Tag Archives: Syria

I am sick of the campaign…but still alternative.

When Gwen and I were travelling around the Poconos last weekend we came across a General Store in Lackawaxen. It had a big sign out front: “We trust in God. We trust in guns. We trust in Trump.“

We started complaining about the state of the country, but then we basically just changed the subject. We’re sick of it. I, in particular, am surprisingly sick of it. I have seen politics as a “hobby” since I was in high school – history in the making and all that, but what is going on now is so broken, I can’t even get serious on that level, anymore.

This presidential campaign is pounding us. How about you? Are you sick of it yet? The proportions of its nastiness and untruthfulness are so huge that I think people might finally wake up and realize that the world is a sin sick place. It has gotten so bad our general denial might be upended! Our leaders are helping Jesus out.  We might finally get to the place Paul hopes people will get:

Everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.  This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:13-16

I know, I know. Many people will just go into deeper sleep: pile into work, buy things, drink or drug, game until they can’t see straight and then buy an Oculus.

But I can’t help but think that many people will actually wake up and seek out alternativity. That’s where Jesus is waiting. There is an alternative: true life in Christ, a new life built together by his followers. I’ve always been serious about that, but now the country’s leaders are making me real serious.

I was singing this old song this morning that answered the longing of Jeremiah as he lamented the condition of Israel in his day — his country was a wreck. “Is there no balm in Gilead for my suffering people?” he cried. The song answers:

There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead,
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my hope again.

Jesus the balm.

I do get discouraged. I am not sure what will be left of our safe empire in a few years. I believe I will be fine, but what of all the unsuspecting, ill-financed, debt-ridden people? The children! What about the poor of the Philadelphia region? The prospect of big changes is daunting!

When we used to sing There is a Balm, we thought it was funny to sing “there is a bomb in Gilead” in honor of Israel’s nukes and the ongoing Palestinian oppression that blows up every few years. That’s not so funny these days, since there is a bomb in New York City and New York’s country is dropping bombs on families in Syria adding to the refugee crisis that has created the most instability the world has known in decades. I get discouraged.

But then the Holy Spirit revives my hope again. Sin happens every day – and will keep happening inside us and out. We’re sick. But our work in the Lord is not in vain. My wounds are not permanent. Our sins could not keep Jesus in the grave. I still know we are the alternative, and we need to be: a circle of hope wherever God takes us.

We have to keep helping the Syrians

syrian familiesGwen and I did not have to pay as much tax as we expected! (Happy dance occurs). We decided to pour some of what we had saved for the taxes into South Broad’s sharing gap. And we poured another portion into the cups of our poor Syrian loved ones via MCC.

Thank God for the fragile cease fire that is allowing some more aid to get deeper into Syria itself. We have been trying to help since the crisis began in 2011. Remember the dress sale?

Since then, our sharing with MCC through our thrift stores and Common Fund has also helped alleviate suffering.

This conflict brought on “compassion fatigue” rather quickly for most people, I think. It appears the 1% would rather spend its money on buying the government than helping refugees. The rest of the 99% feel squeezed so much that they have a tough time sharing even when they actually have a lot to share. In case you are interested (and I am seriously NOT trying to guilt you into being interested — giving is about gladness, not guilt), here are some facts from World Vision:

Syria crisis: Fast facts

Why are Syrians fleeing their homes?

  • Violence: Since the Syrian civil war began, 320,000 people have been killed, including nearly 12,000 children. About 1.5 million people have been wounded or permanently disabled, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.4 The war has become more deadly since foreign powers joined the conflict.
  • Collapsed infrastructure: Within Syria, healthcare, education systems, and other infrastructure have been destroyed; the economy is shattered.
  • Children’s safety: Syrian children — the nation’s hope for a better future — have lost loved ones, suffered injuries, missed years of schooling, and witnessed unspeakable violence and brutality. Warring parties forcibly recruit children to serve as fighters, human shields, and in support roles, according to the U.S. State Department. Read a story on our blog about how 3 refugee sisters are coping.

What are the refugees’ greatest needs?

