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 Muslim 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 pastor's wife from Palestine translated into Arabic as we stood before the Syrian women.
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. 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 all part of the same human family.
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.