Protests and Violence. What is happening in America right now?

Most of us ask ourselves that penetrating question. The thing I’ve read over and over these past few days is the challenge for us, white American by-standers to read and become educated and begin to really understand the racial divide and injustices that surrounds us. The articles and interviews and sincere writers are everywhere. I hope we all grow in our understanding and act upon that understanding. I feel that this is another pandemic of sorts in our midst and deserves the care and attention that we are giving to COVID-19. It will plague us longer that this health crisis if we don’t.

 Last summer I went to see the movie, Just Mercy. It is the story of Bryan Stevenson, who is a Harvard lawyer who worked to free black men from prison who were wrongfully accused and sentenced. This interview with The New Yorker writer, Isaac Chotiner is one among many good articles in the aftermath of George Floyd protests and the chaos that has followed. It deserves our attention. (I have underlined parts and indented what I believe are crucial to this discussion). Many personal accounts written in other articles I have linked after this article. Make it your personal goal to understand and live by your understanding.

Bryan Stevenson on the Frustration Behind the George Floyd Protests

Demonstrators stage protest near the White House.

“Changing the way we police, prosecute, judge, and punish is the essence of criminal-justice reform,” the civil-rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson says.
Photograph by Alex Wong / Getty
“The past weekend saw the start of an uprising in dozens of American cities, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets for peaceful protests and violent encounters with the police. The proximate cause was the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed, handcuffed African-American man, by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. In Minneapolis and other cities, police in riot gear have responded aggressively to protests and looting, pushing and shoving protesters and using an arsenal of crowd-control weaponry. In Louisville, a protester was shot dead, under circumstances that remain unclear; in Brooklyn, social media captured an incident in which police officers drove into a crowd of protesters.

On Sunday, I spoke by phone with Bryan Stevenson, a civil-rights lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human-rights organization that challenges convictions, advocates for criminal-justice reform and racial justice, and created the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Alabama, which honors the victims of lynching and other forms of racial terror during the Jim Crow era. Stevenson, who was the subject of a Profile, by Jeffrey Toobin, in 2016, is also the author of a memoir, “Just Mercy,” which was made into a feature film last year. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, Stevenson and I discussed the roots of police violence in both slavery and Jim Crow, how to change the culture of policing, and the frustration and despair behind this week’s protests.

What has been your biggest takeaway from the past week?

We need to reckon with our history of racial injustice. I think everything we are seeing is a symptom of a larger disease. We have never honestly addressed all the damage that was done during the two and a half centuries that we enslaved black people. The great evil of American slavery wasn’t the involuntary servitude; it was the fiction that black people aren’t as good as white people, and aren’t the equals of white people, and are less evolved, less human, less capable, less worthy, less deserving than white people.

That ideology of white supremacy was necessary to justify enslavement, and it is the legacy of slavery that we haven’t acknowledged. This is why I have argued that slavery didn’t end in 1865, it evolved. Next month will be the hundred and fifty-fifth anniversary of when black people gathered to celebrate the end of slavery: Juneteenth. They believed they would receive the vote, and the protection of the law, and land, and opportunity, and have a chance to be full Americans. They were denied all of those things because this ideology of white supremacy would not allow Southern whites to accept them, to value them and to protect them, and so, immediately after 1865 and the Thirteenth Amendment, violence broke out. We are going to be releasing a report next month on the horrendous violence that took place during Reconstruction, which blocked all of the progress.

So, for me, you can’t understand these present-day issues without understanding the persistent refusal to view black people as equals. It has changed, but that history of violence, where we used terror and intimidation and lynching and then Jim Crow laws and then the police, created this presumption of dangerousness and guilt. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, how educated you are, where you go in this country—if you are black, or you are brown, you are going to have to navigate that presumption, and that makes encounters with the police just rife with the potential for these specific outcomes which we have seen.

How do you think our current era of criminal justice and policing is a continuation of that past?

I think the police have been the face of oppression in many ways. Even before the Civil War, law enforcement was complicit in sustaining enslavement. It was the police who were tasked with tracking down fugitive slaves from 1850 onwards in the north. After emancipation, it was law enforcement that stepped back and allowed black communities to be terrorized and victimized. We had an overthrow of government during Reconstruction, and law enforcement facilitated that. Then, throughout the first half of the twentieth century, it was law enforcement and police and our justice system that allowed people to be lynched by white mobs, sometimes literally on the courthouse lawn, and allowed the perpetrators of that terror and violence to engage in these acts of murder with impunity. They were even complicit in it. And, as courageous black people began to advocate for civil rights in the nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties, when these older, nonviolent black Americans would literally be on their knees, praying, they were battered and bloodied by uniformed police officers. That identity of violence and oppression is not something we can ignore. We have to address it. But, rather than address it, since the nineteen-sixties, we have been trying to distract ourselves from it and not acknowledge it, and not own up to it, and all of our efforts have been compromised by this refusal to recognize that we need to radically change the culture of police.

Now, the police are an extension of our larger society, and, when we try to disconnect them from the justice system and the lawmakers and the policymakers, we don’t accurately get at it. The history of this country, when it comes to racial justice and social justice, unlike what we do in other areas, is, like, O.K., it’s 1865, we won’t enslave you and traffic you anymore, and they were forced to make that agreement. And then, after a half century of mob lynching, it’s, like, O.K., we won’t allow the mobs to pull you out of the jail and lynch you anymore. And that came after pressure. And then it was, O.K., we won’t legally block you from voting, and legally prevent you from going into restaurants and public accommodations.

But at no point was there an acknowledgement that we were wrong and we are sorry. It was always compelled, by the Union Army, by international pressure, by the federal courts, and that dynamic has meant that there is no more remorse or regret or consciousness of wrongdoing. The police don’t think they did anything wrong over the past fifty or sixty years. And so, in that respect, we have created a culture that allows our police departments to see themselves as agents of control, and that culture has to shift. And this goes beyond the dynamics of race. We have created a culture where police officers think of themselves as warriors, not guardians.

Do you think this situation with the policy today has a specific purpose, and what is it?

It does. But the purpose was possible because of our unwillingness to recognize the wrongfulness of this racial hierarchy. Even the abolitionists, many of whom fought to end slavery, didn’t believe in racial equality. So, if you embrace white supremacy, then you are going to use black people and exploit black people and deny black people opportunities, because it advances that purpose. And a lot of white supremacy wasn’t even “purposeful.” What was the purpose of banning interracial marriage? What was the purpose of banning black people from coming into restaurants? It was about maintaining racial hierarchy, and that presumption or narrative that black people are dangerous, that black people can’t be trusted, that black people have to be controlled. And if it didn’t have an economic value, that didn’t mean that it wasn’t purposeful. The purpose was to sustain that hierarchy.

