“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater - Isaiah 55:8-10
Two weeks ago, Emilie Hodge Osman ‘13 led Chapel along with her husband Siwar. Emilie spent a number of year working with Syrian refugees in Turkey.
She stated, “When I first went to Turkey I couldn’t wait to jump into the work there. I had so many ideas and plans for projects I wanted to do–Bible studies, art therapy groups, cooking classes, and more. When I got there I tried right away to start a girls group for the teenagers in the church, but nothing came of it, nobody wanted to do it. A few months later I tried again, this time for a women’s Bible study, but again nobody wanted to join. I was living in a women’s safe house that the church owned at the time, which I thought was the prime opportunity to connect with some refugee women, but as time went on I was finding it incredibly hard to even have conversations with them, let alone connect on a deep level. I started to feel discouraged.”
She would go out many times a week with the ministry team doing home visits to Syrian families, but over and over she’d find herself in a family’s living room listening to stories of unimaginable pain and loss, thinking, “What in the world am I doing here? I have nothing to offer them, no solution to their problems, and barely enough language skills to try to say something comforting.”
She continued, “I felt discouraged and, honestly, useless. This discouragement quickly turned into guilt as I tallied up all the things I wasn’t doing in my head and thought about all the people who were supporting me and thinking I was doing amazing refugee work when in reality I was incredibly lame. I frequently questioned why God had wanted me to come to Turkey if I wasn’t actually doing anything.”
It wasn’t until she had a crisis of her own that she started to consider things differently. Her son Ayaz was born with a number of health complications. He was in the ICU for 10 days right after birth and had to have eye surgery at just 12 weeks old. It was a dark and difficult time for her family, but one of the things that helped them through this time was her friend Anna. When Ayaz was in the ICU, she visited Emilie and her family with M&Ms and sat and talked with them. The day of Ayaz’s surgery, she got a text from Anna that said “I’m down in the lobby. I don’t need to come up to you if you don’t want but I’m here praying for you.” After Ayaz came out of surgery Anna brought them coffee and stayed with the family until he was discharged.
After that incident, she thought, “Gosh, Anna is so good at knowing how to help people. How does she do it?” She realized then that it wasn’t that Anna had the perfect words to say or a solution to every problem, she just showed up with what she had and did what she could do.
Emilie started to reconsider the small things she was doing with people, the things she had been feeling were not enough. While she was in those Syrian houses beating herself up for not knowing what to say or not offering enough, maybe they were just grateful to know that somebody cared. Maybe just being there in somebody’s house made them feel seen, like her friend coming to the hospital made her feel seen.
She stated, “Slowly, instead of being incapacitated with how inadequate I felt, I started focusing on just being present for people. Maybe inviting someone over for dinner, treating a friend to coffee, or just messaging someone, not because I had something specific to offer, but just to let them know someone is thinking about them. And that’s where I started to feel the presence of God flowing through me to others. It makes sense, this is what Jesus does. He’s not just interested in trying to solve our problems and he doesn’t show up only to do impressive signs and wonders, he’s Emmanuel: God with us. Sometimes God shows up like a fire or an earthquake, but so often he shows up as the still, small voice. The voice that says I’m here and I see you.”
The night before Emilie’s family left Turkey, they had friends over the house to say goodbye to them. One of the people there was a girl she had tried to reach out to over the years. This girl was lonely and depressed and Emilie tried to be a friend to her, but every time they would meet up and she would tell her everything she was going through, Emilie never knew what to say. Emilie wanted to lift her spirits but she just felt like she never did a good job of it. This girl had grown closer to her in her last year there and connected her to our other friends, but Emilie still regretted not doing more with her. When it was time to say goodbye she gave Emilie a hug, said “thank you for everything”, and walked out the door. But later that night, Emilie received these messages from her:
“I know I am a difficult person to love, although you kept trying until you changed me with your love and caring, you made me believe that even though I lost my family I can still have another one. I know you did a lot in Turkey, you handled lots of difficulties, but remember that God used you in our lives in an amazing way. I can say that the last year here was the best because I felt I belonged, and less lonely because of you…I saw and felt everything you did for me no matter how small!”
Emilie recounted, “For years I had questioned if my presence in Turkey made any difference. I felt that at this moment, on my very last night in Turkey, was God saying to me, “It made a difference.” I didn’t accomplish what I thought I would accomplish in Turkey–although I still believe that God has those things for me and that he will fulfill the big dreams he gave me–but I think the biggest thing he wanted to do in me and through me in Turkey was not to do things for people, but to learn how to be with people. And this is what our life as Christians is really about, whether we’re in Turkey or Boston or Syria or anywhere else. The calling that all of us have is to be the presence of Christ to those around us.
None of us are going to have the “right” words or the perfect solution, but all of us can be present with someone. And so I want to encourage you to look around you and think, today how can I be there for someone?
God works in amazing ways when we just show up, whether we know what we’re doing or not. His ways are higher than our ways. All he’s asking for is for us to offer what we have, to give Him our loaves and fish, and he will multiply it.”