A reflection on Acts 7:1-10:16

In 2015, I met a young woman named Lina, living with her family in an Internally Displaced
Persons Camp in Erbil, Kurdistan, after they were driven from their home in Karamalesh by
ISIS. She had been an average high school girl, going to classes, worrying about fashion and
online gossip. Suddenly, she saw the only home she ever knew burned to the ground, and her
people being murdered. In a terrifying flash, she lost everything, and could see no future.

In the Book of Acts, we meet a young man named Saul, a brilliant Pharisee and successful tanner
living in Tarsus. He is also a merciless enemy of the nascent Jesus movement. But on his way to
arrest some Christians, he falls to the ground in a flash of light, and hears a mysterious voice.
When he gets up he can see nothing. For three days he is blind, and cannot eat.

After Saul is reborn as Paul, as far as we know he never went home to Tarsus again. Calling
himself a “Citizen of Heaven”, and traveling ceaselessly, he becomes the most effective
messenger in history for this new thing God is doing through Christ.

Lina told me that she missed home, but things that once had occupied her were no longer of
importance. Grateful to still have her family, her smile fills the room. All she wants now is to
walk with God, because in her words, “God was the only one who never abandoned us.” Her
yearning is to love and care for her community and other displaced peoples of all kinds, and in
Iraq they are everywhere. When I asked her what was next, she simply smiled and shrugged, “Of
course, yes, I want to go back. But my home now is wherever my people are. Where they are, I
am too.”

At St. Martin’s in Philadelphia, our relationship with displaced Christians in Iraq has once again
broken open our hearts. Today we are committed to assisting families like Lina’s go home to
their war-ravaged towns and cities, containing some of the oldest church communities on earth.
And this is crucial to helping make whole the lives war has torn apart. But I remember something
else Lina said, “The Lina I knew back in Karamalesh is finished. Now, I want to go home and
study medicine, we have to heal the wounds of this place!”

The miracle of Easter is the miracle that Lina and Paul’s stories share, and in fact all of us share,
and it is that over and over again God reaches into the beauty, brokenness, and fear of our lives,
and draws us home again, into the embrace of his all-encompassing love. Whatever our
circumstances, God gives us a glimpse of who he’s made us to be – co-creators of his dream of
kinship and peace- a home for all of us in his heart. And just like Lina, and just like Paul, it’s up
to us to be the hands and feet and voices and hearts that help bring that dream into being.

The Rev. Christopher Bishop is rector of St. Martin’s Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania and founder and president of Stand with Iraqi Christians.