So you take a history like that, and then you combine it with a culture like the culture of policing that we have created, where people are taught to fight and to shoot like soldiers. When the government equips police departments like they’re equipping the military, we undermine healthy relationships between the police and the community. We don’t train them to deëscalate, or deal with people suffering from mental illness or the complexities and anger and frustrations of poverty. And then we bring them in, often to places where they don’t live. We view the police as an occupying military force. That kind of culture gives rise to the violence that we see.

It is possible to create a police department where people think of themselves as guardians. Their commitment is to protect and serve even the people they are arresting. The best police officers will tell you that their job is to make sure that the person who may have just committed a crime is safely encountered, that they keep that person safe, but that is not the way most police officers are trained. And we facilitate it by protecting the whole institution, so no one in this country can tell you how many people were killed by the police last year, because we don’t require that data. People have been trying for two decades to mandate the disclosure of that kind of information, and there is this institutional resistance. And that’s a larger problem—the way we have insulated these institutions from reform.

Should the protests be oriented toward a specific agenda, and, if so, what should that agenda be?

I don’t think it would be fair to ask protesters to solve the problems created by this long history. In many ways, protests are a reaction of frustration and anger to the unwillingness of elected officials to engage in the kind of reforms that need to happen. The protests are a symbol of frustration and despair. I think the answers have to come from elected officials. We can change the culture of institutions in this country. We have done it time and time again.

In the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties, if you look at the laws, there was hardly any punishment for people convicted of driving while drunk. We tolerated it. Even though it was catastrophic, it wasn’t something we saw as a priority. Then Mothers Against Drunk Driving began lifting up new narratives, and all of a sudden the political will shifted. We created a new culture, and we now take stronger steps.

Regardless of the wealth or affluence of the offender, we do more. That is a cultural shift that has made death from drunk driving much less frequent than it was fifty years ago.

With domestic violence, it is the same story. In the nineteen-sixties, a woman who called the police could not expect that her spouse would be arrested. The police would come and pull him outside and tell jokes. There was a sympathy for the frustration that led to violence. And then we began changing that narrative. Women and victims of domestic violence started lifting their voices, and the political will changed. And today we have a radically different view of people who engage in domestic violence. Even our most prominent athletes and celebrities, if accused credibly, are going to be held accountable in ways that weren’t true even ten years ago. That is a cultural shift. And we are in the midst of a cultural shift about sexual harassment in the workplace. There is a different tolerance level. In New York, people need to take tests to make sure they can recognize sexual harassment.

We have not engaged in that kind of cultural transformation when it comes to policing. Now, we have the tools. We know how to do it. I spent several months on President Obama’s task force on policing, in 2015, after we had a period of riots. We have forty pages of recommendations. That can change the culture of policing. It begins with training. It begins with procedural justice, and policies, and changing the way police officers are viewed and opening up communities.

Do you think the Obama Administration did enough on this issue, especially before 2015?

No one has done enough. But this is not a federal problem alone. I am critical of the current Administration shelving all of those recommendations, withdrawing from lawsuits where police departments had been sued, and signalling that we do not care about this anymore. But I also don’t believe that excuses what mayors and governors and local officials have failed to do. You don’t need a White House to engage in culture change at your police department. That can be done in cities and communities and states. These reforms need to happen locally. The federal government can and should be playing a bigger role in incentivizing these changes. But anyone looking to the White House and the Presidency exclusively is not going to get it. I also think that, if we allow another five years to go by with no meaningful reform, then we have to stop talking about Washington. Every mayor and governor in this country has a blueprint for changing culture in policing and making things better. Whether they do it or not is the harder question.

You are saying this can’t come from the top alone—but, having someone at the top of the system who talks about shooting people and tells police to get tough, how much does that worry you about the future, even knowing how bad the past has been?

Yeah, I think any time we reinforce this idea that police officers are there to control and dominate and menace, that they should be unapologetic and feared and ready for battle, we are reinforcing the culture and the dynamic that has given rise to so much distrust. It’s not good for public safety. It is not even good for officer safety, and it is certainly not good for creating the kinds of healthy communities that most of us want to live in. It’s the wrong model. It’s like someone coming along and saying, “Doctors don’t need to care for their patients, or talk to their patients, or be polite, or be respectful, or show any interest. They have skills and knowledge, and their job is to treat, and anybody who is asking for more than that is too much.” That mind-set will cause a lot of people to die. They will not get the health care that they need, and doctors will not be successful because it’s the wrong culture for helping people get the cure and treatment that they need.

The same is true for public safety. You can go to other places in the world and see evidence of this everywhere. And we have even done it here. There are police departments in this country that have radically changed their relationship to the community. Camden, New Jersey, fifty years ago, was just a boiling pot, and things would blow up all the time, and relationships between police and community leaders were fraught with tension and conflict. And that has changed radically because of leadership and engagement.

Many of these protests this week have had more white people than the protests five years ago. How do you think that is or is not likely to change the movement?

To be honest, it’s not that hard to protest. It’s not that hard to go someplace. And it doesn’t mean that it’s not important. It doesn’t mean that it’s not critical. But that’s not the hard thing we need from people who care about these issues. We need people to vote, we need people to engage in policy reform and political reform, we need people to not tolerate the rhetoric of fear and anger that so many of our elected officials use to sustain power. We need the cultural environments in the workplace to shift.

Black people in this country have to live this very complex existence when they live and go to work and go to school in these spaces which are largely controlled by white people. They can’t really be their authentic selves. That means that there is this tension and there is this challenge, and at some point you get overwhelmed by that. And when these incidents of police violence take place, and people are killed, literally, on video, right in front of you, and the perpetrators are staring at you, you get angry and you want to express that anger.

It’s not just anger over what happened to George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery. It is anger about continuing to live in a world where there is this presumption of dangerousness and guilt wherever you go. I’m sixty years old and have been practicing law for thirty-five years. I have a lot of honorary degrees and went to Harvard. And I still go places where I am presumed dangerous. I have been told to leave courtrooms because the presumption was that I was the defendant and not the lawyer. I have been pulled out of my car by police who pointed a gun on me. And I can just tell you that, when you have to navigate this presumption of guilt, day in and day out, and when the burden is on you to make the people around you see you as fully human and equal, you get exhausted. You are tired. And I would argue that the black people in the streets are expressing their fatigue, their anger, and their frustration at having to live this menaced life in America. And that is not the same thing for white people who are supporting them. It doesn’t mean that white people shouldn’t be supporting them, but I don’t think it’s the proper focus of what many of us are trying to give voice to.

Criminal-justice reform has become a bipartisan issue, but it often seems to be spoken of as being distinct from police brutality and police reform. How important is it to bring police reform into the broader context of criminal-justice reform?

I think, for many of us, it has always been at the center of it. Changing the way we police, prosecute, judge, and punish is the essence of criminal-justice reform.

