| Nov 25, 2015
This post is unedited and republished with permission from FaithStreet.com.
by Roger Sandberg
My great grandfather left his home to help refugees get back to theirs. How will you be remembered?
On January 25, 1919, a group of young men sailed from New York to Beirut, Lebanon on a ship called Pensacola. Following the devastating Armenian genocide (1915-1918), these young men left their homes to live and work among the refugees and displaced people of Lebanon and Syria. Among them was a man named Ezra Deter.
| Ezra Deter. Image courtesy of the author. |
A conscientious objector to World War I, Ezra dedicated many years of his life to the refugees of modern day Lebanon and Syria. He spent his days talking with, working with, and in service to refugees. Relief organizations at the time set up refugee camps, clinics, orphanages, and vocational training facilities. They distributed bread and soup, blankets and clothing, medical and hygiene supplies, and were instrumental in the release of Armenian girls from Turkish harems.
On a brisk night, March 20, 1921, Ezra sat in a small room in Beirut and wrote the following in his journal: Really, I can’t see a very good future for Syria unless different methods are used in the promotion for development.
Almost 100 years later, I sit in a small room in Beirut and tap this sentence out on my keyboard: Really, I can’t see a very good future for Syria unless different methods are used in the promotion for peace.
“He left the comfort of his home to help others get back to theirs.”
Ezra Deter was my great grandfather, a man with a deep legacy of love. I never met him, but feel as if I know him. Recently, I visited a refugee camp in Zahle, a town east of Beirut. My great grandfather worked in Zahle. He wrote about it in his journals, letters, and telegrams, all of which now rest on a bookshelf in my home. I have been to Lebanon before and read his journals in the exact locations of their writing.
Today, I work with Medical Teams International (MTI). MTI is working in Lebanon and Greece with refugees from Syria. The work of non-government organizations (NGOs) and relief agencies is not so different as it was 100 years ago, aside from some obvious differences. My journey via plane from Portland, Oregon took less than 24 hours. Ezra’s journey via boat from New York took 24 days.
As a young man, my great-grandfather had a choice. We all do. In the comfort of his home in Illinois, he heard about the Armenians, a group of people being forced from their homes, many of them dying of starvation, many of them murdered. I can imagine the internal wrestling that he went through regarding the genocide of a people so far away from him.
It was a time of war, both in Ezra’s heart and in the world at large. At times such as this, some may say there are only two options: fight or flight. Ezra saw a third one: love. He left the comfort of his home to help others get back to theirs.
Bilbo Baggins, in The Hobbit, says it best, “I miss my books, and my armchair, and my garden. See that’s where I belong, that’s home. That’s why I came back . . . ’cause you don’t have one, a home. It was taken from you. But I will help you get it back if I can.”
“Your action or inaction will be a legacy.”
This week Americans will undoubtedly gather with friends and family to celebrate Thanksgiving. As you gather around your table, talk about what is happening in Syria. Say out loud that there are those who do not have a home, safety, or a table full of food. Pray for Syria. Pray that you may find a way to love.
When I return home this week to my books, my armchair, my garden, and my table full of food, I will gather my children, and with my wife we will pray for Syria. We will pray for those who have been uprooted from their homes. We will talk about ways to love Syrians. We will go get supplies and pack kits that will be sent to Syrian refugees — or better said, to men, women, and children just like you and me. We do well to remember that no human wants to be a refugee and that if the roles were reversed, I would pray that someone would welcome my children and my wife.
One day, when I am long gone, my great grandchildren might ask their grandparents (my children) about the Syrian refugee crisis. They will say that they knew what was going on and that the entire family took action. They will be able to say that they did for others what they would want for themselves if they ever became refugees.
I hope that the story told will be a legacy of love.
Your great grandchildren will one day talk about the Syrian refugee crisis of the early twenty-first century. Your action or inaction will be a legacy. I say this with great certainty. I can tell you exactly what my great grandfather’s actions were during the last great refugee crisis in Syria 100 years ago.
Take action now. Here’s how.
Join Medical Teams International’s initiative to create and ship 10,000 refugee kits by December 31, 2015. These kits will help 30,000 people. Here are three ways to help:
- GIVE financially to support the effort. Donations will be used to purchase supplies for the kits and to ship the kits.
- DONATE supplies, either in bulk or completed kits. They can be dropped off at or shipped to:
MTI Tigard Oregon Distribution Center
14150 SW Milton Court
Tigard, OR 97224
- VOLUNTEER to pack kits at an MTI Distribution Center. This is a great way to be hands on and give back with family and friends during the holidays.
For more information and to find downloadable PDF flyers that you can print and distribute, go to http://www.medicalteams.org/kits.