On Syria: Real life, Real people

Each night my daughter is tucked up in bed,  alongside a bunch of cuddly toys, with joy written all over her face.  Her only concern is whether to wear her pink or her purple skirt the next day. That’s her reality. That’s how life should be for a six year-old.

IMG_3404

And then there’s Nizar*.  He’s just a few months younger than my daughter – just a small five year-old boy.

syrria 1

Nizar found his mother’s dismembered head amidst the rubble in his family home in Syria. A rocket had come through the kitchen whilst she was getting a drink for his father.

Once, maybe, his face too was written with joy. But now it’s marked by grief. And loss. And confusion. That’s his reality

He’s not just a faraway story on the news, only to be flicked over to watch another home renovation programme. He’s not just another statistic. He’s a real child. As a Syrian refugee in Jordan his world has been turned upside down.

  • Civil war in Syria has displaced 6.5 million people within the country and led to around 2.5 million becoming refugees in neighbouring states.
  • More than 100,000 people have been killed, and now every hour, more than 300 people flee their homes in fear.

This boy, this real boy, with real feelings, blames himself for his mother’s death. His world will never be the same again.

This is real life. Not my real life. And probably not your real life.  But this is his real life: painful and scarred and broken.

And he’s not a singular case. These children have lost fathers. And mothers. And siblings.

Families had fled Syria to avoid rockets in homes and tanks on roads. They’ve fled so their children no longer have to see fathers tortured and mothers abused.

Even as I write, it’s hard to grasp that this is the reality for so many lives.

This is Safiyya*:

safiyya

Safiyya is 23 and a first-time mum. When she was eight months pregnant, she and her husband decided they had to leave Syria for their safety, and their child’s.

They walked for six hours through the night, coming from Daraa to Jordan with a group of around 90 other Syrians.

Safiyya was training to be a teacher in Syria. Now she’s a supervisor in a kindergarten for Syrian refugee children run by a local charity in partnership with Tearfund. Safiyya worked with Nizar, mentioned earlier. This is her story:

“For 8 months I was at home, I did not leave the house. When we’re at home we think of family, friends we left in Syria. It makes us really sad. The kindergarten is a nice place where children are loved. I feel that they are my children. And the teachers are very sweet. Together we are one, we work together.”

As a volunteer at the kindergarten, Safiyya receives a cash stipend for her help –  it’s her family’s only source of income.

syria 2

syria 3

syria 4

Ninety children go to the kindergarten; all of them have fled from Syria and many are traumatised by what they have been through. The Syrian women who work there have all been trained to look for and understand the signs of trauma in children. In addition, a qualified psychologist visits once a week to run sessions.

Despite all that’s happened Safiyya’s greatest hope is that they will return to Syria and her son will grow up there. She says:

‘Our lives were in Syria. We love Syria.’

Today marks the 3 year anniversary of the ongoing conflict in Syria.

We may feel powerless to help. We may feel there’s nothing we can do.

But maybe today, we could believe something different. Maybe today we could allow our reality to affect their reality. Maybe today we could believe our prayers make a difference.

Maybe, today we could pray together for this war-torn country and those affected. Maybe we could choose to stand #withsyria

Maybe today we could use our financial reality to give to projects like the kindergarten Saffiya works at.

This is one prayer from a Tearfund partner in Jordan providing preschool education and trauma care for Syrian children:

Bringing light to the dark places

Lord Jesus, you give sight to the blind, you heal the

crippled and you restore the dignity of the disenfranchised.

Give us renewed vision and hope for the future and restore

the dignity of our Syrian brothers and sisters.

We beg for mercy for the many children who have

lost their fathers; for the many men who have been

tortured, beaten and maimed; for the many women

who have suffered from abuse; and for the many

more who continue to live in fear and shame.

Where there is fighting and fear, please bring peace.

Where there is hatred, please bring love and forgiveness.

Where there is death and hopelessness, please bring

the joy of your deliverance.

Lord, you are our only hope, our only Saviour.

Amen.

For more guidance on how to pray for Syria, or to financially contribute to the work of Tearfund in Syria please click on the Tearfund website here.