I think people use the phrase “criminal-justice reform” in a pretty lazy way. Modifying the federal sentencing parameters at the edges, so a very small percentage of people in federal prisons might get reduced sentences, is not meaningful criminal-justice reform. Ninety per cent of the prisoners in the United States are in the state system. That is not impacted by what the White House or any President has done. [The Obama Administration amended federal sentencing guidelines in order to reduce the sentences of people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. In 2017, Jeff Sessions, who was then the Attorney General, overturned those reforms.] The real meaningful reform would have been implementing the task force’s recommendations, changing the way we think about police and prosecutorial accountability, mandating the data disclosure that would allow us to evaluate the nature of this problem. And, when you don’t do those things, everything else you do is going to be compromised.

We had the so-called War on Drugs that was carried out against black and brown people, because the law-enforcement agents that were the people carrying out that war saw black and brown people differently. That’s a policing and prosecutorial problem. The immunity we have created to shield people from accountability is a barrier to shield people from any effective reform. That includes sentencing and all these others things, because, if prosecutors can withhold evidence and wrongly convict people, and police can abuse people and coerce confessions, then nothing else we do at the sentencing or policy level is going to be effective. And that has to change.”

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Let’s Tell a Better Story

From Cindy:  The director of the Evangelical Immigration Table is one of my favorite young thinkers, writers and activists, Matt Soerens….he formerly lived in Wheaton in an apartment complex I used to visit. It was full of immigrant families from all over the world. That place helped form his convictions and motivation.  Let our hearts and minds be open to learning from these incredible stories found in the links in bold below. 
ground group growth hands

Photo by Pixabay on

Let’s Tell a Better Story

Dear friends,

At a time when our nation seems uniquely polarized by political disagreements and rhetoric, conversations about the topic of immigration can sometimes feel divisive.

As Christians, though, while we may disagree on the details of immigration policy, we can be united in recognizing that immigrants are people made in God’s image, whom God loves and whom His people are called to love.

At the Evangelical Immigration Table, one of our primary goals is to help Christians re-orient their discussions about immigration from a political conversation to one focused upon people, recognizing immigrants’ contributions to our churches and our communities. We want to highlight the ways that local churches are being transformed as they embrace – and are embraced by – newcomers to their communities.

Toward that end, several months ago we launched a blog that lifts up the stories of how local churches are serving and being served by immigrants within their local community. We call it “Telling a Better Story.”

Recent posts include the following: In Colorado, a congregation has grown to now includes roughly 100 Karen Burmese refugees. Seminary student Norma Ramirez explains how her faith has intersected with her experience as a DACA recipient. A Baptist leader from Texas describes how churches in Austin have embraced – and been blessed by – immigrants.

I’d invite you to read (or, in some cases, listen to) these stories and, as you do, pray that God would be working through churches throughout this country to welcome and stand with immigrants, that the people of God would earn the reputation as those who care for the vulnerable – and that as we do, immigrants would continue to form an integral part of the church in the U.S.

We’re always on the search for additional content, so if you or your church has a compelling “better story” to tell, please see our blog submission guidelines.

In Christ,

Matthew Soerens
National Coordinator, Evangelical Immigration Table

Open Doors Report: Iranian Churches Grow

{Thought you might like to read about the Christian growth in Iran. }

by Linda Lowry, August 2019

Open Doors International. Read more about the countries that experience persecution for their Christian faith.

As persecution against Christians intensifies in Iran, the church is standing strong. In fact, it’s growing! In this Middle Eastern country where both conversion from Islam and sharing your faith are illegal, Muslims are rapidly coming to Christ—so rapidly that Iran’s government leaders are acknowledging the exponential growth of the church.

Addressing a gathering of Shia Muslim leaders, Iran’s Intelligence Minister, openly admitted to summoning Christian converts for questioning, saying that mass conversions  “are happening right under our eyes.”

Alavi admitted his agency is collaborating with Muslim religious seminaries to combat the perceived threat of mass conversions to Christianity across the country.

In his speech, Alavi also admitted that “these converts are ordinary people, whose jobs are selling sandwiches or similar things.” According to Article 18’s Advocacy Director Mansour Borji, this admission represents a “huge shift” away from Iran’s usual rhetoric that converts are agents of the West who have undergone significant training to undermine national security.

“It is also interesting to see the intelligence minister admit to ‘whole families’ converting,” Borji said, noting that this is “an admission that such conversions are far from a rare event; rather they are happening en masse, and across the country.”

Witnesses to a move of God


Iran’s intelligence minister acknowledged that “whole families” are converting from Islam to Christianity. Alavi’s recent observations (May 2019) echo those of church leaders in Iran—as well as other Iranian government officials.

Reportedly, Islamic clerics are expressing serious concern about many young people converting to Christianity. One Islamic seminary leaderAyatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, remarked that “accurate reports indicate the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches.” The seventh-largest city in Iran, Qom is the country’s epicenter for Islamic studies.

And reports from our ministry partners inside the closed country reveal that God is working through the faithfulness of courageous believers to expand His Kingdom. Our partners in these areas have heard and shared repeated accounts of God’s hand moving and Muslims coming to Christ.

Compared to roughly 500 known Christians in 1979, there are now approximately 500,000 (some sources say up to 1 million secret believers). According to Elam Ministries, an organization founded in 1990 by Iranian church leaders, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran.

In 2016, the mission research organization Operation World named Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world.

What’s driving the exponential growth?

Ministries and experts say the explosive growth of Christianity in Iran has been driven by the almost palpable spiritual hunger and disillusionment with the Islamic regime and the faithfulness of believers who risk it all to share their Good News in the face of inevitable persecution.

Violence in the name of Islam has caused widespread disillusionment with the regime and has led many Iranians to question their beliefs. Multiple reports indicate that even children of political and spiritual leaders are leaving Islam for Christianity.

Because Farsi-speaking services are not allowed, most converts gather in informal house-church meetings or receive information on Christianity via media, such as satellite TV and websites. The illegal house-church movement—including thousands of Christians—continues to grow in size and impact as God works through transformed lives.

Church leaders in Iran believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years.

“If we remain faithful to our calling, our conviction is that it is possible to see the nation transformed within our lifetime,” one house church leader shared. “Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world.”

And like the church of Acts shows us, the persecution that believers suffered as a group of committed disciples—inspired and ignited by the Holy Spirit—became a catalyst for the multiplication of believers and churches. When persecution came, they didn’t scatter but remained in the city where it was most strategic and most dangerous. They were arrested, shamed and beaten for their message. Still, they stayed to lay the foundations for an earth-shaking movement.

So it is in Iran. When the Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hardline Islamic regime, the next two decades ushered in a wave of persecution that continues today. All missionaries were kicked out, evangelism was outlawed, Bibles in the Persian or Farsi language were banned, and several pastors were killed. Many feared the small, fledgling Iranian church wouldn’t survive.  Instead, the church, fueled by the devotion and passion of disciples, has multiplied exponentially. Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East.

