Syrian Refugees and All My Excuses

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Syrian Refugees and All My Excuses

My trouble is trouble enough. I don’t have space in my mind/heart/life for your troubles.

I’m guilty of this, as guilty as anyone else who is watching the Syrian refugee crisis unfold. I’m guilty of feeling paralyzed.


My excuses?

Next week I will be interviewing a Yemeni refugee who has come to Djibouti, in order to facilitate the telling of his story to the wider world.

The week after that I will meet with a Somali woman who is raising her ten children in a Djiboutian refugee camp.

I regularly read the work of, and relate with, a young Somali man who was one of the first to be born and to live his entire life inside Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya.

There are homeless people who wander my street. Some of them are wearing my children’s hand-me-down clothes.

There are naked children huddled under the shade across from my house. Sometimes they eat our leftovers or canned tuna and beans from my cupboard.

My husband and I have committed our lives to living and working in the developing world and this means every single day we encounter needs so overwhelming they are hard to even see.

But we have not taken in refugee families or orphans. We have not gone without food so that others can eat. We live in a three-bedroom house that has electricity and water (some of the time). Our children attend excellent schools. I just ate a meal that included three vegetables, watermelon, chicken, pasta, and ice cold water. The abundance in my life is stunning. Embarrassing.

I have not done enough.

I have all these excuses.

I tell myself I’ve done enough. I tell myself we are focused on development – economic and educational – so that people will have jobs and be able to do them well. I tell myself we can’t do everything, we can’t do aid and relief, we can’t do Djibouti and Syria and Yemen and Somalia and the United States. I tell myself my opinions are complicated and my experiences living overseas have changed me so much that I don’t know how to communicate. I tell myself that if I care deeply, to the point of tears and action, for all these problems, I will explode.

Jesus didn’t explode. Granted, Jesus had a little more power than I have, a little more, um, God-likeness. But he didn’t explode or implode. He touched suffering. He entered grief. He embraced the broken. And he died.

I tell myself to focus on the problems at my gate and to let others focus on the problems washing up on shore in the form of dead toddlers. I tell myself I’m at risk of developing compassion fatigue and what difference does it make anyway and, and, and…

And I don’t know what to do.

We can’t do it all.

But we have to do something.

I read Ann Voskamp’s post about 5 Ways to Stand Up and Be the Church and I say – yes, do that. Do those five things. And I had questions – is she going to take in a Syrian refugee family? Not just in theory but in reality? Is she advocating for a borderless world? I want to ask that because I’m asking myself these questions. And I wanted to ask if she really believes all Aylan ever knew was war? Did she see the photos of him laughing, playing? He knew love. He knew family. War and loss and grief are not the single story for refugees. I want to say that.

And then I feel terrible. Cynical. I call myself names. I’m so quick to judge. I lack empathy and perspective. I haven’t offered on my blog to take in a refugee family. I had a refugee sleep on my couch once and then I bought her the medicine she needed, gave her food, and sent her back to the camp. I didn’t invite her to stay.

This is the honest struggle of never doing enough, never being enough. It is easier to judge and condemn and find fault than to step up and get my own hands dirty. This is the internal battle of believing, with my whole life, that every life matters, every human deserves to be treated with dignity, that our development work is about moving things in that direction, and at the same time being faced with a crisis of massive proportions and realizing that my chicken scratchings are nearly meaningless in the flood of broken lives.

This is not a call to anyone to do anything. If you want that, read Ann’s post or read this one at Relevant Magazine. And this one by Marilyn Gardner. And this one by Sarah Bessey.

This is just me saying, honestly and brokenly, I believe in a Kingdom of hope, peace, joy, and righteousness and I don’t know how to pursue it when the kingdom of hell seems to prevail.

And yet…

The incredible thing about the Kingdom is that it is like a mustard seed. A small, stubborn, growing thing. And even in the middle of tragedy, the seed sprouts. Even among the refugees who live here, who are still coming here, hope is alive.

Maybe our tears are for watering the mustard seed.

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By |September 7th, 2015|Categories: Faith|Tags: , |12 Comments


  1. Mari September 8, 2015 at 1:14 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this today. I’ve been feeling a lot of this from El Salvador.

  2. Lauren Pinkston September 8, 2015 at 6:27 am - Reply

    Thank you for putting this out there. I feel all kinds of stuck in my emotions. The solutions to world issues have become so cloudy in my time overseas, and my years of studying development theory have all but walked out the front door. Where do I get my hands dirty and when am I being disobedient for not taking in the kid across the street? I don’t know anymore. I haven’t written anything in a long time because I just don’t know anymore…

    • Rachel Pieh Jones September 8, 2015 at 6:31 am - Reply

      I hesitated to publish it, to put the unanswered questions out there. It is so complicated. So much more complicated than instagram and hashtags and pulling quotes and stats out of context. And yet it is a worldwide crisis and I don’t want to put my head under the sand. I don’t know either.

