Lynne Hybels

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What I Said to Syrian Refugee Women

A version of this article appeared in Sojourners Magazine, July 2014.

In May 2014, after several days of visiting Syrian refugees in UN camps and in temporary homes throughout Jordan, I was invited to speak of the love of God to two hundred Syrian refugee women in an urban community center. Heartsick by what I’d seen throughout the week, I had already begun writing in my journal an “open letter to Syrian refugees.” That letter became this talk that a dear friend from Palestine translated into Arabic for me.  

I wish I didn't have to stand up here in front of you. I would rather sit beside you on a cushion on the floor and have a cup of tea with you. I would like to snuggle your baby in my arms.  I would like to hear your story.  I know you have a sad story and if I heard it, I would weep—as I have with some of you this week.

I know you are good and loving women. I'm sorry you have lost so much. I'm sorry you had to come to a country, a city, and a house that is not yours.    

I can imagine you in your own country, strong women serving others. I can imagine you making beautiful food and sharing it with your family and friends. I can imagine you caring for your mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sister and brothers and friends. Just the way I do.

Because that's what women do. We are compassionate. We give. We serve. We protect. We work hard to make the world better for the people we love.

Wherever I go in the world, I discover that we women are very much alike. We may have different clothes. Different hair. Different language. Different culture. Maybe our skin is a different color. But in our hearts, we are the same.

That's why we can look into each others' eyes and feel connected. We can talk without using words. We can smile. We can hug. We can laugh.

And sometimes, we can feel each other's pain. I have prayed that God would help me feel your pain. I wish I could remove your pain. I wish I could help you carry it.

Last night while I prayed for you I remembered a story about Jesus Christ. In the story a woman who had been suffering for many years came to Jesus. She was sick and nobody could help her. Nobody could heal her body or comfort her mind. People had given up on her. They were ignoring her.

But she believed the Christ could heal her, if she could just touch his robe.

So she pushed her way silently through the crowd that followed Jesus. She was afraid he would turn her away if he saw her, so she stayed in the shadows.  And finally, she touched his robe.

Immediately he stopped. "Who has touched me?" he asked. "Power has flowed out of me. I want to know who touched me!"

She was afraid, certain he was angry and would punish her; but she felt compelled to answer. "It was me," she whispered. "I am the one who touched you."  The crowd hushed, anxious to see what this great man would do.

Jesus simply looked at her—right into her eyes. Then he said, "Daughter, your faith is great. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace."

When I read that story I wondered why Jesus stopped, why he forced that frightened woman to speak up. I prayed to God to help me understand.

This is why I think Jesus stopped: I believe he wanted her to know that he saw her. She wasn't just an anonymous person in a huge crowd. She was an individual woman. And he saw her.

He knew she was suffering, and that broke his heart. He called her daughter so she would understand how much he loved her. He said she had great faith in God, and He honored her for it. Then he healed the wounds of her body and soul. 

As a Christian, I believe Jesus shows us what God is like. He shows us that God sees each of us as individuals. He calls us daughters because he loves us. He honors our faith because He knows it can make us strong. He cares when we suffer. He wants to bring healing, comfort and peace into our lives.

Some verses in scripture tell us that Jesus weeps, which means that God weeps too. He weeps for all his suffering daughters.

I wish I could end the war ravaging your country.

I wish I could gather all the money in the world to help make your lives easier.

I wish I could bring back all you have lost. 

I can't do any of that, but I can do this:

I can go home and tell what I've seen: how you are suffering and how amazing Jordanians are walking lovingly with you during this time of hardship. Both you and your Jordanian friends need the prayers and support of American Christians. I will tell my friends that.

I will also tell my friends how beautiful and strong and loving you are. I will tell them you are women of deep faith in God. Women who adore your children as I adore mine. Women who sacrifice willingly for those you love.

I will tell them that when I look into your eyes, I see that we are sisters. 

I will not forget you. I will pray for you. I will tell your stories. I will weep when I hear anew of your suffering.  And I will rejoice over any goodness that comes your way.

Truly I will not forget you. God has placed you in my heart.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Palestinian, Israeli and American Women: United in Prayer

In Israel and the West Bank, an organization called Musalaha (Arabic for Reconciliation) brings together Israelis and Palestinians who are committed to establishing relationships of trust and friendship so they can become agents of reconciliation impacting their respective communities.  On several trips to the Holy Land I have met with women of Musalaha.  One memorable meeting is captured in an earlier blog. 

Following the discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli teens recently murdered, the Musalaha website published this note from Palestinian Christian, Shireen Awad Hilil, Coordinator of Musalaha Women’s Department, West Bank:

We, as the Palestinian Sisters involved in Musalaha, want to express our condolences on the loss of life of three young Israelis and the pain that their families and communities are feeling.  We have been, until now, standing with you in prayer, awaiting the return of the young men, and some of the ladies have been in touch to express that commitment.  We are committed to staying in relationship with you and will continue in our path of peace and reconciliation.  The Palestinian women of Musalaha do not condone any acts of violence and honor life and peace together with the Israeli people.   

Hedva Haymov, a Messianic Jew (Jewish follower of Jesus), Director of the Women’s Department for Musalaha in Israel, added these words:

I was greatly troubled throughout this ordeal of searching for 3 young men.  We have prayed daily in the office for innocent victims of the latest tragedy. I, and the women of Musalaha in Israel, also send our condolences to the families who lost lives on both sides.  We seek and will continue to move towards peace with our brothers and sisters in the Body of Messiah.  We feel the pain of all families, either Palestinian or Israeli, who have suffered throughout this rise in the cycle of violence.  Our condolences are sent out to both communities. 

Let our discussion in these heated days be not of retribution, but of reconciliation. Let us refrain from joining the crowds around us calling for blood and call instead on the One who has made peace between us. 

Let us push forward even harder and faster for the good of each other and the opportunity to bless each other.

Then Hedva added these words to her Palestinian and Israeli friends:  I welcome you to join together in prayer on the 11th of July from 9am until 1pm. 

In follow-up emails with Shireen and Hedva, I’ve discovered that on Friday, July 11, there will be gatherings of Israeli and Palestinian women (Israeli Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians) scattered throughout Israel and the West Bank, joined together in prayer.   

Shireen and Hedva have invited us, American women committed to Jesus and to peace, to join them on prayer on Friday.

The women in Israel and the West Bank will begin fasting on Thursday night, join together for prayer on Friday from 9am to 1pm, and end their time together with lunch before heading home. 

Hedva sent these requests for prayer:
  1. A calming of spirits and cessation of violence
  2. A just and lasting peace
  3. All murderers to be brought to justice
  4. All violence to be stopped
  5. That we will be a calming influence in our communities
  6. That if we have to suffer, we do so out of no fault of our own, and have the courage to face it
  7. That the volunteers coming to work at the summer camps will be kept safe
  8. That the children attending our summer camps will be safe
  9. That the words we speak will be full of grace
  10. That God will hear our prayers 

To Hedva's prayer list, I add the names of Israeli and Palestinian friends I've gotten to know through numerous trips to the region, many of whom live in regions under violent attack right now.  People from France, Holland, UK, Australia and others have committed to join in the Friday prayers.  Let’s add American women to that list! 

Since Hedva and Shireel wrote the words I quoted earlier,  violence in their land has escalated, along with fear and division.  The voices of those who work and pray for reconciliation and the cessation of violence have become increasingly important.  Let’s join them, to make their voices stronger. 
Together or in small groups, let’s commit a portion of time on Friday July 11, to fast and pray for and with our Israeli and Palestinian sisters. Some of you may want to chart the time difference and pray "live" with our Middle Eastern friends.  Others may choose to pray according to your own time zone, thus spreading global prayers throughout the day.  

I know of many Muslims and Jews also committing themselves and their communities to prayers for the cessation of violence in the Holy Land.  I am grateful for them.

I will add updates from Hevda and Shireen as I receive them

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Thanks to you, Lisa is going to school!

Four days ago I told the story of Lisa, a survivor of horrific sexual abuse from the time she was two years old until she was rescued at twenty.  You can read more about her on my previous blog.  When I heard Lisa's story, I couldn't imagine that the next chapter of her life would include losing her student visa, being forced back to her home country, and giving up the dream she's been working for so diligently.  So, I invited you to join me in helping Lisa raise the $25000 she needed by today.  Well, thanks to many people who gave and prayed and gave some more, Lisa is going to school!  Here's a personal note Lisa wrote last night when the final funds were tallied:

I don’t know how to say “thank you” to each person and individual who has contributed to my education fund so I can finish my schooling and stay safe. Right now, my tears are flowing freely - gently cascading off my face. I am touched and so grateful. 

My entire existence in this world has been based on terror; the terror of captivity in the sex slave trade, as well as the constant fear that I would be made to go back to my home country due to lack of funding. Through your donations though, my visa will not expire. Because of you, tonight, freedom has been handed to me. I can stay safe, as well as finish my education. I never dreamed that God would provide in this way, but I am seeing over and over again that miracles do happen. From the depths of my heart - thank you for my freedom!!!!

Many thanks to all of you who Tweeted and Re-Tweeted, and told your friends Lisa's story, and prayed, and hit that little "donate" button.  A lot of little actions added up to one huge blessing!

May this be how we live each day, open to ways God might want to use us to meet the needs of his children!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What do you do when the world breaks your heart? (Or, You won't believe Lisa's story!)