Intensifying persecution


As the church in Iran multiplies, persecution follows suit. Over the last few months, Open Doors has learned about arrests of numerous Christians in Iran. The crackdown on house churches continues to intensify, as officials search for and arrest anyone involved in these typically tiny fellowships. Prison sentences of varying lengths are inevitable outcomes for anyone who defies Iran’s “no house church” law. Open Doors has reported numerous atrocities against Christians in Iranian prisons, infamous for their treatment of political prisoners.

On July 1, in the southwestern city of Bushehr, eight Christian converts, mostly in their 30s, were arrested, including five members of one family. Seven are still in prison, most likely in solitary confinement. Their homes were raided and Bibles confiscated, as well as Christian literature, wooden crosses and pictures with Christian symbols. Authorities also took laptops, phones, identity cards and bank cards. The officers are reported to have treated the Christians harshly, even though small children were present during the arrests.

Also in Bushehr, in April, 16 other converts from Bushehr reportedly lost their appeals against prison sentences for “propaganda activities against the regime through the formation of house churches.”


Many were arrested during raids on their homes and workplaces in December 2017.

After their arrests, the five were released in early 2018 after each posted a bail of 30 million tomans (around $7,000).

In March 2019, Many were sentenced to four months in prison. A., who has already spent a year in prison for his religious activities, was given 14 months. Their appeals were rejected last month.

Pray  for all of these believers, recognizing that they represent only a handful of thousands of our brothers and sisters in Iran who have been threatened, arrested or imprisoned for turning to Jesus and following Him.

Your part in this expanding story

Writing in a time of great persecution for Christ followers who had lost property, been thrown into prison, were ostracized from their Jewish community, etc., the author of Hebrews offers a clear call to prayer for those who are suffering for the gospel:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3).

And in Matthew 25:34-36, Jesus is clear that when we enter into the suffering of others, we are answering His call:

“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”

Jesus is strategically building His church and exhorts us to stand with and encourage our brothers and sisters as they live out the gospel.

To support and encourage persecuted believers in Iran and the Persian-speaking world, Open Doors is working with specific ministry partners in several ways to bring Bibles and Christian literature into the closed country; to offer training, including trauma care for ex-prisoners; to support Christian multimedia initiatives for sharing the gospel; and to advocate for believers through petitions and U.S. government involvement and aid.

Persecution of Christians is the issue of our day. Please take action and join us in this fight as we advocate for persecuted believers around the world. To receive news, stories and prayers requests from persecuted believers. click here. 

It’s not just Christian, it’s American.

By Opinion Columnist for the New York Times

Blessed Are the Refugees

Under Donald Trump, America is ceasing to be the last best hope.

Displaced persons from postwar Europe arriving in the United States in 1951.
Credit Ernst Haas/Getty Images

A woman and her young daughter, no older than 6 or 7, are shopping for groceries in a corner store of a bombed-out city. It’s sometime around 1947. The war is over, the Germans are gone, the Gestapo is no longer hunting Jews. Some of their local henchmen have been imprisoned or shot. Many just took off their uniforms and returned to their former lives.

The mother speaks with the trace of a foreign accent. As she reaches for her wallet to pay, the grocer says: “Why don’t you people go back to where you came from?”

Where, precisely, would that even be? The woman had fled Moscow for Berlin as a girl, after the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917 and arrested her father, who was never to be heard from again. Later, when still in her twenties, she had fled Berlin for Milan, sometime between Hitler’s coming to power in 1933 and Mussolini’s enactment of the racial laws in 1938.

She and her daughter were citizens of no country, living under a made-up name. They had nowhere to return, no place to go, no way to stay, and nothing they could do about any of it. To go back to the Soviet Union would have been suicidal. Israel did not yet exist. Germany was out of the question. America’s doors were mostly shut.

This was the life of a refugee in postwar, pre-reconstructed Europe. It changed dramatically the following year, when Harry Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act, marking the first time that U.S. immigration policy became actively sympathetic to the utterly dispossessed.

Thanks to the law, mother and daughter arrived in New York on Nov. 13, 1950, with only $7 between them, but without the weight of fear on their backs

What Truman did became precedent for decisions by subsequent administrations to admit other refugees: Some 40,000 Hungarians fleeing Soviet tanks after 1956 (including a young Andy Grove, later the C.E.O. of Intel); hundreds of thousands of Cubans fleeing Castro’s repression after 1959 (including a young Gloria Estefan); as many as 750,000 Soviet Jews fleeing persecution by a succession of Kremlin despots (including a young Sergey Brin).

There were so many others. More than a million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians after the fall of Saigon. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians after Khomeini’s revolution. Over 100,000 Iraqis since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Similar numbers of Burmese. Altogether, some three million refugees have been welcomed by the U.S. since the Refugee Act of 1980, more than by any other country.

By almost any metric, America’s refugees tend to succeed, or at least their children do. Whatever they do to enrich themselves, they enrich the country a great deal more. Empirical data on immigrant success overwhelmingly confirm what common sense makes plain. People who have known tyranny tend to make the most of liberty. People who have experienced desperation usually make the most of opportunity. It’s mainly those born to freedom who have the knack for squandering it.


But beyond the material question of enrichment is the spiritual one of ennoblement. Of what can Americans be more proud than that we so often opened our doors to those for whom every other door was shut?

All of which makes this a moment of unique shame for the United States.

The Trump administration has made no secret of its xenophobia from its first days in office. The number of refugees arriving in the country plummeted from around 97,000 in 2016 to 23,000 in 2018. Last week, The Times reported that the White House was considering options to cut the numbers again by half, and perhaps even bring it down to zero.

As if to underscore the spirit of cruelty, the administration also declined to grant temporary protected status to Bahamians devastated by Hurricane Dorian. And the Supreme Court issued an order allowing for a new rule that effectively denies asylum protections for refugees arriving through a third country — a victory for executive authority when that authority is in the worst possible hands.

Critics of this column will almost certainly complain that the United States can’t possibly take everyone in — a dishonest argument since hardly anyone argues for taking in “everyone,” and a foolish argument since America will almost inevitably decline without a healthy intake of immigrants to make up for a falling birthrate.

Critics will also claim that “very bad people,” as Donald Trump likes to say, might take advantage of a generous asylum and refugee policy. Here again I’m aware of nobody advocating a “let-the-terrorists-come-too” immigration policy. Only a person incapable of kindness — a person like the president — can think that kindness and vigilance are incompatible, or that generosity is for suckers.

The mother and daughter whose story I told at the beginning of this column are, as you might have guessed, my own grandmother and mother. I thank God it was Harry Truman, not Donald Trump, who led America when they had nowhere else to turn.

Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. Facebook


A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 27 of the New York edition with the headline: Blessed Are The RefugeesOrder Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Immigrants 100 Years ago

A missionary friend of mine, Ben Pehrson, who lives in Papua New Guinea and helps translate the Bible for native tribes, found this while researching his heritage. I love that it is written about the immigrants who formed our country one hundred years ago.

