Falling In Love With Iraq Via Istanbul

Twice in the last 14 months I was in Istanbul on my way to Iraq. With 8-hour evening layovers, my friends and I decided to make the most of it. Those two brief, whirlwind tours were all it took for us to fall in love with this amazing city where east and west have met for centuries.

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These photos fill my mind this week, as I hear the heart-wrenching news from Istanbul. I think of my friends and I literally running–and laughing–through the unfamiliar concourses in search of visas so we could exit the airport for just a few hours. I think of the kind strangers who gave us directions and the taxi drivers who earnestly (so it seemed) sought the quickest routes so we could maximize our sightseeing potential.

The juxtaposition of what I experienced in Istanbul and what so many others tragically experienced this week makes me literally feel sick. Such unnecessary suffering. Such heartache and pain.

And then in the midst of this comes crushing news from friends in Iraq. In the fighting in and around Fallujah, a convoy from the Preemptive Love Coalition delivering food to desperate, displaced Fallujans comes under attack.

Many of us prayed through the night for our friends from Preemptive Love.

Read this updated report to learn about the danger the Preemptive Love team faced and will continue to face as they help the families of Fallujah who have escaped ISIS only to find themselves starving and shelterless in the desert.

Please consider donating here to help the families of Fallujah.

Do you wonder if it matters when you donate to an organization like Preemptive Love? The following are portraits my friend Christine Anderson took of men, women and children we met in Iraq. All had been as desperate as the families of Fallujah are now. But all were loved and served by Preemptive Love.

For some it started with emergency food relief. Then shelter. Then education. Then trauma counseling. Then small business enterprise. Now, they have hope and joy and a future. These are real Iraqis whose horror turned to hope.

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That last photo shows Jeremy Courtney, founder of the Preemptive Love Coalition. Jeremy and his wife, Jessica, have become my heroes on-the-ground in Iraq. I’ve visited them twice, and will undoubtedly go back again. Not only are they going where most people fear to go, but they’re also inspiring Iraqis themselves–drawing from diverse local populations–to partner together on behalf of their displaced and suffering countrymen.

So when we join Preemptive Love we are also joining local Iraqi heroes. This is a great and rare opportunity. Please join me and many others in supporting PLC and local Iraqi heroes in bringing hope to the people of Fallujah.

You can donate here. Thank you.

Photos by Christine Anderson Photography.

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Summer Sabbatical

Today is the official “first day” of a three-month writing sabbatical. I say “writing” as if I am actually going to write. Maybe I will. Or maybe I just need time to think.

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Fifteen years ago when I turned fifty—after a decade of painful reflection, slow rediscovery and deep healing—I was ready to put the past behind me and lean into life again. Continue reading

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Israeli & Palestinian Women Against Violence

Since 2009 I’ve traveled to the Holy Land two or three times each year to learn from Israelis and Palestinians committed to peace. I’ve met incredible men and women–Jews, Muslims and Christians–religious and secular–who show up day after day to work together for the sake of a nonviolent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

yn-Mdn3JSJCXN1gAxeKuH385OfRoolS7PDKczZKqgr8Photo by Christine Anderson

Among these heroic, steadfast people is a group of Israeli and Palestinian women–all followers of Jesus–who have completely captured my heart and earned my deepest respect. Refusing to let the hostility and hopelessness of their respective communities define them, they have chosen the long, slow path of learning each other’s stories and experiences. Continue reading

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A Few Thoughts on Guns & The Armor of Light

I originally wrote this post in February, 2013, when my friends at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism invited me to join the Faiths Calling initiative to help stop rampant gun violence. In the wake of the tragedy of Sandy Hook, they were seeking laws that could make our nation safer. Sadly, such laws are yet to be passed. 

I’ve revised the blog for a new purpose: to support the important documentary, The Armor of Light, showing tonight on PBS at 8/7c. I’ve met the filmmaker, Abigail Disney, and Rev. Rob Schenck whose story is told in the film. Together, they’re committed to creating a new conversation about guns in America. It’s an important film for all followers of Jesus to watch and consider.

Several years ago, when my then 27-year-old son was preparing to sail a 42-foot sailboat around the world, concerned friends and family members asked the inevitable question: will he keep a gun on board?  It’s not uncommon for ocean-crossing sailors to carry guns as a defense against pirates, but there’s an ongoing debate.  Continue reading

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Kilimanjaro #3: Remembering the Mountain, Remembering My Mom

A year ago I took my Mom to the garden center to get flowers we could plant on Mother’s Day. Over the previous two years, as her aging mind had increasingly lost track of much it had once known, this remained: her passion for flowers.

In the early morning hours she was still “the Queen surveying her Kingdom” as she walked between her tiny flower beds.

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Christians, Muslims and the Golden Rule

“Do you think it’s safe to meet with the Christians? I’m afraid they will hurt you. Please text me as soon as the meeting is done, so I’ll know you’re okay.”

These were the words of a junior high-aged Muslim boy when he learned that his Muslim American mother was going to meet with a small group of Christians. He was sure she was entering a very dangerous situation.

The mother shared her son’s words when I asked her what it was like to be a Muslim in America in 2016.

On a wintery Saturday morning several friends and I were gathered with about fifteen Muslim men and women in a small meeting room in a mosque not far from our church. Continue reading

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About Refugees: A Preacher, A Professor, A Rock Star & Me

Each spring for three weeks my church, Willow Creek Community Church, focuses on the work that our church partners are doing in under-resourced communities throughout the world.

Everything in our weekend services, midweek services, and children’s ministries focuses on how followers of Jesus around the world are being the hands and feet of Christ as they address issues like food security, healthcare, clean water, economic stability, education, leadership development, and others.

This annual emphasis is called Celebration of Hope (COH) and it’s my favorite time of year at Willow.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro #2: Why We Did It

5 days. 21 miles. 19,341 feet. 38,680 steps.

That’s a lot of uphill walking!

As you might expect, a fair amount of words accompanied those steps. Fourteen passionate women facing a common challenge for a shared cause do not lack subjects for conversation. And trust me, the Kilimanjaro climbers of One Million Thumbprints are nothing if not passionate!

Still, you can only talk so much. As one of the more introverted climbers, I had perhaps a lower threshold for conversation than some. But even the most talkative among us slid into long stretches of quiet reflection—moments when the rhythmic repetition of slow steps freed our minds to meander.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro #1: We Actually Did It!

Really! All fourteen women climbers with One Million Thumbprints reached our goal: we made it to the top of the highest freestanding mountain in the world, Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro, at approximately 8am on March 8, International Women’s Day.

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The Day One Million Thumbprints Was Born

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On my first visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009, I met a woman named Charlene in a massive camp for displaced people. Like hundreds of thousands of others, Charlene and her family had been forced by the violence of Congo’s civil war to flee for their lives, leaving their homes, their fields, everything they owned. Ending up in camp shacks made of sticks and tarps, these displaced women had to forage in the forest for firewood to trade for food. While they searched for wood, many of these women—including Charlene—were brutally raped by rebel soldiers. Charlene’s story broke my heart and bound me to the Congo.

Three years later, I returned to Congo with a group of friends. Continue reading

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