a letter to the exiles

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Image by John D. McHugh

To the refugees in exile everywhere:

I’m trying to imagine what I would say to you if we were face to face, what I would do with my hands and this one thumping organ I’ve learned to call a heart.

(Does yours still beat, but barely? Or have you tasted darkness and come out with a wild and terrible sort of joy seasoning your insides?)

If you’d let me, I would touch my forehead to yours and just absorb. I would absorb the heave of your chest, the sorrow of your story, the texture of your skin. I would take in the unique hue of your irises, the fear of your flight and your survivor’s strength. I’d stay for days and go through every one of your emotions and motions; learning your language and ways and rhythms.

My fervor and feeling might be too much for you or not enough, I don’t know. I’ve never walked a mile in your life. But I would share my light, my love, my food, my energy, my shelter–everything I am and have. I’d bleed beside you if it was my time of the month and gladly without the necessary supplies just to know what it must’ve been like for some of you to flee while on your flow.

I don’t know how to give myself in little pieces. Here I am, all of messy me.

During the demands and beautiful jungle of everyday life I still find myself distracted and thinking of you. Sometimes I lay in bed and find one of your families standing behind my eyes, haunting me with that silent plea I see. I have a strange condition called connection. I can’t think of me and my comfort and food and the mattress I sleep on without thinking of you and wondering what nook–what patch of earth–you place your head on at night; what kind of sustenance is keeping you just enough alive.

Are you eating Greek food or French food or German food, any food but your own kind of Syrian food?

God! What is it like to be displaced? I’ve created a story in my mind’s eye, a story where me and mine are flying from the frying pan and running for our lives straight into the fire. The fire is surely where you are.

Sometimes the fire is having nothing to your name but the skin you were born in. Sometimes the fire is an open sea without shore or certainty in sight. Sometimes the fire is a dirty, wet camp with no warmth. Or watching your babies drown and wash up face-planted in the sand.

Yes, sometimes fires are cold like open water or the ice of unwelcoming hearts. I’m putting your shoes on my feet and through grit and blisters I’m saying red tape and bureaucracy and infrastructure be damned. There is room for everybody; there is always a way–we are a creative and resourceful lot. In my estimation we have more than 11 million guest rooms in our country alone. But it’s not space and assets we lack. It’s just that we’re too full and rusted shut with fear and a few other things to spring our doors of bounty open.

The world is not yet set to rights, you know this more than I.

In light of the affairs you find yourself in and because of all the shut doors and shores, you might be tempted to think that you are somehow a deficit to the global family. Hear me: You are not a deficit to the global family for having diddly-squat and needing a handout for every basic need; bread and blankets. More often than not people with nothing are the real contributors and deliverers of everything important and eternal. You are saving us from ourselves; teaching us how to be human; demanding that our gospel meet your reality.

And reminding us, for the love of all things holy, that we do not live in a universe of scarcity, but of abundance. Abundance! Loaves and fishes aside, I’ve heard a hundred true stories of food and resources being shared and how everything then multiplies like magic.

Sharing manifests magic. If you ask for my shoes, I’ll give you my tunic too and together we’ll see the sky split wide. We’ll wash in the sweet rain of reserves.

Sometimes I rail against the circumstances that don’t allow for me to come to you. Instead I sit behind a computer screen zooming in on the maps of your land, reading the latest and watching your country empty out. It looks to me like someone has tipped Syria upside-over and is shooking her good and people are literally falling from her boundaries like grains of priceless sand pouring through an hourglass.

We all take breaks from looking, the way a person leaves the hospital for fresh air when one of their own is sick or suffering, but I will keep grieving when grieving calls to me and I will keep praying when I close my eyes and see you standing there. You are not alone. So many of us are pushing our love and funds and care packages across sea and scapes like Kingdom needs to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Together is the only way to walk each other home.

All my love,


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(Johnny, vicar of the Earlsfield Friary, standing in for us at The Jungle’s entrance. Image by John D. McHugh)

Last week a friary of our good friends from London loaded a trailer with 150 sleeping bags and 144 tarpaulins and drove to what is referred to as “The Jungle” in Calais, France. One might be tempted to think that a refugee camp in France would somehow be Paris-pretty and have volunteers passing around hot, buttery croissants. But such a vision couldn’t be further from reality, as you can see from these images. Rather, if you were to step your feet inside The Jungle and walk the muddied paths yourself, both ears might start ringing from the cries of men as they chant: “We have no home! Help us find a home!” The underside of a plastic tarp is not a sufficient roof when winter is coming.

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These same friends will be making another supply run in a few weeks and there are NO people on the planet I would trust more to be the conduit of my own hands and heart. Sometimes we need people to go for us when we can’t go ourselves, that’s the beauty and power of being a global family. Where one goes, we all go, if we set our intentions that way. Johnny’s arms are my arms. Lisa’s hands are my hands. Gabrielle’s heart is my heart. Peter’s feet are my feet. Meg’s voice is my voice. Alex’s eyes are my eyes. And so forth.

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In addition to draining our bank account of all its dollars, I’m running a fundraiser and giving every last cent to the Earlsfield Friary before their next journey to The Jungle. My friend Micah texted me two weeks ago and showed me that he’d made a “Bandersnatch” t-shirt to sell in celebration of my book release, and I decided to sell these silly little Bander-shirts and give away 100% of the profits. And it DOES feel kinda silly to me to have shirts with the title of my book on them, but Bandersnatch* IS an awesome word and we HAVE raised $500!  

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Here’s the part where you might come in and say to the Earlsfield Friary, “Be my body too!”

Would you be interested in buying a t-shirt or two or two dozen for Christmas presents? Every cent will get sent to our Earlsfield Friary friends as they gear-up for a return to the open wound in Calais.

(If you don’t even need any more clothes crowding your closet, but would still like to give to the friary, click on the contact link above and shoot me an email!)

Let’s place our fingers–or a sleeping bag–in the bleeding veins of our brothers and sisters, a gentle reminder of our presence, our love, our connectivity–small though it may be.

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Thank you, the biggest and always, for being here with me.

Sincerely yours,



(Images were taken by John D. McHugh, war photographer and friend to the Earlsfield Friary. See more of his work and read an article about their trip HERE.)

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