This isn’t going to be your typical Thanksgiving Week blog post.
But since nothing about the days leading up to Thanksgiving have been average for me, let’s just go with it.
A week ago, a middle eastern man walked into our Mercy House retail store for an appointment he made with my husband and I, set up by friends at church. He works with Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have flooded his country for asylum from ISIS.
As he tried to wrap his mind around fair trade product, economic development, American consumerism and our attempt to redeem it, I could tell his mind was spinning.
Every word out of his mouth was humble as he downplayed the grave risk he takes every day to share the Gospel with Muslims. He doesn’t do it from a pulpit, but he does it by showing up at their makeshift door. Day after day.
He is living a hard life for a good purpose.
As my friend Tara, who runs No.41, a sewing co-op and feeding program for those affected by the genocide says, Because sometimes the Gospel looks like a plate of food and sometimes it looks like a job. But it always looks like showing up.
He lives in relationship with people who have been forced to leave their homes, businesses and family. It’s a sea of refugees, living in temporary homes, in limbo between governments, trapped, not knowing where they will spend the rest of their lives. They have lost everything.
He asked us not to take his picture or share his name because he could be killed since it is illegal to tell people about Jesus in his country.
By the end of the day, as we broke bread together and talked about Living Bread, we were friends. It was holy. This is work, a place, a people group, we long to join hands with and as we said our goodbyes, somehow I knew we would meet again.
Maybe that’s why when our new friend returned with a brown paper sack saying it was a gift for our family, I steadied myself. I slowly opened it and pulled out his personal red patterned keffiyeh. I held up his Arab headdress, smelled the scent of dirt and dust, humbled by a hero of the faith giving his best and I cried like a baby.
I had never felt so alive.
Two days later, I sat in a roomful of non-profit leaders at a gathering hosted by Mercy House. As I listened to another friend, this one a dear Russian friend, a refugee himself, tell his story of faith and the persecution and humiliation he endured because of it, I fought the sobs working their way out of me. His family interrupted our family’s story more than 9 years ago and the fabric of who we are and what we do has flowed from the crossroads of this relationship.
He stood in the rented beach house and told my non-profit friends, who are working in hard places around the world, his story: Imprisoned for his faith again and again. Beaten for the Gospel over and over. Isolated from his underground faith community. Family members kidnapped because he could not, no, would not, stop telling people about Jesus. Escaping to America, losing everything he possessed–his home, cars, business–everything in just 24 hours. He was forced to start over, live by faith, and he chooses every day to risk his safety and comfort to spend the rest of his life telling people about Jesus.
I can’t share his picture because it would endanger his family. But I will share his words to us, to me, to you: “Christians are bored with Christianity and their lives because they are just reading the stories in the Bible. But I don’t want to just hear the stories. I want to live them. I want to be in the epicenter of what God is doing. There are people today–in China, the Middle East, around the world, living the stories of the Bible…right now, at this moment. The cure for boredom requires us to step into spaces that are out of our control.”
And then, he urged us with these counter cultural words that I will never forget, “Do not invest your life on things you can lose in 24 hours.”
As we pause our busy lives this week to give thanks, I urge you, I implore you, I beg you to do a few things:
- Give thanks for what you have. Twice this week, I’ve met people who are risking everything they have–even their lives– so that others may have Jesus, someone we take for granted.
- Invest your lives in more than the American Dream. In a blink, it can disappear. Spend your life and your money helping people. It’s an eternal investment.
- Refuse to live a bored Christian life. Because there are people right now losing their lives because of their Christian life.
My friends around the world are helping me rethink Thanksgiving this year. “Thanks is the new giving.” as Kristine, Director of the global Karama Collection says.
Give some today.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends.