James Wheeler and his wife Linda Herr serve as MCC Area Directors for Europe and the Middle East and encourage the work of six country programs. As James travels between a few program locations in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, he encounters people along the way that open his eyes to new perspectives.
I have found that there are many experiences along the way where you find yourself at a crossing point. It’s a place where you can see a reflection of God in the face of someone who miraculously appears in front of you. This is a pure gift.
It may be the little girl* from Syria wandering the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, who appeared amongst our group outside the ice cream stand. She looked up at me and asked very politely for some ice cream. I thought for a moment it could be my own daughter wandering and displaced. I could have told her no and to go away. Instead, I bought her two scoops of dark chocolate ice cream, the flavour she requested. We thought she might share the extra with a sibling. As we walked away, we noticed her sitting at one of the sidewalk tables, eating with delight. Alone.
It may be the two young men* we met in Cairo who’d arrived years ago as unaccompanied minors. One from Eritrea, the other from Somalia. It's beyond imagination what they experienced on the long, harrowing trek through the Sahara Desert up along the Nile, eventually reaching the megalopolis of Cairo.
They found refuge at StARS (St. Andrews Refugee Services), a refugee services agency partnered with MCC. It was a safe place for them to be and grow and play and learn. When we met them, their faces seemed aglow with purpose. One now teaches art and the other dance. Their creative spirits bring acceptance and healing to many other unaccompanied minors with journeys just like theirs. They bear gifts of joy for the world.
Or maybe, it’s a young man I met in Jordan. We were travelling to the northern part of Jordan, not far from the Syrian border, to see a distribution of kits and comforters by MCC partner Caritas. On the way, we decided to make a diversion to get a glimpse of Zaatari Camp, where over 700,000 Syrians refugees have passed through in recent years as they fled from the violence in their home country.
We didn't have a good view of the camp where we were. Our visitors climbed up some of the little hills surrounding the camp for a better look. While Linda and I lingered near the car, I noticed a boy pushing a wheelbarrow nearby. He came over to see who we were. He was 15 and had been in the camp for five years with no hope of going back home anytime soon.
We talked in Arabic (he wondered how I was able to speak “Syrian”), I learned that he dropped out of school to work. For a few dollars a day, he was hauling people's belongings back and forth from the camp across the little mounds of dirt. His 47-year-old father was very ill, having had two heart attacks recently. The money he earned helped to buy food for his family.
As we talked, he handed me a little packet of gum. The day was cool, and the wind was becoming uncomfortably cold; it will only get colder as winter approaches. I thanked him for the gum. Then I gave him my knitted cap and told him that I was grateful to meet him and that I noticed that he had a pure heart. His face beamed! We talked for a long time as we waited for our visitors to return. He eventually became preoccupied with the next person coming over the hill who might need some help. We all piled back into the SUV and drove off. As the hills faded from view, I wondered if our exchange of chewing gum and a warm winter cap will somehow make a difference in the life of the world.
Christ comes as a little child to bless our sight. Then the burdens this child ends up carrying somehow hold us through the times of joy and pain in life. When we get to experience this aspect of God’s love and compassion for us all, that’s when true healing begins, bringing with it wholeness, light and life.
This is the gift of the crossing point.
*Names withheld for security reasons