  • Syrians fleeing conflict need all the basics to sustain their lives: food, clothing, health assistance, shelter, and household and hygiene items.
  • They need reliable supplies of clean water, as well as sanitation facilities.
  • Children need a safe environment and a chance to play and go to school.
  • Adults need employment options in case of long-term displacement.
  • Prayer: Learn how you can pray for Syrian refugees. Join with others as we #PrayForRefugees.
  • Compassion: Read this article in Christianity Today by World Vision President, Rich Stearns about treating refugees with the compassion of Christ.

syrian childrenHow does the war in Syria affect children?

Read about how the war is affecting Syria’s children in a special report from the World Vision magazine, “Syria Crisis and the Scars of War.”

  • Children are susceptible to malnutrition and diseases brought on by poor sanitation, including diarrheal diseases like cholera. Cold weather increases the risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
  • Many refugee children have to work to support their families. Often they labor in dangerous or demeaning circumstances for little pay.
  • Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions. Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents — especially single mothers — may opt to arrange marriage for girls, some as young as 13.
  • Between 2 million and 3 million Syrian children are not attending school. The U.N. children’s agency says the war reversed 10 years of progress in education for Syrian children.

Selling Dresses for Syrians Bought Comfort

The Syrian uprising was reportedly ignited by bored teenagers who spray-painted some graffiti on the wall of a school in Dara’a challenging President Assad, who is a trained ophthalmologist. Their message simply said, “It’s your turn doctor” (check out the NY Times). When the reaction of the authorities was harsh, neighbors came to the defense of their kids and protests soon spread around the country. Before long, defecting soldiers created militias, which have now formed a coalition, one that does not include radical Islamists who have flooded into the conflict from around the Middle East.

Walid snuggles under an MCC comforter in Zarqa, Jordan.
Walid snuggles under an MCC comforter in Zarqa, Jordan.

By the start of 2013, more than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, had died and tens of thousands of others had been arrested. More than 400,000 Syrian refugees had registered in neighboring countries, with tens of thousands not registered. In addition, about 2.5 million Syrians needed aid inside the country, with more than 1.2 million displaced domestically, according to the United Nations.

In December the Mennonite Central committee beefed up their aid to $1.3million dollars as the refugee crisis deepened (check out the MCC website). Thank God that we are part of MCC! We are supporters of MCC in a number of ways. A good portion of our common fund goes directly to the mission all over the world. Our thrift stores exist as part of the MCC network of stores. Last year, $87,000 of our profits went to many good works.

Sara and the dresses
Sara and the dresses

On top of those regular contributions was the special portion derived from selling wedding dresses. Remember those dresses? The story goes like this. The landlord was trying to rent one of his unrentable spaces so, of course, he contacted us. He is familiar with our mission to redeem unrentable spaces – or so it would seem. As part of the deal, he wanted us to buy the who-knows-how-many wedding dresses and formals he had in the space. We bit the hook, assuming that we could sell almost anything – but not completely sure.

Howard and Katie getting the word out.
Howard and Katie getting the word out.

We wanted to highlight our new store and the plight of Syrian refugees, so we had an October-long dress sale: Be a hero, Buy a dress! Some of us even got out on the street to advertise (thanks Howard and Katie). Some of us even dressed up in the dresses and went to the Halloween Gala for Syria (Zombie Optional). We started selling dresses and some people even bought them because Syrians needed help. We have paid back the purchase price and have given over $2500 directly to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Plus, we continue to sell dresses in both stores, and the money will continue to go to Syrians as long as we have dresses!

Apart from the joy of doing our part to help people in need, we have learned and gained a lot from this experience.

1)  We succeeded in making people aware of the trouble in Syria and making them aware that we care about it. We are world Christians. Jesus cares and so do we.

2) We forced ourselves out of our comfort zone and on to Broad St. and, as a result, met a lot of new people. We learned that we are actually quite capable of mixing it up on the street. Come to find out, we have a lot to offer people who need us. Jesus has gone before us and we are following.

3) The new, unrentable store space actually worked well! Circle Thrift profits (and contributions to our causes) have gone way up! Jesus has a lot of ways to get things done and we are trying to be creative, too.

