September 15, 2019
Holy Trinity Refugee Committee Sermon
Katherine Assad and Rob Shropshire
(Note: the Scotiabank Marathon fundraiser will be on October 20 –
Donate here: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/TeamFundraisingPage.aspx?teamID=878153#&panel1-1)
- Jo (coordinating) gets up to introduce the sermon – “…Katherine and Rob.” She calls us up, but we aren’t there. She is surprised. She calls us.
- Katherine jogs in, chipper. Runs around the sanctuary and up to the lectern, calling for Rob to catch up.
- Rob enters, wheezing, struggling. Struggles up to join Katherine at the podium, out of breath.
Rob: Sorry, these fundraising marathons aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Where are the Houstons?
Katherine: They’re just up there (points to the Houstons), we can catch them if we hurry.
Rob: I don’t think I can. They’re too fast. I can’t even think. Why are we doing this again?
Katherine: It’s the Scotiabank Marathon, the biggest fundraiser for our Holy Trinity refugee committee’s sponsorship work. It’s today, (yelling) October 20. Last year we raised $12,000. This year, our goal is (yells) $20,000. Good thing all these good people signed up to sponsor us.
Rob: Well, if it’ for (yells) $20,000 and all these good people sponsored us, I guess. It’s worth it.
Katherine: Yeah, come on. The Houstons raised the largest amount last year and they’re getting away. (Ask the Houstons to stand up, then others from the refugee committee, and ask others who walked last year or will this year to stand up.)
Rob: These people are great. Give them a hand. (Applause) There, I think I’ve caught my breath.
Rob: (Continues) You know, I was thinking of our marathon this morning during the reading from Exodus. Look at these thousands of marathoners running or walking and having fun. But in Exodus, these people were fleeing for their lives. How many again?
Katherine: It says, “There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.“
Rob: Yeah, “besides women and children”, typical Old Testament thinking! Seventy percent of refugees are women and children, so why “besides” women and children? That makes … a million-and-a-half people.
Katherine: It reminds me of all the images we saw in 2015 of people crossing to Europe by boat and then walking across the continent. Germany took in over a million people.
Rob: There are more than 1 million refugees living in Lebanon, 3 million people have fled to Turkey. 700,000 in Jordan.
Katherine: Only a small fraction of the 27 million refugees in the world get identified by the UN for resettlement, and only a small fraction of them are actually resettled. That’s what makes our sponsorship work so important. Over the years, we have sponsored people from Afghanistan, Burundi, Cambodia, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan.
Rob: When I hear the story from Exodus it reminds me of 1994 when I was working for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. I went to Rwanda just a month after the genocide and war had ended. And then I went to Goma, in the Congo, where millions of refugees had fled.
We were driving in an SUV, came over a hill and rounded a bend
And through the window in a field, it felt like I was seeing saw god’s face.
There were a million or more huts
Stretching right up to the volcanoes in the distance.
They were like wrinkle lines on a forehead, cheeks and chin.
There was Smoke rising from their fires, that was
Like grey wisps of hair.
There were thousands of people moving,
Or Building, or trading, or resting,
They made me think of thoughts behind god’s eyes.
And there were sounds from the field
That weren’t motors or machines
But were children screaming in delight,
And Babies crying in despair, and people fighting,
Like groans from a deep sleep.
Beside the road,
Corpses of people who had died from cholera, or hunger, or despair
Waiting to be washed up, like sink hairs plucked from a beard.
And I remember I saw a young woman walking along the road
In a downpour, under a banana leaf, her child in her arm
And she looked abandoned,
Cold, drenched, helpless, and wronged.
She was like a prayer on ancient lips.
Every refugee has a story. It is something we, here, can barely imagine. But we have to respond.
• Katherine: Running is a theme central to the lives of many of our sponsored families. Running, fleeing, escaping, from your own home and community to an unknown destination. Often months and years will pass and you’re still on the run, and your life becomes dominated by having the ‘right’ papers, crossing borders anyway you can and trying to live under the radar of foreign authorities. • • One journey that stands out for me is the story of Fatima and her son Ehsan from Afghanistan (I have changed the names for privacy). Fatima became a widow with 4 young children when her husband never returned home one day, presumed dead at the hands of the Taliban in the mid 90’s. She fled to Iran for 7 years to escape Taliban rule and returned to Afghanistan in the early 2000’s when it seems safe to do so. • • The Taliban began to build up again in her village and soon there were no police or authorities to protect the villagers from their rule. After her eldest son was pressured to join the Taliban, she told him he had no choice but to run from the village, he was 16. She herself began to feel pressure to remarry to a Taliban member and her daughters as well. To resist meant that you were a spy. Being unmarried was not acceptable and having no man in the house became extremely dangerous. After losing her job and being threatened with break-ins because of their refusal to marry she decided that she too would need to leave her home, again. Her daughters married, one in Pakistan and the other in Iran. She and her youngest son Ehsan would attempt to follow the path her eldest son Ali took to flee Afghanistan years before, unsure if they would ever find him. • • They travelled to Pakistan and stayed there for three years, having to move three times; Fatima working as a carpet weaver to make ends meet. They had heard through someone that Ali was in Turkey and so decided to travel through Iran to get there and paid someone to take them. They crossed the border into Iran at night, some parts walking and some parts in cars, it took at least 25 days just to reach Tehran. The smuggler was supposed to take them all the way to Turkey but left them in Tehran. They had no more money and could go no further. For two years they stayed in Iran before they attempted again to cross into Turkey. This time, the Iranian police caught them and took all of their money. They tried again a year and half later taking a car to the border and walking all night through the mountains in the snow to remain undetected. This experience has now caused permanent damage to Fatima’s joints. • • Finally, they reached Turkey. They went to regions of the country where Afghan refugees settle. One day, in an Afghan market in Erzinchan, Turkey, a man approached Ehsan and said he looked exactly like his friend who had moved to Canada years earlier. His name was Ali. • • Ali had come to Canada alone many years earlier as a government sponsored refugee. He had tried to find out what had happened to his family for years, no idea if they were still in Afghanistan, or if they were even alive. One day walking down University avenue he got a call from a friend he knew in Turkey saying he may have met his brother. His brother came on the line. • • Our group heard from Ali after he spent years of looking for ways he could get his mother and brother to join him in Toronto. • • February 2019 Fatima and Ehsan arrived in Toronto and June 1st we moved them into their permanent home. Their run is over and finally they can rest.
Rob: Matthew tells us that Jesus said that, when we see strangers and invite them in, we do it for him.
Katherine: In Mary Jo Leddy’s poem she makes us think:
We could close the door.
We could say No.
We’re too busy.
We’re too tired.
It’s too late.
We have other places to go.
And we know that:
We are, here and now
the ones; the ones who must respond;
This WE must do. There is no other.
We have been faced.
Rob: And she knows it changes us when we respond.
But wait, I’m tired and it’s late, but we do have other places to go. I can’t even see the Houstons now.
Katherine: Let’s go!!!
And we jog off together, yelling: $20k. / Oct. 20 / Please support us. / We can do it! / Help us out! / and together Thank you!