  3. Julie September 8, 2015 at 7:30 am - Reply

    We live in Europe, where many of the refugees are coming. We have had our Syrian friend over multiple times and volunteered at a refugee event and donated money and prayed. But this is a good challenge to me to think about what more we could do, and to remind me to put my hope in the God who is somehow sovereign above what looks so messy down here. Thank you. Abide in Him and you’ll find out you’re serving Him in just the way He wants!

  4. Erin September 8, 2015 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    I thank you as well. I’ve been all over the board of emotions, thoughts, and questions the past few months, but days especially as I live in Budapest, Hungary, and just a few metro stops away from the main train station, Keleti where many of the refugees are staying. I’ve been there, helped pass out shoes, clothes, water and bananas. I’ve met so many of the refugees, had numerous conversations with families and individuals. It’s a mind numbing thing to try and grasp what they’ve come from, what they’ve travelled through, and even more so, what is to come. My husband and I are still trying to navigate and process what we’ve heard and seen firsthand and then even more so after we see and read so many news articles covering this situation. We don’t have the answers (if we ever will), but as you’ve said, we are so thankful for the hope, love, grace, and joy we have in Jesus Christ. And we are trying to live that out in all our interactions. Thank you again for your vulnerability and beautiful way of putting your thoughts and feelings.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones September 8, 2015 at 4:58 pm - Reply

      Wow, I can only imagine some of the things you are seeing and hearing and experiencing first hand. So many things to think about, but I’m thankful you are able to be there and have helped pass things along. Blessings as you wrestle with what is happening right in your neighborhood.

  5. Patty Ovington September 8, 2015 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this post! I live in Bolivia and work in the development world also. I have struggled with all these questions and the loss of answers….
    I read this today by NT Wright,
    “The cross becomes the place of pilgrimage where we stand and gaze at what was done for each of us. The cross becomes the only sign by which we go to address the wickedness of the world. The cross signifies that the pagan empire, symbolized in the might and power of love – and that this decisive challenge will win the day.”
    It doesn’t answer the questions but it helps me focus on today. Thank you again for writing so honestly. Let us never stop asking the hard questions!

  6. Dorothy September 13, 2015 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    Thank you all for sharing. I live in rural China where we do not have refugees or even much in the way of homelessness. But my heart breaks for the refugees flooding in to Greece and from there the long march to northern Europe. I am encouraged by the news articles about the many people in Europe who are welcoming the refugees and horrified by what the Hungarian government is doing. On one hand my heart cries out for this great multitude of homeless people just looking for a way to live and raise their families. Your post, Rachel, brought the reality of it home. If I were in Europe, would I really be wiling to take in a refugee family? I find myself praying for the many Christians throughout Europe that God would give them grace and strength to reach out to these refugees. The other hand? I see that God is setting up the scenario for the greatest evangelical opportunity this world has ever seen. O Lord, please strengthen the Christians in Europe to reach out in love and in the name of Jesus to touch the lives of the stranger in their midst.

    In fact, I want to go there and help, but we have commitments to our work here in China, and at 70, I am more limited in what I could do. So I pray and I have found a ministry in Athens to donate to. For the many around the world who are moved by this refugee situation, we can pray and we can do the part that God calls and equips us to do. Again, thank you, Rachel, for sharing.

  7. Stephanie September 19, 2015 at 7:02 am - Reply

    This has been a tab on my iPad for a while but I finally sat down to read it.

    I’ve put my head in the sand. I thought I couldn’t handle it. I live and work amoung official refugees and unofficial, illegal migrants who just crossed the river to get into Thailand. I know some about the situation in Burma/Myanmar. I try to keep up with news and continue to learn the history. Dig into the complicated mess, the systems, the policies, and the people. I pour my heart out on the 100 kids in our care.

    But I haven’t read anything about Syria.

    I’ve read a few opinion/editorials/blog posts. Calls to action. Biblical imperatives. Mindsets and perspectives.

    Finally, I thought, maybe the Church would be moved. They can do something. For these refugees. For other refugees. For immigrants, legal and illegal.

    But I didn’t want my heart to break for them too so I shut it out. Too much. I have enough in my neighborhood.

    Your post, your unanswered questions, gave me a place to breathe. A place to be. And permission to cry for those beyond my current reach. To water the mustard seeds of the kingdom. Thank you.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones September 19, 2015 at 8:19 am - Reply

      Thanks so much for sharing this, Stephanie. The wrestling goes on, doesn’t it? I honestly haven’t paid much attention to the situtations in southeast Asia. Man, oh man. We’ll just keep watering the seeds on the other sides of the oceans and right in front of us and cling to grace.

  8. Alexa September 26, 2015 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this. I have been feeling so overwhelmed by the lack of security in our town in Mexico due to the drug trade and by difficulties in my own life that cause stress and anxiety that I cannot seem to do more than ask the unanswerable questions about the refugee crisis that is constantly growing. I feel helpless and lost when I read the news. Reading your post helps me to remember that it is okay to just cry the tears of intercession. It is sometimes all we can do.

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