*Names have been changed at their request. For security and cultural reasons, there are no photos showing Safiyya’s face.

where Emeli Sande and I write a prayer for the church (me and you)

The first time I really appreciated Emeli Sande was during her incredible performance of “Abide with me” at the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. Since then, she’s been a welcome voice in my ear. In fact, her music has often been a channel for me to worship God. I guess I’m a believer that we can worship God through any songs  – “secular” as well as “Christian”, as long as we’re honouring God through them. One particular Emeli Sande song has become my running sound track, and in time it’s developed into a prayer.  As I’ve been running up and down the streets of Sheffield I’ve felt God speak to my heart through this song, and over time I’ve prayed this not only for me but for “us” – the wider church in general.

Here’s the song if it’s helpful to listen to it as you read….

So here goes….

“You’ve got the words to change a nation
But you’re biting your tongue
You’ve spent a life time stuck in silence
Afraid you’ll say something wrong
If no one ever hears it how we gonna learn your song?”

You know what? We have some good news. Really good news. I forget that sometimes – maybe you do too. Lots of us have been biting our tongues, stuck in silence…quietly treasuring this Good News in our hearts. I get it, I’ve been doing the same thing myself. But if no one ever hears it, how will others learn our song? Our song of salvation, our song of lives transformed, relationships reconciled and hearts healed. Our song of forgiveness. Our song of the never-stopping, never-giving up, unshakeable love of the Father.  Maybe like me, you’re afraid you’ll sing something wrong. Maybe we’re worried it won’t quite come out right.  You know what? We will do that sometimes.  Our song won’t be perfect. Our lives won’t be perfect. We might get a word or two wrong, or we might start in the wrong key, or we might not quite reach those high notes. But if we never sing anything at all, who will ever learn our song? So, God, help us pass on this Good News, this Jesus-life: take our efforts –  our lives, our words –  and lead and empower us as we try to sing this song.

 9035433831_e70c5ce054_n

 

“You’ve got a heart as loud as lions
So why let your voice be tamed?
Maybe we’re a little different
There’s no need to be ashamed
You’ve got the light to fight the shadows
So stop hiding it away”

Do we realise  – I mean really realise –  that in our hearts, lives the Lion of all lions? He is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And His Spirit lives in you and me. He is both Lion and Lamb.  And our cracked and crumbly jars of clay leak out His light everywhere we go. So let’s not let our voices be tamed. Let that lion heart out, and love fiercely, and fully and with all that we have. Let’s not hold back, shrink back or think it’s not enough. His love is all-consuming, all-powerful and more than enough.  We’ve got a heart as loud as lions. Yes, maybe we’re a little different, maybe we’re against the flow.  Maybe. But we don’t need to be ashamed of that. We’ve got a light to fight the shadows so let’s stop hiding it away. It’s a good thing, this light. This light – this Jesus – pushes back darkness. So  wherever we see injustice, and darkness and death He wants to bring His justice, and light and life. And He wants to do that through plain old me and you, His church. If we’ll let Him. So, God, help us to really comprehend that you live in us, and that your power in us is greater than the power in the world.

“Let’s get the TV and the radio
To play our tune again
It’s ’bout time we got some airplay of our version of events
There’s no need to be afraid
I will sing with you my friend”

So, let’s use every medium to creatively share our version of events, whether that’s with our friends at work, on our walk to school, on the bus or wherever.  Let’s re-tell the story of God and his love for all people, in whatever creative way we can. Let’s tell our storiesLet’s tell His version of events. Let’s live out our version of events. It’s such a good version. Amy Carmichael, William Booth, Elizabeth Fry, Smith Wigglesworth, Jackie Pullinger, William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa  and so many more: you all chose to tell your version of events. And the world is a better place because of it. You all chose not to be defined by the can’ts, the won’ts or the shoulds. You chose to live out the goodness of God, telling His version of events.

So let’s do this together – I’ll sing with you my friend. I’ll be praying with you whilst you’re sharing and living out the goodness of God wherever you are  And I know you’ll be praying for me as I try to live out the goodness of God wherever I go. Thank you for singing with me,  my friend – my brothers and sisters. And know that I’ll be singing with you too. We’re in this together. So God, help us to faithfully tell and live out your version of events, together.

