Action or Inaction: What Will Your Legacy Be?

Dec 1 2015

I want to introduce you to my boss today, friends — Jeff Pinneo, the President and CEO of Medical Teams International. He was in Greece last week, holding chariot races with Syrian refugee kids in Camp 14.

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And doing other stuff, too, but I think this was the most important.

I always think it’s the most important to make moments of joy in the middle of great sadness.

And to find Light in the dark.

And to make kids laugh and smile.

I think that’s the work of God. The work of Love. Our reason, really, for being here with each other.

And I don’t often talk about my “other job” here in this space. I don’t often share my work with Medical Teams International with you. Not because I have nothing to say. Not because this work isn’t entwined with my heart. But because I say SO MUCH otherwise here, and I never, ever, ever want my ridiculous stories or my potty mouth to reflect negatively on the work of Medical Teams. I never want my laissez faire attitude toward parenting or my wild, wonky, weird journey of faith and doubt to cast a poor light on people who are bringing help and healing to people affected by disaster, conflict and poverty around the world.

Every once in a while, though, my heart can’t take it, and I bubble over. The things I see from my desk by the Executive Office of MTI overflow onto this page. And my boss, Jeff, who’s more importantly my friend — an MOST importantly, the friend of kids whose toys are sticks and tires and playgrounds are dirt streets in refugee camps — was in Greece and Lebanon last week, on behalf of our work with people who are hurting.

And I just have to say that it was a strange week to be preparing for Thanksgiving here in the U.S. while my co-workers and friends were in Greece and Lebanon sending me pictures like this…

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…and like this…

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…because I know this humanitarian crisis is moving out of the news cycle, but it’s not moving out of my heart, and I doubt, as we move into the holiday season, it’s out of yours, either.

There’s SO MUCH information out there right now, folks — article after article about politics and policy, some incredibly well researched and some, well, not so much — and it’s strange to see the OPINIONS everywhere. BIG, HUGE opinions. And utterly bizarre arguments that we can’t engage with distant groups of hurting people until other hurts closer to home are resolved. Meanwhile, mothers sit in freezing camps with nowhere to go for the foreseeable future, holding their kids and hoping for help, wondering if it will ever come.

It’s against that backdrop — what I see at work in my job as a humanitarian aid worker versus what I see shared online — that I asked my friend, Roger, if I could share his writing below. Roger is the Director for Emergency Response and Global Security here at Medical Teams International, and, well, he’s been to the front lines. Was there, actually, last week. So I just thought it might be a good idea if we could hear from time to time from the people who know first hand what’s happening.

Love to you, friends.

Love to you and to our momrades in the camps.

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Action or Inaction: What Will Your Legacy Be?
{a guest post by Roger Sandberg}

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

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.

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.”

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 four ways to help:

  • REPOST THIS so others can see it.
  • 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, click here.

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This was originally published at FaithStreet.com and is republished here with Roger Sandberg’s permission.

Photo of Ezra Deter courtesy of Roger Sandberg.

All other photos courtesy of Medical Teams International.