None of it made any sense: how I found myself in a tent of Yazidi refugees for six hours without knowing a lick of Kurdish; how they transformed their modest UNHCR rations into one of the most memorable meals of my life; why they were being so kind, gracious, and hospitable to me—a complete stranger, a tourist to their suffering; why they would trust me in their space considering the persecution and genocide they have endured, the kind of trauma that would make anyone wary of the “other.”
The Yazidi people have every reason to fear. In 2014 the world watched in horror as a relatively new extremist group called ISIS began the genocide of this ancient, peaceful minority in Northern Iraq. Those who weren’t brutally raped and/or murdered fled to the top of nearby Mount Sinjar where many of them were trapped for weeks without food and water. Yazidis remain—to this day—one of the most persecuted groups in the grip of ISIS.
Today, many of the survivors reside here in Petra, a refugee camp at the base of Mount Olympus in Thessaloniki, Greece. These resilient people left everything behind in an exploratory attempt at a better future, far from the threat of persecution and genocide. Many of them live in a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty for themselves, their family, their friends, and their entire religion.
And yet they opened up their modest living space to me, an outsider. And yet they transformed their meager rations into an extravagant spread of vegetable stew, naan, and chai tea for me, their guest. And yet they showered me, their friend, in grace (and laughter) as I bumbled through the few Kurdish words I knew.
In this season of advent and time of unrest in the Middle East, I think of my Yazidi friends often. Whether they realize it or not, the defiant “and yet” of their actions exhibit the kind of non-sensical hospitality and unfathomable grace that is totally Jesus’ MO—inviting us into his tent and offering a place at his table.
Like many Western Christians, I have become numb to the advent story. Advent has morphed into a nice-and-neat feel-good tale synonymous with candy calendars and over-commercialization. I, for one, have become desensitized to how truly remarkable it all is.
Jesus came as hope incarnate.
Hope that took the shape of the most helpless being.
Hope that was entirely non-sensical for its context; hope that came through a virgin, in the dirt, in the dark.
Hope that came in the lowest of places and the meekest of forms.
Hope that subverted everything we thought we knew.
Hope that would meet us exactly where we were.
Isn’t all so strange?
That Jesus would invite us—in our dirty, broken, sinful state—to his table? That he would prepare a feast for us?
I think that’s the call for us—not only in the Christmas season but throughout the rest of the year—that we would accept Jesus’ invitation and in turn extend it to others. When fear demands the final say, we would choose ‘and yet.’ When inherent biases seek to build walls, we would invite the ‘other’ to our table. When the status quo rewards safe and comfortable, we would resist with a baffling display of radical vulnerability and unmerited grace.
Let’s start here:
Invite your neighbor to dinner.
The Muslim one, the refugee one. The liberal one, the conservative one. The widowed one, the homeless one. The one who looks and speaks and lives entirely differently from you.
Start by asking questions and listening intently without waiting for your turn to speak. Meet that person exactly where they are. And above all, send that person off feeling nourished and heard.
May our hospitality be just as confounding as that of my Yazidi friends. May our love for the other mirror the dazzling display of hope incarnate. And may that hope usher us into a place of believing that the seemingly impossible—reconciliation, peace, shalom—is indeed, possible.
Photo by Joe Greer.