Emeli Sande photo Source: http://goo.gl/ln2hmY

on “family prayers”

A few people have recently asked us about our family prayer rhythm so I thought it might be useful to share our process and journey here. There’s always a tension for me in sharing this kind of stuff publicly. I hope you hear my heart here – I don’t share this to infer that we’re doing anything special. We’re not. My heart, and hope, is that this may be helpful for others who are trying to go on a similar journey to us. What I intend to share here is our journey, incomplete and imperfect as it is.  If this is unhelpful for you, or if it doesn’t resonate with the journey that you are on, then feel free to click away to somewhere else…..

So this was the thing….

About 2 years ago Rich and I were talking about how we wanted prayer to be something that we grew together in as a family. We took some time to reflect and discuss on how we wanted it to look for our family, and how we wanted to grow. We didn’t want anything to feel like a heavy burden. We wanted a rhythm and routine that was simple, regular, and easy to follow-through.

And this was the plan….

So the plan we came up with is that we would all be dressed, and adults would be caffeined-up, by 7.00 a.m so that we had until 7.30 to pray before breakfast.

And this is how it worked out….

We’ve tried out a few things but over the months we’ve created a simple structure, which the kids are able to communicate to any visitor in our home. We begin by each of  us saying what we’re thankful for and then saying what or who we’d like to pray for. We then read a small portion of scripture either from an adult orr kids bible and then we get praying.  To help the kids we talk about saying “thank-you” prayers and “please” prayers which can just be one-liners. We start with thanking God for who He is – His character. Some of my favourite one-liners from the kids:

“ Thank you God that you’re king of kings and lord of lords”

“Thank you that you care for the rich and the poor”

“Thank you that you’re the shepherd of the sheep”

“Thank you God for being with me all the time”

And then we talk about our one-liner please prayers:

“Please help me in the playground”

“Please heal Samuel’s tummy”

“Please help me to be kind

“Please help x to have a good day.”

We’ve tried to do this step-by-step:  first learning how to thank God, and then learning how to ask God. The next thing I’d like us to grow in together is “listening” – making space together to hear what God is saying.

We generally pray in this rhythm Monday-Thursday each week. On Fridays we pray like this over breakfast using our prayer and thanksgiving spoons. You can read a post on the spoon of thanksgiving here.

IMG_3428

On Mondays our core 3dm team join us for prayer (either in person or by skype), followed by breakfast together.

And this is why we needed some routine….

I would naturally always prefer spontaneity over routine but what I’ve learnt is that spontaneity can be forgotten, overlooked, or side-lined whereas routine creates patterns and easy access points both for the kids, and other adults to join us.

Routines mean that when the alarm goes off at 6.15 I’m not thinking “shall we or shall we not pray today?” quickly followed by a hit on the snooze button.

Routine means that if Rich and I happen to overlay then the kids will be in our room telling us that it’s time to pray.

And this is what we’ve noticed….

Interestingly, this simple routine has been a foundation for prayer at other times in the day. The kids are learning to pray and talk to their father in the morning. They’re listening to the adults and joining in with short and simple prayers. But it’s often in the more spontaneous times that I notice that they’re growing in faith and in prayer. So, it may be when someone has hurt themselves, or at bedtime or some other point in the day, that they spontaneously pray for each other or someone else. They’ve been listening to us pray in the morning and then are putting it into practice at another point in the day.

I guess it’s a bit like learning a language. When we first learn a language we’re usually able to understand a lot more than we’re able to verbalise. But, over time, the more we listen and observe, the more we’re eventually able to speak and communicate. I think it’s the same with prayer. As our kids regularly hear us as parents, each other,  and other adults pray, they are learning how to talk and listen to their father.

And finally, a few practicalities….

These are our simple boundaries for prayer time:

  • No toys in hands
  • No talking to each other when we’re praying.
  • Children sit on an adults lap if possible.

All these boundaries just help the kids to focus.

lord's prayer

P.S our friend Katherine Lockwood has recently started a blog and I’ve just noticed that she’s written a really helpful post on their family prayers too. You can read it here.

How about you? How do you help your kids to pray?

Would love to hear your ideas, and your journey too…let’s learn together.

for whatever you need today

I’ve tried the gentle approach. I’ve tried my best assertive “It’s time for sleep now” voice. I’ve tried stroking his head gently and I’ve tried leaving him to cry for a bit. But for this three-year-old, sleep just isn’t coming and the crying won’t stop. I’m ready to strangle something. Anything will do. Rich is away and the voices in my head start to say Continue reading