Ben says, “I share it here as it was published in the Fairbanks Daily News – Miner on June 9th, 1920. Although some of the terminology is clearly 100 years old, I still resonate with the overall thought, especially the last line…”

“The Immigrants”
by Frank Crane

At the risk of being deported, or of being raided and having my penknife taken from me as a dangerous weapon, I wish to state that I like Immigrants.

As far as I can trace, my ancestry is all American, and I was reared in the good old mud of Sangamon County, Illinois. Americans are my folks, and of course the best ever, but all the same some of the meanest white folks I ever knew were 100 percent American.

I love Negroes. They’re full of laughs, kind of hearts, loyal, and tender-hearted. They are pure human. Negro sunshine has done much toward making the world a happier place to live in.

I love Italians. I have lived in Italy, and a kinder, gentler folk do not exist on earth. I boarded with Signora Cippolini in Florence, and a more motherly, wholesome, and sweet-souled woman would be hard to find. No people love children and music and laughter more than the Italians.

I love the French. They have the supreme instinct for the two things that most enrich life–taste and joy. My sister used to say that if she had been born over again she would want to be born in France. And there is another saying which many appreciate that every man has two native lands, his own and France.

I love the British. At heart they are sound stock. No race has a deeper sense of decency, fair play, order, and justice.

I love the Irish. Who does not? Warm, witty, impulsive, generous, brave–“nothing’s too good for the Irish.”

I love the Germans. Oh, I know about the war and all that, but I also know enough to distinguish between a people and a diseased patriotism which tradition and wrong ideas forced upon them. I have lived with Germans, worked with them, played with them, eaten with them, drunk with them. And those I have known were genial, intelligent, kind, and good.

I love the Chinese and Japanese and all the Orientals. To me they are intensely interesting. They present our common humanity from a different angle. I can understand how some are fascinated by the East and want to live there.

I love the Swedes and Norwegians and Danes and Dutch and Poles and Russians. Some of them have made the best and most intelligent American citizens I have known. I have many delightful friends among them.

I love the Scotch and the Welsh and Portuguese, and would like to spend a long time in their countries.

My great regret is that life is too short to live in every land a while.

When I get to heaven I shall have time to learn all their languages and get acquainted with this my humanity in all its wonderful phases.

I am glad I am an American; I am gladder I am a Human Being.

I like that strange race, the Jews. No race is keener of mind, more idealistic of spirit, more loyal and loving.

And I don’t think I have to hate all other folks to prove I love my own.

Since it’s more critical than ever

The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity

Support for Trump comes at a high cost for Christian witness.

I just turned 70 a few weeks ago and on July 5, 2019 this piece was published in The Atlantic. I paused at posting this as some of my friends don’t want to read anything negative about our current American public climate.

More than ever I want to be honest and authentic in my own witness. Living as a believer requires integrity before God and the community in which we live. I feel that He would want us to think carefully about the serious observations being made about evangelicals right now. I feel that God always desires that we honestly look at our Christian culture through the filter of God’s principles and standards.
Maybe there are those who may be seeking some truth in these confusing times. It happens that this author has captured what I believe to be true about many in our evangelical sub-culture. I said on this blog at age 69 that I would be more forthright in sharing what I believe. And so I shall.
My age and my fears have prompted me to wonder along with this author as to what is happening to the evangelical Christian witness in our country. It shames me into sharing this article. I wish my peers were more open to talking about this.
I am an arm-chair sociologist at heart and a reformer by nature/Enneagram. My personal concerns come from a broken heart about how some have thrown away their Christian witness for a few morsels of so-called political progress.
I am considering what this author has to say as very serious. As a committed Christian himself, he has written many other worthy articles for The Atlantic.Please take the time to read this article in its entirety.

“Africa your time has come” Sojourners

Today’s article from Sojourners, Washington D.C.

Our Mission 

We seek to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.

By Adam R. Taylor    

“Africa your time has come.”

Bishop Efraim Tendero, Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), delivered this prophetic proclamation during the opening celebration of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa’s (AEA) new state-of-the-art plaza located in the heart of Nairobi, Kenya. I had the honor and privilege of representing Sojourners at yesterday’s grand opening and dedication of the plaza, which will serve as an office, resource center, and hub for evangelical witness and ministry across the continent. But the event was not simply about a new building, as impressive as it may be. What made this moment so groundbreaking was the degree to which the building and how it came about represents a symbol and testament to the growing influence, sustainability, and independence of the evangelical church in Africa.

According to the Pew Center, “if demography is destiny, then Christianity’s future lies in Africa. By 2060, a plurality of Christians – more than four-in-ten – will call sub-Saharan Africa home, up from 26% in 2015.” In 1910 there were 2 million Christians in Africa. Today there are 650 million, with an estimated 200 million evangelicals. The explosive growth of the church across Africa represents a trend that far too few Christians in the West fully understand and that will likely reshape and over time transform the face of Christianity globally. Experiencing the AEA Plaza grand opening and participating in a range of side meetings and conversations over the past three days with African evangelical leaders has left me with greater hope about the future of the evangelical church and the future of Africa.

Despite my hopefulness, it’s important not to gloss over or ignore the significant challenges facing both the African church and continent. The continent has become the epicenter in the fight against extreme poverty and inequality, housing over half of the world’s people who are living in the quicksand of extreme poverty. Conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, the impacts of climate change, among other challenges, have long stunted Africa’s growth and suffocated human flourishing. Evangelical churches across Africa continue to be heavily influenced by various forms of the prosperity gospel and the Gospel Coalition. Less than 20 percent of evangelical pastors have received seminary training, which poses both a challenge and an opportunity. According to the AEA “biblical illiteracy and heresy still remain a major challenge in the global Church.” But a revitalized and more vibrant evangelical church that is increasingly committed to both evangelism and holistic transformation will be an essential force in overcoming these and other challenges.

Founded in 1966, the AEA comprises 40 National Evangelical Fellowships as full members, serving as one of the regional associations of the global evangelical movement through the WEA. AEA and its members “join in common concern to live and proclaim the Good News of Jesus amongst all nations and peoples, seeking holiness, justice, and transformation at every level: individual, family, community, and culture.” To date, the AEA has founded the Bangui Evangelical School of Theology (BEST) in Central African Republic for the Francophone region and the Africa International University in Kenya for the Anglophone region, Christian Learning Materials Centre (CLMC) in Kenya, Africa Christian Television (ACT/PEMA) in Cote d’Ivoire, and the Accrediting Council for Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA). These projects focus on promoting sound theological and Christian education from childhood to the highest level of scholarship at university level, for effective evangelization and discipleship of the church in Africa. The two theological schools were the first graduate theological schools in sub-Saharan Africa in the modern history of the church.

