From Captivity to Freedom

YazidiFamily-FireworksJuly3rd_web-2.jpgTwo friends from Eastbrook Church recently published a wonderful article, “From Captivity to Freedom,” in The Living Church on 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.

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]

The Immigrant Apostles’ Creed

woman-in-shadowA 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.

God of the Displaced Ones. part 2

This past weekend, I concluded both Eastbrook’s Missions Fest as well as our series “God in Blank Spaces.” Building off of Jenny Yang‘s message on the global situation of displaced people the previous weekend, I continued the theme of God’s mission amongst the displaced people of the world.

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:

  1. God makes His people holy.
  2. God is making His people holy.
  3. Holiness is personal in nature.
  4. Holiness is relational in nature.

Here is the video and sermon outline of my message, “God of the Displaced Ones, part two.”

You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.


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A brief reading list on mission

Many times I’ll offer some readings lists to correspond with our teaching series at Eastbrook. Alongside of our series “God in Blank Spaces,” I wanted to share some resources I believe are worth looking at in brief or reading entirely. Some of these are general, while a few others are specific to our Missions Festival theme, “God of the Displaced Ones.”

Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens and Dr. Issam Smeir. Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016.

David J. Bosch. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts, 2nd edition. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014.

Vincent J. Donovan. Christianity Rediscovered. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003.

Bryant L. Meyers. Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development, revised edition. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989.

Michael Pocock and Enoch Wan, editors. Diaspora Missiology: Reflections on Reaching the Scattered Peoples of the World. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2015.

Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang. Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Christopher J. H. Wright. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.


Notes on Displaced People

jenny yangIn 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.

UNHCR graphic

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.
refugee bubble map
Graphic from UNHCR

God of the Displaced Ones

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.

You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.


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Q & A on Christianity and the Refugee Situation

In response to my article at the Journal Sentinel (“What would Jesus say about 65 million refugees?“), I had a few people ask me for more information related to the current refugee situation, what is really going on currently in our nation, and what the proposed ban on refugees is all about. Since more than one person asked me this, I wanted to pass along a few resources that are helpful to understanding the situation.

Q: Is refugee care an important biblical issue?

A: Yes, it is. In the Law, God instructed His people to care for the alien or stranger. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 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” (Leviticus 19:33-34). This same idea is echoed in Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats, where He broadens the concept of care to all those in need: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Read more on this topic here: “What the Bible Says About Welcoming Refugees.” 

Q: What exactly is going on with President Trump’s executive order?

A: President Trump’s executive order bans all refugees from seven nations (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) from entering the country for a 90-day period, and also suspends the United States Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. There is an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. It reduces the commitment to refugee resettlement in 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000, with priority given to persecuted religious minorities. This article summarizes what is involved: “Trump’s Executive Order: Who does travel ban effect?” You can read the official document at the White House web-site here

Q: Is there a difference between illegal immigrants and refugees and how does this ban effect them?

A: Because of the countries listed, this ban does not apply to what we typically think of as illegal immigrants but does affect refugees. A ‘refugee’ is a technical category of person, very distinct from an immigrant or illegal immigrant. Refugees are those forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence. You can read a very thorough technical definition, which also includes further clarification about displaced people, internally displaced people, and more at the UNHCR webs-site: “What is a refugee?” 

Q: What is the current refugee screening process for entry into the US? Is it safe enough presently?

A: President Trump often uses the phrase “extreme vetting” in relation to this executive order, linking it to the need for higher protection of our homeland and safety from terrorism. However, the current refugee screening process is already extremely thorough. You can read a thorough explanation of it at the White House web-site here: “Infographic: the screening process for refugee entry into the United States.” The New York Times succinctly summarized the process in a 20-step overview as well: “Refugee Vetting Process.” 

Q: Does this refugee ban actually make us safer?

A: Given the thorough vetting that is already taking place, the impact of the executive order is questionable. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, performed a recent (September 2016) study on terrorism-related violence on US soil and concluded that there is a 0.00003% of death, or 1 in 3,609,709 chance, from terrorist attacks on US soil.

Q: Who pays for refugees’ resettlement, education, etc.?

A: The costs associated with resettling refugees is covered in part by the US Government, in part from the UN, and in part by the refugees themselves as they pay back some of their resettlement costs eventually. You can find a pretty good article about that here: “8 Facts about the US program to resettle Syrian refugees.”

Q: Is this concern from Christians about refugees just part of the liberal influence on the church today? Why should I care?

A: As I mentioned above, the Bible is rich with God’s concern for the alien, stranger, or foreigner. This was because the people of God themselves understand their journey at the Exodus as one of refugees who found a home in God and by God’s grace. The church, centered on Jesus, is established as the community of love (Mark 12:30-31; 1 John 3:23), even as we live as “foreigners and exiles” in this world (1 Peter 2:11).  While we know that this world is not our home and no human government is ever perfect, we must live as salt and light, calling people to the ways of God in the earth and living that out ourselves.

As you wrestle with what this means for you, let me encourage you to look at the work of World Relief, an evangelical relief and development group who has been engaged for decades with refugees: