Keep Families Together

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But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” I’ve been watching as America wrestles with refugees and immigration and with letting the children of immigrants call this place home. As a twenty-three-year-old learning to fill my space in the world, I have needed to step off the sidelines. And so I participated in a march. A march for keeping families together. And as I marched, hot indignant tears rolled down my cheeks while I watched the protesters symbolically pile children’s shoes high on the sidewalk, watched them spilling over onto the road. Later, as I carried my sign, an elderly man stopped me, placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “Thank you. It’s getting harder to be an immigrant in America every day.”

I think sometimes we get paralyzed by the thought of being wrong. But I’m learning to invite grace in because I know God will meet me there. When I think about that man, I see a human being. Somebody told me once that God loves the person more than the institution. And right now, the institution is looking a lot like America telling us what safety is, what safety isn’t, and what should be ours. But I’m here to gently remind us of something. I’m here to remind us, Christians, that when we became Christians we gave up our rights.

We gave up the right to safety, the right to owning things and putting up walls around them, claiming them as our own and shutting out the hurting.

Paul said to die is gain. When we became Christians, we said we would lay down our lives for our neighbors. And I think that means our neighboring countries too. Jesus said pick up your cross and follow me. And when I watch what scripture tells us our crosses look like, I remember we don’t get to sit back. And what better way to live out His kindness, His mercy, then with open arms here on this earth crying out, “not my will, but yours be done Father.”

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As He died for the least of these, let us die too. Whatever that means. If that means giving up my home, giving up my rights, giving up my safety, then so be it. I refuse to store up my treasure here on earth. I want to be the kind of Christian storing up treasure in heaven.

We’ve become too comfortable in this world we claim as our own, over and over and over again.

But this world isn’t ours. It never was. This is not our home. And we have no right to tell human beings that they cannot find refuge here with us. We are made in the image of God. And if we are to be mirrors of Him, then we are to be mirrors of hope, shelter, rest, and strength. We are to look more like Him every single day. And I could never wrap my head around the picture of a God who doesn’t put out a welcome mat, a God who doesn’t invite us in. I can’t imagine a God who doesn’t say, “let the little children come to me.”

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Christians, we have got to start bringing this conversation out in big and bold ways. We have got to start leaning in to our identity as a lighthouse, a city on a hill, a home filled with hope. Let’s wrap that identity around ourselves. Because we too are immigrants, we understand what it means to love, and families belong together. And if I could say one thing to you, it’s this: wipe your feet on the Father’s welcome mat and come on in. We’re all welcome here.

// Words & Photos by Jessica Meko

Hope in the Waiting

Written by Tara Sanders // Photos by Emily Howard

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On Sunday morning, July 8th, it felt like the whole world was holding its breath as 12 members of a Thai soccer team and their assistant coach were being rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped inside for several weeks.

I had heard murmurings about the situation during this time, but the severity of it didn’t hit me until I read about the details.

Twelve young boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach became trapped while exploring the caves during rainy season. The caves quickly filled with water and the boys sought higher ground as the water levels began to rise. Stuck in there with nothing more than a bike ride’s worth of supplies, the boys went without food for days and drank water that was dripping off of the limestone rocks.

The threat of death was very real, and logistically it was possible that they may not all make it out alive.

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Thankfully, that deep breath taken around the world was released with a rush as news broke forth on July 10th that all of the boys and their coach made it out alive. Eight of the boys were rescued by a team of Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, the last four boys and their coach were led out of the cave. I can imagine the joy and relief that came from groups of friends and family watching on TV and the warm welcome the boys received when they made it back up to the surface.

According to an article written by the Washington Post, journalists began to flood the area as news of the story brought intrigue and watchful eyes from all over the world. It seemed that for a few short weeks the world was united by the hope that these young men would make it out of the cave alive.

While writing this, I’m realizing that there have been so many times when I have felt exactly like those boys-totally stuck. Mind you, I have never been stuck in a cave (though I have been spelunking), but I have been stuck in life in some very difficult circumstances where the chances of coming out of it seemed slim and my hope was waning. It seemed like there was no way out, no way of escape, and nothing to do but pray, hope, and wait.

IMG_1034Can you relate?

There are times when we feel like the water is rising up all around us. We are closed in on every side and unable to make it on our own. Those moments become an opportunity for God to show us how faithful He truly is.

But how do we hold on to hope in the waiting?

One of my favorite scripture verses of all time is Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plan I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It may seem a tad trite to quote that verse right now, but I have held onto these words so many times through so many trials because it’s not simply about God prospering you, it’s about God being aware of our situation and working in the midst of our waiting. Something that tends to get lost when this verse is shared is that this word from the Lord came to the Israelites when they were still in captivity. They hadn’t been freed yet and it wasn’t clear how they would get out. But the Lord said he had an idea, thoughts if you will, and that the plan was a good one.

As those boys sat in that dark cave, not even sure if anyone knew they were there, I’m sure many thoughts and fears arose from the possibility of never getting back out. All the while, there were teams of people on the outside working on their behalf and thousands of people who didn’t even know these boys pitching in to help.

Isn’t that how it is with God sometimes?

A friend once told me that “what we see isn’t really what’s going on.” What she meant was that we see the situation in front of us, but God sees the whole picture.

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This past Sunday, the 12 boys learned that one of the divers, a Navy Seal, Saman Gunan, didn’t make it out of the cave alive during the rescue efforts, when his oxygen supply ran out during his dive. In photos released by the Thai Public Health Ministry, the boys can be seen bowing their heads in prayer and some of them crying as they paid their respects to him.

He took a risk to save a group of boys he didn’t even know. Him, and so many others, selflessly gave of their time and resources to ensure the boys stayed alive, safe, and would eventually make it out of the cave.

Jesus laid down his life for us. He sacrificed it all so that we could have eternal hope. Not a hope that wains with life’s ups and downs, but a sturdy foundation that we can always lean and depend on no matter what our circumstances may be.

Isaiah 43:1-2 says:

But now thus says the Lord,

he who created you, O Jacob,

    he who formed you, O Israel:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

    and the flame shall not consume you.”

We have no guarantee that we will not face high waters or even fire, and those things can come in many forms-sickness, grief, shame, worry, anxiety, and troubles of every kind. We are, however, assured that God is aware and cares deeply about our suffering and that He always walks with us.