A few weeks ago our family enjoyed a trip to the Turkish coast in conjunction with a conference my husband and I attended for work. The Aegean Sea is beautiful, and Turkey is a very special place for us because my husband grew up there. My children loved to wiggle their toes in the sand, collect seashells, and splash in the clear blue waves.
They also happily strapped on floaties and doggie-paddled around the hotel pool. As long as I live I will never forget the pure delight on my 5 year old’s face as he splashed and kicked from one end of the pool to the other. At one point, he felt so free and happy in the pool that I looked over to catch him slipping off his life vest. His head bobbed up and down for just a few seconds before I could grab him, but it was enough to convince him to keep it on after that. But with it on, he became fearless — tackling the big kid water slides and jumping in the deep end with a yelp of pure ecstasy.
Over the years we have made a few excursions to the Turkish coast, and it has been a haven for us. We pull away from work and school demands and make precious space for family memories. We get to break free from the bustle of gray city life and savored the beauty and tranquility of the blue waves gently stroking the shore.
How heart-wrenching it was to hear that this place that had been so life-giving for us held the tragic death of a little refugee boy this week. This precious toddler, Aylan, drowned in the Aegean Sea and washed up on that very same shore this week. Where my children’s fingers dug in to build castles just weeks ago, his limbs lay limp on the wet sand. Where my children had giggled as the tide waters washed over them, waves lapped sweet Aylan’s motionless face. Where my son had tested his limits with his life vest, little Aylan had nothing to keep him safe.
You can read about Aylan’s family’s tragic story in the NY Times HERE.
This post is not a political statement because that is not my arena. It is also not a social commentary on immigration issues. Those issues are vast and complex and have inspired volumes written by minds much brighter and better suited to the task than I. This post is simply my heart pouring out on the page before me. Sometimes, we can not and should not rush to analysis and strategy. Before we think about how we should re-frame the legal process or the impact on economic concerns, our humanity appeals to us to stop for a moment and grieve. This is a tragedy. This is horrific. Everything inside me from the bottom of my toes wants to grab every passerby I meet by the collar and shriek in despair, “This should not be! This is wrong! An innocent little boy suffered and died.”
I spent a lot of time today weeping for Aylan and those like him. I took great comfort from picturing his little body in the arms of the Father. His last moments on earth were no doubt filled with panic and terror, but he is at peace now. He is at peace. God in His mercy will not turn away a little child. Somewhere deep in my bones I know this to be true. My Jesus, with his sorrow for the lost and his love for the least of these, He welcomed Aylan into heaven. He gave him rest. Aylan is at peace.
But the world is not at peace.
And so, after you mourn for the horrible pain in the world, you take a deep breath. You dry your eyes. And you pray. You pray for peace. You pray for mercy. And then you pray about what to do next. I cannot pray for God to show these Syrian refugees mercy, if I am not willing to show them mercy myself. And so, when I finally moved beyond sobbing, I asked God what I could do to be a person of mercy. Three things came to mind:
1.) I’m donating my birthday money to give aid to the Syrian refugees. It isn’t a lot, but I have been saving up some money to buy myself a few things on my birthday. Nothing I could buy would bring the sheer delight that I felt giving towards aid supplies for Syrian refugees today. It’s just a little drop of mercy, but many together make a thunderstorm. Ann VosKamp wrote a lovely blog post that included several helpful suggestions and a great follow up for ordinary people who want to get involved. I am only one person. I feel small and helpless when I read about millions of Syrians fleeing for their lives. But, I can do something small.
2.) I’m going to pray more fervently for the world every day. I am going to make a daily practice of praying through the BBC world website. It’s a simple thing, but it helps me to make peace with my feeling of helplessness. My beautiful friend, Sarah Schmitz, works with people who suffer from crippling poverty in the slums of Nicaragua. She recently told me that she chants over and over to herself, “God is mercy.” She added, “If God isn’t mercy, I can’t continue to face it. I am choosing to believe that in His mysterious ways, He is serving and hurting with these people as much as I am.” Beautiful. God is mercy. That is my new mantra as I pray over the world news.
3.) I’m going to teach my children to be compassionate people. I want to teach them to empathize with others, to be generous, to approach those that are different from themselves with respect. I want to teach them that we are more alike than we are different. Aylan could have been my son or yours. It is only by the accident of birth that we are who we are. Recently, this video clip from Save the Children Video illustrated this point so well. Please watch it. By casting this crisis in the context of a white suburban family, they have enabled us to grasp this situation in a personal way. I have watched it and cried at least 20 times. I want to be aware of suffering, and I want to allow it to make me and my family more compassionate.
Those things might sound tiny and insignificant to you, but they are enough for me today. I am not a politician or an activist or a person of great influence. But, I am a person who has received great mercy. Jesus welcomed me when I was ragged and filthy. Aren’t we all really refugees? We were His enemies, and yet He loved us. When our own souls became so shackled and warped and painful that we couldn’t stand it any more, he welcomed us in. He didn’t allow us to enter as slaves or immigrants or second-class citizens, but as adopted sons and daughters. We are seeking spiritual asylum and being granted the honor of sonship instead. The mercy of Christ compels us who have received so much mercy, to be people of mercy. We are to care for those who have no one to speak for them: widows, orphans, refugees (Deut. 10:17-19).
Let us remember the mercy we have received.
Let us all seek to be people of mercy.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.