoming the Stranger and was named by Christianity Today as one of five women change-makers in non-profit leadership today.
You can watch the video of Jenny’s message below and follow along with her sermon outline as well.