At the opening, Bishop Tendero fittingly noted that because Africa has been the victim of colonialism and the exploitation of human and natural resources, it is both ironic and deeply inspiring that the center represents the first of its kind in the world, “which means that Africa is now being used by God to export the gospel and the values of the kingdom of God across the world.” Bishop Dr. Goodwill Shana, president of the AEA echoed this theme saying that this is a moment in which “the church must rise above the spiritual, political, and economic challenges facing the continent.” He talked about being “tired of seeing Africa being viewed as having a hand out begging. Instead, Africa is doing something for Africans and laying the stones for future generations.”

Just three years ago the AEA had fallen on hard times due to financial struggles and existed without a General Secretary for four years. Rev. Dr. Aiah Foday-Khabenje took over in 2009. The AEA was able to use proceeds from the sale of a piece of land to secure seed money to start the construction of a 10-story complex to house their new headquarters, which they hope will generate ongoing income. Dr. Foday-Khabenje managed to push through the project even though he faced significant resistance and criticism that this bold project was too risky and that investing in the construction of a new headquarters was too worldly.

Many African evangelical churches have traditionally been reticent to engage in advocacy and worldly engagement, in part due to their own comfort and desire to work with greater autonomy. A day before the launch of the AEA Plaza I had the opportunity to join Carol Ng’ang’a, founder of Msingi Trust, to visit a social justice center just outside the slums of Mathare. Msingi Trust mobilizes, inspires, equips, and networks Christians and community leaders toward social justice and social transformation. We met with a group of incredibly inspiring community volunteers who run the center, which has been focused on addressing a range of social justice issues confronting the community, including an alarming trend of extrajudicial killings of young people in the area. As per reports by Amnesty International and the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), between 122 and 152 deaths of civilians were reported at the hands of police in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The center is one of 13 centers across Nairobi where volunteers, who call themselves human rights defenders, are demonstrating courageous leadership to combat police violence and address other social injustice. While there are some exceptions, by and large the defenders reported a lack of church engagement in their inspiring advocacy work and activism.

I’m hopeful that the AEA will help to change this trend as they further equip and empower the church to engage in greater transformation. According to Dr. Foday-Kabenje, “if I care for the vulnerable, I must talk politics. It is not a question of whether but of how.”

One particularly encouraging example is an initiative called “The Africa that God Wants.” Building on the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the AEA hosted a continent-wide theological consultation in 2015 around that theme. The AU’s AGENDA 2063 is Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future. It is the continent’s strategic framework that aims to deliver on its goal for inclusive and sustainable development and is a concrete manifestation of the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination, freedom, progress, and collective prosperity pursued under Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance that outlines “how the continent should effectively learn from lessons of the past, build on progress already made and strategically exploit opportunities available in the short, medium and long term, so as to ensure positive socioeconomic transformation within the next four years.” The AEA sees this as an opportunity to develop a biblical vision espousing “The Africa God Wants” based on the gospel and the ability of the church to lead in transformation of policy and societal engagement, discipleship, and reaching the unreached in Africa and beyond.

Over the next year the AEA will be engaging with the church across Africa to shape a biblical vision that mirrors Agenda 2063, which will be discussed and approved at the next General Assembly in 2020 in Kigali.

These and other efforts make me increasingly hopeful that Africa has arrived, particularly as the evangelical church strengthens its commitment to advancing peace, justice, and righteousness.

 Rev. Adam R. Taylor is executive director of Sojourners. He previously led the Faith Initiative at the World Bank Group.

A friend speaks to 1500 college students



What a privilege it is to get to know Billy Graham Center Scholars at Wheaton College. We have met and become close friends with a number of BGC scholars who are awarded a scholarship to study at Wheaton Graduate School.

Since being involved with some of these incredible leaders from around the world, I presently serve on the Scholarship Selection Committee. Even today, I am reading applications for the coming year. These are the most incredible people. If I actually think seriously about the value of this scholarship, I could say that it is one of the best investments in missions. Indigenous leaders of this caliber are doing so much kingdom work that two years of furthering their training makes a huge difference in what they can do. I can validate that statement as I visited Robert’s ministry a year ago and what I witnessed was amazing.

But I digress. I want to tell you about this past week. Robert Sityo, my dear friend from Jinja, Uganda studied at Wheaton in 2014-15. Robert was invited to be the keynote speaker for Wheaton College’s Missions In Focus week. His presentation of his life’s story and all God has done was very well received (even standing ovations at all three chapel services). Robert challenged the students to live for Jesus, take risks for Him and above all, obey what He calls you to do. I know that you will be incredibly blessed if you want to watch these 3 (Feb. 20, 21, 22) chapel services on You Tube.


Urbana Faces the Challenges

Like many boomers, Urbana had a huge impact on me.


Christianity Today Reports

Urbana Faces the Challenge of Calling Gen Z to Missions

Despite its lowest attendance in decades, InterVarsity’s historic conference aims to combat student cynicism through scriptural hope.
Morgan Lee

Urbana Faces the Challenge of Calling Gen Z to Missions

Image: 2018 Paul Lee: Urbana 18, InterVarsity’s 25th Student Missions Conference

Plenty of today’s evangelical leaders look back to Urbana conferences over the years as the catalyst that drove them to ministry.

But for the shrinking crowd at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s (IVCF) triennial conference—held over the past few days in St. Louis—the path to the mission field appears more complicated.

The college students who attended Urbana ‘18, though passionate about Christ, hold different expectations for life after graduation, often taking longer to settle into a vocation, and carry stress over growing student debt.

“This is changing the way that InterVarsity and mission agencies are engaging with participants,” said Greg Jao, senior assistant to IVCF president Tom Lin.

“We need a longer-term strategy to help people who may make decisions about the missions field while they’re at Urbana as college students sustain their interest and commitment over the longer period of time that it takes to figure it out.”

Determining how to navigate these challenges as Generation Z enters college is crucial for ministries like Urbana. Attendance at the historic conference is down to its lowest in at least 20 years, with around 10,000 attendees in 2018, compared to 16,000 in 2015.

But the crowd and speakers were more diverse than ever, already resembling the majority-minority demographics of the next generation: 64 percent of attendees were non-white.

“At the conferences that I’ve been to that have been less diverse, I felt I was unrepresented and it was hard for me to worship well,” Daniela Bushiri, an engineering major at New Jersey Institute of Technology, told CT. “Seeing minorities on the stage means a lot because it shows us that we have a role to play in this community.”

Today’s youngest believers are more likely to find themselves as outliers for their faith. Barna Research found that while roughly 6 in 10 of Gen Z (the 70 million people born between 1999 and 2015) identify as Christian, only 1 in 11 can be characterized as an “engaged Christian,” whose beliefs and practices are shaped by their faith.

Religious and non-religious young adults alike are struggling to find hope, so leaders at Urbana are praying this generation embrace a view of the kingdom that combats their current cynicism.

“There is a lot of anger against injustices like sexism, racism, classism, privilege, and white supremacy,” said René Breuel, a Brazilian pastor in Rome, who who taught several plenary sessions. “Young people pick that up and feel that very strongly, but don’t always have a Christian vision of how the world will be mended and restored.”

