There aren’t very many Lutherans in Syria. Which helps to explain why it was unusual, to say the least, that sitting the pews of our suburban, white, historically Swedish congregation on a recent Sunday there were six youth and 2 adults who were all either born in Syria or whose parents were born in Syria.
As a result of common work in our community we have a relationship with a mosque from another nearby Chicago suburb. When they were trying to secure building permits for a new mosque, we went to the mat for them in helping to convince county government that all religious institutions – not just Christian religious institutions – are part of the strengthening fabric of our communities.
So when they put out the call offering to have representatives from their mosque come to our congregation to tell their story and to solicit our prayers for peace in Syria, I was quick to accept their offer and invite them to speak.
What I didn’t expect was the powerful testimony that took place. The youth that showed up on Sunday morning were all in high school. They weren’t politicians, they weren’t pundits, and they weren’t ideologues. They were sons, daughters, cousins, and granddaughters. And they told of how the violence in Syria is a story that is impacting their families. Ameer told of how his cousin in Syria was abruptly taken from his family’s apartment in Homs and not heard of for three weeks. Feared dead, he was one of the lucky ones and was dropped at the door of his family’s apartment, his body black and blue and broken from his torture at the hand of government forces. Sarah told of her grandparents who had just barely managed to flee Syria, the land of their birth and the land where they lived their entire lives until one month ago. She told of sitting and watching the reports on TV and seeing her grandparents weep for their friends, their family, their community, and their country.
For months, I have watched with outrage at the way the Syrian government and military are brutally attacking civilian populations and quelling any dissent. I have been frustrated at what seems to me the lukewarm response of the international community. Now my outrage has become personal. This is Ameer’s cousin and Sarah’s grandparents. The global community has shrunk to the point where the violence in Homs is violence against my community and my friends and my brothers and my sisters.
Leave it to a few high school youth whose ancestral homeland, culture, customs, and religion are different from mine to remind me that we are all part of the same family and that somehow, I am my brother’s keeper.