Yusra Mardini is 18. She is a Syrian Refugee.
This is a story of violence and upheaval stretching through the past couple millennia. From the Amorites to the Arameans, from the Roman era through the Islamic era, Syria has been a place where violent men struggle for power. Generations pass, national identities change, the violence continues.
Civil war has decimated Syria since 2011. At least five groups are fighting to dominate the country. Thugs and criminals in rusty pickup trucks on dusty roads with automatic weapons and grenade launchers who have come to steal and to kill and to destroy.
The human toll is so much more than numbers – about 400,000 killed, over 11 million displaced with a third of those fleeing the country.
Yusra was born in Damascus, raised in a Christian family. Her home was destroyed and her family separated. She and her sister planned their escape. They traveled by land to Lebanon, on to Turkey, then boarded a small boat to cross the Aegean Sea to reach Greece.
Sit with me on this boat, this little Jon boat, barely acceptable in a pond on a calm day. The boat could comfortably hold a couple campers with their tents and gear, there are 20 of us, packed together, muscles constantly tense to maintain position and keep from falling out as we are tossed by the ocean waves. Then there is silence. It takes a few moments to realize the reason – the motor quit. Feel that fear in the pit of your stomach, dread. You’ll have flashbacks to this moment. There is no harbor patrol, no safety net. No one is coming to rescue us. Our bodies will wash up on shore in 5 days.
Yusra and her sister Sarah and two others jumped out of the boat and started swimming, pulling the boat and the 16 people on board. It took 3½ hours to reach the Greek island of Lesvos – the shores of Europe.
Last month, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announced an unprecedented group to compete in Rio. “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem”. Ten athletes were selected from the Congo, Iran, South Sudan and Syria (Yusra).
Roman persecution brought violence to Jerusalem a short 30 years after Jesus death and resurrection. James, brother of Jesus, was killed. Believers from Jerusalem scattered across the Roman world, driven away by the violence, planting churches in countless new locations. Peter starts his first epistle: “To those who are Elect Exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1).
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword, they were sent about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:32-38, ESV)
As Christ followers, we should feel an immediate connection with this concept of a Refugee team. We have not experienced war, our homes were not destroyed. Our sons were not recruited as soldiers or our daughters taken as slaves. Yet, we come from a place with a lengthy history of violent men struggling for power. We face an enemy who has come to steal, to kill and to destroy. We are on mission, Elect Exiles, through faith grasping the promise of heaven.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_civil_war, accessed 8/7/16
- http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/yusra-mardini-rio-2016-olympics-womens-swimming-the-syrian-refugee-competing-in-the-olympics-who-a7173546.html, accessed 8/7/16
- http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/06/sport/rio-2016-refugee-team-olympics-syria/, accessed 8/7/16
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yusra_Mardini, accessed 8/7/16