The tension between the youthful perspective of 20-somethings and the sacrificial call to missions is not unique to Generation Z. Over 20 years ago, CT reported from Urbana ‘96 that their parents’ cohort also had a “shift in commitments.”

Generation X “is often characterized as one of slackers,” Urbana’s former director Dan Harrison said, citing caution over long-term commitments due to concerns about broken marriages and job security. “They’re not slackers or uncommitted at all, but they define commitment differently than I do.”

With a new generation and new challenges before them, conference organizers turned to the timeless truths of Scripture, selecting a text with a sobering understanding of reality: Revelation. Passages from the apocalyptic book were used for daily Bible studies, taught by plenary speakers, and recited in other languages including Spanish and Hawaiian.

“Revelation takes anger by hand to a place that is healing, that exalts Christ, where the nations flourish, and where we reign in serving each other under the throne of the lamb,” said Breuel. “It can be a healing experience of that anger portrayed in a good way.”

Conference sessions named and condemned injustice from the stage, including calling out atrocities committed in the name of Christ: the Rwandan genocide, Canadian residential schools that separated First Nation children from their families, and Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism.

“I did a lot of praying and asking God what he wanted me to do with my life,” said Samuel Chow, a sophomore at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“Seeing all the bad things that the church has done and the repercussions of it has led me to be more conscientious about how I convey myself as a Christian and as a child of God to others who do not know him.”

The presentations on historic injustice resonate with young people who crave transparency.

“I’ve been talking to pastors who’ve asked ‘Why are we talking about the failures of missions in the past? Why aren’t we talking more about where to go or unreached people groups?’” said IVCF’s Jao. “What I’ve wanted to say is this generation requires a level of honesty and authenticity about our failures in the past before they’re willing to embrace the future.”

The historic missions conference has also had a long history in pursuit of racial justice, beginning with evangelist Tom Skinner’s keynote at Urbana ‘70. Urbana ‘15, also held in St. Louis, spoke directly to racial tensions in the US, with members of the worship team wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts and speakers such as Michelle Higgins challenging the evangelical response to shootings such as Michael Brown’s in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

Some at this year’s conference speculated whether the pushback over Black Lives Matter at the last conference or an IVCF staff policy on sexuality that went into effect in 2016 hurt attendance.

Though Urbana has drawn well-known speakers from Elisabeth Elliot to David Platt in years past, the 2018 lineup focused on personal narratives over popular names.

“Each person that gets up there, you’ll hear them say, ‘This is my blank Urbana’ or ‘This is what happened to me at Urbana ’03 or ’06,’” said Steven Grahmann, IVCF’s Arizona area director. “That’s what Gen Z and millennials want to know. This person has been here. Their experience here changed them. That could happen to me.”

Students listened for perspectives that could apply to their own walk with Christ or their future vocation.

“It’s very vulnerable of them to go in stage in front of thousands of people and share a struggle that they’ve faced and a struggle they’ve gone to in their life,” said Christine Lui, a biochemistry major at University of Texas. “That really shows their heart to share who God is and what God has done for them. It makes them seem more human.”

Others told CT about rethinking ways to incorporate missions into their career fields as a result of the Urbana sessions.

Over the next couple weeks, as thousands of students will return to classrooms and campus ministries, IVCF will be left to evaluate Urbana 2018, which concludes today.

With an attendance decline of nearly a third, the organization will examine what kept students away from the event—whether shifting priorities, scheduling conflicts, or other factors. (In just a few days, the Cross Conference will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, drawing a more Reformed and Southern Baptist crowd, and featuring former Urbana speaker David Platt.)

Just about 60 percent of the 10,000 who showed up for Urbana 2018 were students.

“What we need to do after Urbana is ask the question, ‘How has the ecosystem of Christian conferences changed? Is this a shorter-term trend or a longer-term trend?,’” said Jao.

“What we do know, especially because of Revelations, is that God is sovereign. He brought these 10,000 and so that’s our focus during this week.”

CT has previously reported on contemporary challenges to student ministry, including InterVarsity’s legal fights over faith requirements, Princeton Christian Fellowship’s decision to drop “evangelical” from its name, and Fuller Youth Institute’s research on churches with growing young adult demographics.

A Different Kind of Christmas (Part 4)

From Unfamiliar Territory, by James Judge

The last installment from the chapter about Christmas 1991 in Kenya.

December 22 arrived, the Friday before Christmas. Although I was working hard at appearing otherwise, the truth was, I wasn’t doing all that well. Cindy and I had had the talk. There wasn’t going to be very much around the tree. We had both told each other that was okay, but it was, of course, much more okay for Cindy than for me. The visual of the girls coming down the stairs Christmas morning to our odd looking tree, with not much under it, was getting to me. I guess I need to admit something here: I am a compulsive, nearly out of control, Christmas gift giver. Actually, I am probably just shy of needing a support group on this issue. I believe it’s a genetic problem, blamable almost exclusively on my dad. In my home growing up, each year when the Christmas lists had been made and agreed to and the items checked off, my mother would swear my Dad to something akin to a blood oath that he would not purchase, under any circumstances, anything not on that holy writ. And having agreed to this, every year, he would, of course sneak out the week before Christmas and purchase all the items on that other list…you know the one I’m talking about, the list that any responsible child of parents who had lived through the depression would not have dreamed of mentioning. And yet somehow he knew, and there they were Christmas morning, all the items on that other list, that electric hockey game or that too-much-to-ask-for bicycle. I remember being consistently overwhelmed by Christmas morning and more than a little bit confused as well, because this kind of extravagance was completely out of character for my parents. In almost every other aspect of life, they had raised frugality to an art form. I remember thinking, something bizarre must have happened in the middle of the night. Maybe it was like the body snatchers, but with a happy ending: the people coming out of the pods looked like my parents, but just had more liberal spending habits. It made a kid feel pretty guilty, because I would have to think twice before turning them in as the spendthrift aliens they really were. Eventually, an explanation closer to reality took hold. I came to know this as my father’s love language. It was not easy for him to put his feelings about us into words. But this once a year extravagance was his way of saying something he’d wanted to say all year long. I unconsciously copied my father’s pattern, which, over the years led to more than a few heated, pre-holiday discussions with my wife. Cindy, being Swedish, is very committed to one particular Christmas principle…being fair. If you stray from your Christmas gift list, how can you possibly know you have been fair? And if you are not fair with this Christmas gift-giving thing, well, just think of the possible consequences? I’m pretty sure Cindy’s convinced that straying from your Christmas gift list would, in short order, lead to the eventual unraveling of Western Civilization as we now know it. But this Christmas, Cindy had nothing to worry about, because my hands were tied. As I made rounds that morning at the hospital, my thoughts were floating elsewhere. Had we been back home, the feelings churning inside that morning would have had me jumping in the car and headed, like an addict in pursuit of a fix, for the nearest Toys-R-Us. But that wasn’t exactly on the option list, so I just kept telling myself it was going to be okay.