Recent world news is making me sad and sadder.  Suffering of the people and places I’ve been recently connected with—in the Middle East especially—is escalating by the day. I feel helpless and weary. I won’t stop working on their behalf, planning trips to visit Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, and writing grant proposals for Jordanian and Lebanese organizations serving Syrian and Iraqi refugees. But the suffering is all so big and horrific and ongoing. I won’t stop caring; I won’t stop working; but at the moment, I feel overwhelmed.

Do you ever feel that way?

I started reflecting on what I should do with the anxiety I feel for the world.  Is there a way to channel this energy into something good?   

Maybe that’s why I latched onto Lisa’s story: the story of one girl with an immediate need that could actually be met in just a few days.  Lisa was sexually trafficked at age two—by her own father. She was forced into prostitution and suffered unimaginable abuses for twenty years. Miraculously, she survived and at 22 was rescued by police. For safety, Lisa fled to the US, used her new freedom to earn her GED and found scholarship programs that allowed her to attend college on a student visa. For three years she maintain a phenomenal GPA of 3.96 with a major in psychology, and a growing dream of one day helping survivors of human trafficking find hope and healing.  

We always hear about the big picture of human trafficking and what needs to be done on national and international levels to fight it. And that's important. But sometimes an opportunity comes along to address it in a nitty-gritty, grassroots, very personal way. That brings me back to Lisa—and one more hurdle she has to face. She recently discovered that unless she raises the entire funds for her senior year BY JULY 1, she’ll lose her student visa and be sent back home. Once before this happened and she was abducted and returned to prostitution. Those who know her fear that if she’s sent home again she’ll die at the hands of those who trafficked her. 

Some young woman from my church are part of an organization called Gridlock Ministries that helps girls like Lisa create a meaningful life after being rescued.  Gridlock is working hard to raise Lisa’s scholarship money.  On their website you can read more about Lisa and also make a tax-deductible donation to Lisa’s scholarship fund.  In order for Lisa’s student visa paperwork to be processed in time, all the funds need to be raised by July 1

I’ve just donated $1000 to Lisa’s fund. What if everyone who reads this blog donates something? $10?  $20?  $50?  I know how easy it is to read blogs like this and think, that’s great, I’m sure lots of people will donate.  Frankly, I’ve discovered that not many people actually do donate—they “like” and “favorite” and maybe even “retweet.”  But we could actually give Lisa the future she’s worked so hard for if we hit donate.” 

As soon as I post this blog, I’m going back to my Syrian refugee grant proposals and to reading a great book on the long, slow process of peacemaking.  I’m committed to the long-haul engagement with our broken world.  

But every now and then I need to grab hold of something that’s readily doable, fixable, changeable!  Like Lisa’s college tuition!  

Come on.  Join me.  Hit donate! Then, for Lisa’s sake, forward this blog to your friends, or retweet about it. Let’s safeguard Lisa’s future.  Let’s help her become the world-changer she wants to be!

*Lisa’s name has been changed in order to protect her. 

The work of Gridlock Ministries is endorsed and recommended by:

Brenda Myers-Powell, Cook County Sheriff's Dept. Prostitution Intervention Team
Terri Kraus, West Chicagoland Anti-Trafficking Coalition
Bob Brabenec, Wheaton College International Justice Mission Chapter
Frank Massolini, Anne's House
Tyrone Staggers, Salvation Army
Anne Rand, Willow Creek Compassion and Justice Ministry
Anny Donewald, Eve's Angels

San Diego
San Diego Police Dept. Anti-Trafficking Division
Carina Hinton, San Diego Regional Human Trafficking Advisory Council
Crystal Anthony, North County Lifeline (first-responder team)
Susan Johnson, Churches Against Trafficking
Susan Munsey, Generate Hope
Jamie Gates, Point Loma Nazarene University Center for Reconciliation and Justice
Bill Wells, Mayor, El Cajon, CA

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Syrian Eyes That Haunt Me

The NYTimes today reports that nearly 3 million Syrians have fled their country, becoming refugees in surrounding countries. Approximately 100,000 men, women and children are fleeing Syria each month. Many refugees live in UN created camps, but the majority live in urban areas outside the camps. While many were well-educated professionals, university students, or middle-class families in Syria, they fled with almost nothing. Now, desperately poor, they depend on the good will and generosity of strangers. For decades Jordan has welcomed refugees: Palestinians, Iraqis, and now Syrians. I have been humbled by the generosity and loving care I have seen in the last week. 

When I went to Congo the first time, I met a woman named Charlene. Her husband had been killed by rebels in Congo's civil war, leaving her with eight children to raise alone, and forcing her to flee to a makeshift camp for displaced people. Then, while foraging in the woods for firewood, Charlene was brutally raped by a soldier. When I met her, her baby born of rape was two weeks old. Charlene slid into my heart five years ago--and remains there.

