What does grace look like?

This month’s story of grace by Center Director Jim Krisher

I was privileged to spend three weeks this past July on a mission trip to Zagreb, Croatia, where I worked as a volunteer with Jesuit Refugee Services. I had daily contact and rich conversations with many beautiful but suffering people in three refugee camps there.

I met men and women and a significant number of unaccompanied minors, most from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, as well as smaller numbers from other troubled countries in the middle east and beyond. They had fled their countries, leaving behind homes and possessions to escape the horrific violence of war, or religious persecution, or ethnic hatreds and extremist threats. Many had already lost loved ones or entire families. Their stories would break my heart, and I felt so helpless because I couldn’t make things better for them. I only hoped my caring and attention to their stories brought them some small comfort in the face of so much tragedy. What does grace look like in the midst of such sadness and pain?

There was the twenty-three year old man who had to flee from Bangladesh because he was Hindu, and some extremists among the Muslim majority were killing or maiming the Hindu minority. His father was already dead, and his mother was in the hospital after having her arm chopped off by the extremists. Yet this wide-eyed guy with a gentle smile still nurtured hope for a better future for himself and reunion with his mother in a safer country. That’s what grace looks like.

There was the young married couple, also twenty-three, who had secretly converted to Christianity in Iran, where that is a crime punishable by death or decades of imprisonment. They had fled when their conversion began to be whispered about and the religious police learned of it. I sat in their little room at the camp in awe of the passion in their voices as they spoke of Christ and their dedication to Him. That’s what grace looks like.

There was a young Muslim man from Aleppo in Syria, who had fled the war there with his pregnant wife and their three-year old daughter. His city, he told me with his scant English vocabulary, was “all gone” and the people of the city were “all dead.” Yet here he was in his shabby refugee camp, holding his little girl on his lap and smiling at her with such tender fatherly love. It could be months of waiting to hear if they will be granted asylum or not, yet for him the important thing was the well-being of his family and looking toward a new life for them. That’s what grace looks like.

And I could go on and on telling such stories.

These refugees are the victims of human sin, driven away from their homelands and often shut out by countries that could provide them safety and assistance. Yet God does not turn away from them. Deuteronomy tells us that God loves the foreigner and seeks justice for those on society’s margins – and that we, as God’s people, are commanded to do the same. (DT. 10:18-19)

Not only does God care deeply about refugees and how they are treated, but God’s Presence shines through their often tear-filled eyes. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

I saw that abounding grace during my time in Zagreb, and I will never forget that experience. Video version of this story. For more grace stories click here.

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