Last week, my church congregation was incredibly blessed and honored to welcome the Rev. Rami AlMaqdasi from the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. Rev. Rami AlMaqdasi grew up in Basra, Iraq, and shared with us how his life as a Christian from Iraq has been marked and defined by war. His earliest memories are of fleeing the violence of the Iraq-Iran war, coming of age during the Kuwait War, and of serving the church in Syria as Iraq was invaded in 2003. But violence did not escape him in Syria, either. In 2011, as civil war broke out in Syria, and as drone strikes rained bombs down upon the people of Syria, Rami and his family found themselves on the run once more, this time finding themselves in Erbil, Iraq, in the Kurdish region of the country. There, Rami served the Lord faithfully, sharing love and compassion in the refugee camps in the form of food, medicines, and the blessing of time and fellowship.
In 2014, after five long years, Rami and his family received refugee status through the United Nations and were resettled with their sponsor in Buffalo, NY. Today, he serves as a pastoral assistant at Wayside Presbyterian Church and serves the greater church through his witness in the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
As I reflect on Rami’s visit with us, personally I was struck by Rami’s infectious love of life, and his passion for the church. Despite so much pain, so much loss, so much suffering, Rami and his family have persevered, and I got the sense that Rami’s deep faith in God has helped him to pay attention to the ways in which God can open new doors for service and for discipleship in the midst of a culture of violence.
It was hard not to be changed by meeting Rami. His love for Christ, his heart for Christians facing persecution in the Middle East, his passion for exploring the difficult and complex realities of peacemaking in the Middle East moved me. For me, this visit was a reminder that as Christians, we are always experiencing rebirth in Christ. God is always opening our eyes, our hearts, and our minds to new possibilities, new ways in which we are called to work for justice and for peace in God’s name.
Through this visit, I was encouraged to discover how many of my neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ have a heart for the people of Iraq and Syria. They have shared their desire to make a difference in the lives of countless refugees who are leaving behind everything in search of peace. I believe that God is calling us to seek real solutions, to ask difficult questions, to prepare ourselves for the holy work of loving our neighbor in the midst of a culture of violence. I believe that God is calling us to be a light to the world, and a hope to the hopeless.
So please, be in prayer with me. Pray for Rami, and for his family. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who stand in harms way. But also let us be prepared to act. This very moment, hundreds of refugees are preparing to come to our country. Let us be ready to greet them with love, with openeness, and with the heart of Christ.
Are you interested in learning more about helping Refugees coming to America? There are currently three agencies that are working on coordinating services and sponsorship for Iraqi and Syrian Refugees coming to this country. Those agencies are:
HIAS and Council Migration Service Philadelphia
2100 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103 215-832-0900
Lutheran Children and Family Services of Eastern PA
5401 Rising Sun Ave., Philadelphia PA 19120 215-456-5700
Nationalities Service Center of Philadelphia
1216 Arch Street, 4th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107 215-893-8400
If you are interested in partnering to sponsor or support refugees as a church, please contact Pastor Sarah. To learn more about church sponsorship, check out www.wewelcomerefugees.org. And please be in prayer for the many refugees seeking asylum, both here and abroad.