This week in Jordan, I met my Syrian "Charlene"--a gentle, soft-spoken women who rocked slowly from side to side on a thin floor cushion, lulling a toddler to sleep in her arms. Her name is Amoneh:  a beautiful name for a beautiful woman.

Amoneh's three oldest sons were out scrounging for rent money by cleaning bathrooms or hauling produce; despite their best efforts, the family lives on the edge of eviction. Amoneh's remaining children crowded around her in the small room that is their temporary home. Like many refugee moms, she has received no word from her husband in Syria for many months.

Amoneh looks far too young to be the mother of eleven children, but she is. She lives next door to her cousin and his family, because she feels safer with a male relative near. However, she won't let her young children out of her sight. "I don't want to lose them," she says quietly. Her simple statement tells a story beyond our imagining. She has lost so much.

I knew the minute I sat down beside her that I would never forget her. There was something serene and elegant about her, but her eyes were like wells of pain. I am haunted by those eyes. I remember Charlene's eyes too. There was pain, yes, but also a touch of holy defiance; a hint of righteous indignation that strengthened Charlene and added the slightest glimmer to her eyes.  But in Amoneh I saw no defiance, no indignation. Just pure pain.

We asked if we could pray with her.  She welcomed it, so my Arabic-speaking friend prayed for her. I've made too many trips like this to cry every time my heart breaks. But as we left Amoneh's little room, the tears fell. We left a large box of food to help her family through the next few weeks. But it is a drop of water in an ocean of need.

The Jordanian pastor and his wife with whom I visited Amoneh and several other Syrian families believes his church has been prepared specifically to serve these refugees. His church is in a "rough" neighborhood; friends often challenged him to move to a "better" neighborhood. "Now I know why I never felt right about moving," he says. "We need to be here to respect, love and serve these people who have suffered so much."  

Last night my pastor friend and his wife sat with a woman who had just learned that her husband had been killed in Syria. It wasn't Amoneh, but it could have been. Just as there are many "Charlenes" in the DR Congo, so there are many "Amonehs" among the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

As I prepare to leave Jordan this evening, I pray the prayer I have so often prayed: God, what is mine to do?  

When I'm home with a rested mind and better internet access, I'll highlight some of the organizations I saw walking humbly and lovingly with Syrian refugees. In the meantime, will you join me in that prayer?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Crossing from the West Bank into Jordan

For several days I've been in Israel-Palestine, visiting old friends and making new ones.  I love coming to this land, not so much to see the traditional holy sites as to step into the holy space of listening and learning. That space always transforms me and I am grateful I get to return to it again and again.

But today, something new: I'll be crossing from the West Bank into Jordan, for nearly a week of listening and learning from Syrian refugees and from those who are walking with them through this time of displacement and suffering. For nearly two years I've been gripped by the stories coming out of Syria. I've raised money for Syrian refugees; a tiny bit, a drop of water in a vast ocean of need.  Sadly, experts suggest the horrors of Syria's war will only get worse; no one seems to know how to stop this violence playing out in the bodies of innocents men, women and children.    

There are plenty of shocking statics I could cite here.  In the coming days and weeks, I'm sure I'll share many of those.  But as I prepare my heart, mind, soul for Jordan, it's not numbers I'm preparing for; it's faces, stories, tears, and perhaps some smiles.  Smiles.  Two years ago I took a group of women to the Democratic Republic of Congo, another conflict zone, another place of violence played out in innocent human bodies. We prayed that in some mystical way (beyond human explanation) our "presence" could create a space of healing for people we met. That prayer was answered.  We had encounters that seemed bathed in a kind of holy magic.  And we saw smiles--not quick, light-hearted smiles, but shy, slow smiles, prompted, we hoped, by a tiny hint of hope.  

Will you join us in prayer?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Few Words of Beauty

These words are from Beauty Will Save The World: Rediscovering the allure and Mystery of Christianity, Chapter 3 "Axis of Love," by Brian Zahnd. I am loving this book. 

"Pilate was right; the cross is truth.  But not the truth of pragmatic violence; rather the cross is the truth of co-suffering love . . . Never again could the principalities and powers that enforce their will by violence claim God's endorsement.  Never again!  They had been exposed, and God had been revealed.  God is beautiful.  God is love.  God is like Jesus.  God has always been like Jesus.  We have not always known this . . . but now we do.  Jesus had said that if he was lifted up in crucifixion, he would draw all people to himself.  The event of the crucifixion gave the world a new ordering axis, a new ultimate truth, a new centering point--and it is love.  The love of God was fully displayed in Christ at the cross when he forgave the world for its sins.  If we want to know what God is like, we now point to Jesus on the cross forgiving a world that has rejected him, and we say, 'There!  That is what God is like!' And having now been vindicated in resurrection, Christ is drawing humanity into a new orbit, an orbit around himself and his redeeming love.  All of this is beautiful.  It is the beauty that saves the world." 

Enough said....