It is a big world and it is such a mess! It is always tempting to hunker down and ignore as much as possible (FB, Twitter and this blog, notwithstanding!). It is hard to make choices about who to serve and how to give. But another thing I think we learned (again) from our four-month attention to Syrian refugees is that we get bigger when we try to do bigger things. Our hearts get bigger when we love beyond their normal confines. Our faith gets bigger when we exercise it, especially on behalf of those even poorer than ourselves.

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Why I Love the Dress Sale

So on a scale of one to ten, there are some things about the dress sale that Jesus and I rate VERY high.

What dress sale, you ask? It is the buy-a-dress-for-displaced-Syrians dress sale that culminates in the Hallowe’en “gala.” That dress sale.

Sara doing her first sorting of the goods.

OK, here is more. The landlord buys and sells things. When we procured the street-level space for Circle Thrift on Broad St., he had it filled with wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses and what I call party dresses – probably because I am never invited to dress-up parties. He wanted us to buy the dresses as part of the deal. We made the deal and stand to make about $10,000 if we can sell all the dresses (even at our super-low prices). We decided to have a special sale and use all the profits to aid displaced Syrians, with whom MCC is already working and raising money to help.

After one week, we have only made about $500. But then, we just started and almost no one has heard about the sale or figured out what we are doing.

I think Jesus can get excited about this sale and rates certain aspects of it very high, as I do.

1. Weirdness. I think I give it a ten. Eventually we will get a bride from the bride of Christ out on Broad St. to advertise the sale. Thank God there are still people in our church who would do such a thing. They remind me of God getting into a human “dress.“  Plus, we’re doing it for displaced Syrians, which is rather weird. Mitt Romney wants to give heavy arms to the rebels. There are likely to be more refugees, soon. Most people don’t have a clue about Syria, in general. We do; that’s weird. The Syrians are being slaughtered by their government. We are weird enough to care about that.

2. Opportunity for mission. I think I can give it at least a 9. I am not sure we will take the opportunity, but we certainly have a good excuse to get out on the street and tell people about Circle Thrift and its commitment to MCC’s work of advocacy, relief and development all over the world. Plus we can raise people’s consciousness about Jesus and demonstrate that there are many Christians who are interested in more than “jobs” this election. Plus we can let people know about Circle of Hope, which is often one of the best-kept secrets in Philadelphia. Broad and Washington, in particular, needs to get out on the street and meet a few thousand of the new people in Center City, in South Philly and on campus.

3. Charity. I think I am at least at 8 in this category. The other day in Circle of Hope Daily Prayer, the “voice” led us to think about how giving makes us free. In the comments, Toni said: “By Christ I am freed to receive, in addition to giving. Giving helps me be connected to those around me, and to practice living in abundance. But receiving makes me feel less in control, and I have to trust those to whom I reach. It is scary, but good practice. What a privilege to receive the limitless love of Jesus, oftentimes by the hand of the generosity of His people.” The dress sale has so many levels of goodness to it! I think everyone in the church, at least, should buy a dress to support the new store and displaced Syrians, whether they need a dress or not! You could be donate it to Congreso’s prom cupboard. Or you could buy it for one-time fun when you wear it to the “gala.” That brings me to the last category.

inspiration from down south

4. Fun.For me it is a ten. But you’ll have to decide for yourself. I don’t like to do much of anything that is not good fun. Serving Jesus is a joy and I try not to let anyone or anything steal that joy. Selling the dresses, giving away money, advertising in new ways – all fun. Being at the “gala” where people wear the dresses, probably as zombies some of them, is even more fun. A couple of people have thought that associating zombies with distressed Syrians is insensitive – well, that’s probably true. Hallowe’en, in general, has real problems. We are redeeming it all, however. Or at least I hope we have fun trying. I love it when Circle of Hope dances together. Dancing in a dress bought to help displaced Syrians — even better. Making something nice out of Hallowe’en — even better. Praying in All Saints Day together at the end — even more fun.

Weirdness. Opportunity for mission. Charity. Fun. Some people might think that is my life in a nutshell. The dress sale might have been meant for me. But I think it is meant for Jesus, too. I’m not joking when I say he rates it highly. I suppose we could think of a few other things Jesus might do with hundreds of dresses. But don’t you think he is into this idea?

Jesus is the main reason I love the dress sale. Got any more reasons of your own? Stories to tell?

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