At teatime I stopped by my medcenter mailbox and found a note telling me there were two packages waiting for us at the Kijabe post office, located barely a quarter mile from the hospital. This was very unusual. Almost always, any packages coming from the United States were stopped at the Nairobi post office and you had to travel there to pick them up. That meant nearly a whole day of getting there, waiting in obscurely marked lines that invariably ended up being the wrong ones, only to be directed to other obscurely marked lines, where you finally paid some exorbitant customs tax, before picking up the package. To have something actually make it out here to our little local post office was unheard of. The post closed at noon, so I called my wife and the two of us raced up to the post office, where Lydia, the postmistress with whom we had developed a friendship, happily handed over two large packages. One was from Cindy’s mother and the other from her brother’s family. No customs. Merry Christmas. When we got them home we sneaked them into the house without the girls seeing. There we opened the boxes and found all kinds of wonderfully wrapped gifts inside. As we pulled out each crumpled package, one after the other, I was in awe, yet felt pulled in two opposite directions. On the one hand, the amazing timing and unlikely arrival had me believing this was more than serendipity. Someone higher up than the postmaster general of Kenya must have engineered this small Christmas miracle. But, I also felt this tiny ember of shame burning inside, shame for wanting it so badly, for thinking that after all we had experienced, we needed anything else. The truth was, for the Judges, Christmas had arrived early that year. It was a gift to be there, all together, undistracted by all the stuff and activity that, although it fills up our hours, has a way of leaving us empty. That Christmas in Africa, we were full up. Full of wonder and believing and a nearly palpable sense of God’s presence. In view of what we had already received that year, those packages strewn wantonly across the bed felt so undeserved, so extravagant, so absolutely unnecessary. So much like grace.


Christmas morning came. Cindy was blustering around, trying to get the video camera ready. The girls were corralled and complaining at the top of the stairs, behind the ribbon gate we had strung while they were asleep, the gate that Judge tradition dictated had to be cut only by the youngest child, signaling the official beginning of Christmas morning. In that moment before the girls came rushing down the stairs, I looked at the tree with all the presents, and wondered what the girls would think. Santa was no longer on the list of options, even for Jenny. In a minute they would make the turn at the bottom of the stairs and, in amazement, realize that a Father other than me had provided the gifts on that “other list” this year. I surveyed the room. The droopy tree was getting a little brown around the edges, starting to look alarmingly like Cousin It. The gifts in their crumpled wrapping paper sat ready, waiting to tell their story. I stared out through our picture window at the valley far below and my thoughts went to the Kikuyu friends I had just met and the worship service they had shared with me and that precious egg and the piki ride and the campfire and the stars. It was, indeed, a very different kind of Christmas, and maybe because of that, one of the best Christmases ever.




It would be March before we would find out that we had, unbeknownst, shared in another small African Christmas miracle that year. On the other side of the continent, in Gabon, some good friends of ours, Bill and Mary Beauvais, were working as full time missionaries. They had experienced a severe several months. Gabon was in economic turmoil and in a way, so were they. Their own financial support level was low, partially a result of the Gulf War and its impact on the value of the dollar and Bill and Mary could struggling to provide the essentials. At times they were forced to make hard choices between things like medical care for a child and the next meal. Bill was experiencing that choking feeling Dad’s get when it looks like they aren’t keeping up their end of the bargain about taking care of their families. With Christmas approaching, they watched helplessly as they saw their children rushing toward a head-on collision with disappointment. Even though, unlike me, they weren’t the types to let gift giving get out of hand, facing Christmas with no gifts whatsoever was starting to get to them.

Three weeks before Christmas, their four-year-old son, Ryan, spotted what he wanted in an old magazine. No question about it. It was a small dinosaur, a small pink brontosaurus. “Tis a gift to be simple,” as the old Shaker hymn says, a gift afforded to many children, but few adults. For Ryan, his request was simple enough, he couldn’t see he was asking for much. But his mother knew this was an impossible item really, something not likely to be found in equatorial Africa. Mary tried to distract him away from it, even going so far as to hide the magazine, but it was of no use. Ryan had fixated on it. A pink dinosaur was what he was sure was going to waiting for him that Christmas. It’s one thing to know that gifts aren’t the true meaning of Christmas; it’s something else entirely to have to face a expectant 4 year old little boy, empty-handed.


Bill and Mary tried to think of other things. The Friday before Christmas, their neighbors stopped by the post office and brought back a notice that there was a package waiting for Bill and Mary there. The problem was that the post office was way across town and Bill and Mary didn’t even have enough money for the bus ride to go and pick it up. They told themselves it probably didn’t matter anyway, government offices have a way of closing way before the posted hours in Africa, particularly before a holiday. But their neighbors said they were going back by there later in the afternoon and just incase it was still open, would stop in and check. It was 5:25 PM when their neighbors arrived at the post office, which was scheduled to close at 5:30PM. There was no one there except one lone worker, cleaning up. They handed him the slip signed by the Beauvais’. He disappeared into the back room and in short order, came out with a large package. The return address was Jim and Cindy Judge, Wheaton Illinois and the postmark was February. Cindy had sent the box of items in response to a request Mary had made in a letter almost a year earlier, asking mostly for some unglamorous but unavailable items like a new mop head and tile grout. Cindy, taking seriously Mary’s admonition not to spend a lot on postage, had sent the thing surface mail. The post office apparently took the word “surface” literally. Where the thing had spent the last nine months was anyone’s guess; it must have been rowed across the Atlantic.

While putting the package together, as my wife is wont to do, Cindy also included several other unspecified items: clothing for their girls, music tapes, books, fun things from around the house. She found lots of things for Ryan’s two older sisters, who were the same age as our girls, but nothing seemed very appropriate for a 4-year-old boy. Just before closing the box, one item caught her eye. It was a toy from a McDonald’s Happy Meal, something we had gotten several years before. A toy promoting the animated film, the Land Before Time. It was a dinosaur. A brontosaurus. A pink brontosaurus to be exact. Cindy tucked it deeply into the bottom of the box and hoped it would do. When Mary and Bill unpacked the box in their room that night, item by item, they were overwhelmed by the things inside. There was something for everyone, everyone except Ryan.  But when they reached the bottom and pulled out that last item, that pink dinosaur, that one thing utterly impossible to deliver, that thing no adult would be foolish enough to even consider praying for, they were stunned. It was a gift from the “other” list. A gift from a loving Father that required so much knowing, so much care, so much attention that it overwhelmed them. It was as if the sky had cracked open and allowed, for just a moment, a sweet glimpse of His smiling face, a glimpse we seem to catch far too seldom. It wasn’t a very big miracle. Not a million dollars or a life saved. It was a small item really, but maybe, maybe the greatest of Christmas miracles always come wrapped in small packages. Maybe they are, in a way, the simple syllables of God’s love language.