I Remember You
















Putting flowers on a loved one’s grave is one way to say, “I love you. I miss you. I remember you.”

Francesco Piobbichi’s drawing gives us a brief glimpse into a young boy’s grief. The boy stands at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, which has become a mass grave for over 35,000 refugees in the last decade. The statistic is staggering, yet this glimpse into one young boy’s grief has the power to move us in ways that statistics do not. It makes us wonder who he lost—who he misses—who he remembers. And it may even make us wonder, “What can I do to help?”

Francesco Piobbichi is a relief worker with Mediterranean Hope—and organization that seeks to save and welcome refugees trying to make their way across the Mediterranean. One of the ways Piobbichi has answered the question, “What can I do to help?” is by reminding us that each statistic has a story. He describes it this way: “My drawings tell a story that otherwise would be consigned to the oblivion of the sea” (Drawings from the Border, p. vi).

Bible Reading: Psalm 72:12-14 (NRSV)

Psalm 72 is a prayer. In fact, it may be a prayer written by King David for his son and successor, Solomon. Yet, the author of the prayer is not as remarkable as its values. Verses 12-14 cut straight to the heart what makes a good ruler. They may not be what we expect.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life;

And precious is their blood in his sight.

Mahatma Ghandi once observed that, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Psalm 72 seems to have a similar score card for political leaders.

In the caption for his drawing of the young boy with the flowers, Francesco Piobbichi suggests that we place a flower “for all the victims of this barbed sea made murderous by the selfishness of [human beings], from the hunger [for] profit that upsets the world…a flower for every innocent victim of this war of the rich against the poor” (Drawings from the Border, p. 55).


  • How would you grade your leaders against the rubric of Psalm 72? Why?
  • Why is it so hard to respond to a statistic like the one cited in the story above? Was the 35,000 number a surprise to you?
  • How do you respond to Piobbichi’s words about selfishness, profit, and “this war of the rich against the poor”?


Prayer: Help us to hold our leaders accountable, O God.  Give us the courage to imagine the stories behind the statistics.

















At first glance we see only the boy with the ball. He could be the kid down the block. We smile at his exuberance. We marvel at his skill. We worry for his safety, since he seems more intent on scoring a goal than on landing well.

But then we look more closely. The “net” is made of barbed wire. And why is he suspended over the waves? Look more closely still. The waves, the sky, and even the sunset are filled with barbed wire. What kind of a game is this?

It is not a game at all. This is a heroic attempt to break free from oppression, poverty, and war. This is a beautiful child who is willing to risk everything for a new life. The barbed wire is the border that binds his future and scars his soul.

Maybe that’s why Francesco Piobbichi calls this drawing, “Kick the Fear.” Here is what he says about his drawings in general:

My drawings are conceived and end in a matter of minutes [using] vivid colors that

give hope mixed with the pain they recount. The colors, scrawled onto the page,

swirl as in the vortex of a storm; they almost tear the paper on which they are drawn.

My drawings reveal the hatred that surrounds the migrants and the barbed wire that

sticks in their skin, barriers so oppressive that the migrants will always live with it

wherever they go. My drawings are an act of love for humanity—I would consider

them emblems of justice and freedom (Drawings from the Border, p. vi).

Bible Reading: Isaiah 61:1 (NRSV)

The “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah’s prophecy announces good news to the people imprisoned in Babylon:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.

The messenger may have been new, but the message was not. This was the theme-song of the exodus, after all. And if we trace the trajectory into the New Testament, we can hear the Suffering Servant singing the same song there. Our God is a god who liberates captives and binds up the broken-hearted. Second verse, same as the first.

Once we learn the melody of God’s theme-song we begin to recognize it in all sorts of places. One of the places I hear it is in these stories from the border. It makes me want to join God in that liberating song.


  • Where do you hear God’s liberating song? How might you join in?
  • Had you noticed the barbed wire in Piobbichi’s drawings? What does that image evoke for you? How might we be contributing to it?


Prayer: We, created in your image, would a true reflection be of your justice, grace, and mercy and the truth that makes us free.

















When I visited the island of Lampedusa in 2018, artist Francesco Piobbichi took me to a sun-drenched cemetery where we visited the grave of the young woman at the center of this picture. Her name was Welela. Here is her story in Francesco’s own words:

Welela was in prison in Libya when a gas cylinder exploded and burned her body.

She was not treated but loaded onto a dinghy. I think of her burned skin with the salt

of the sea and the pain that she could have felt and none would [ever] tell. I think of

her friends singing to say goodbye to her. Welela stared at Europe and at our European

rulers from a dinghy of fire over this sea of barbed wire. Welela will give us her eternal

accusing eyes.

From Drawings from the Border (Claudiana, p. 22)

Bible Reading: Galatians 6:9 (NRSV)

Paul encouraged the Galatian Christians to “not grow weary in doing what is right.” For the people who work on the front lines of the refugee crisis, this is easier said than done.

I wanted to let you hear Welela’s story in Francesco’s own words because, in the telling, his pain is so intertwined with her own. Just as the salt-water must have seared Welela’s wounds, so memories of tragedy sear the souls of the rescue workers. How can one not grow weary? How can one not be angry?

For Francesco, the drawings are a way to “harness that anger” without forgetting what made him angry in the first place. As he puts it, “Drawing means getting inside yourself to narrate what is happening inside you: A picture…becomes a key to open the door of a tale that crosses borders” (Drawings from the Border, p. vi). Perhaps it is also a key to not growing weary in doing what is right.


  • What part of Welela’s story is hardest for you to hear? Why?
  • Sometimes the secondary traumatization experienced by those who work with victims of tragedy is called “compassion fatigue.” Have you ever experienced this or known someone who has? What was it like?


  • The young man cradling a refugee baby in the photo below is a young Italian Protestant, Daniele Naso. This photograph was taken on his fifth volunteer assignment on a ship doing search and rescue operations on the Mediterranean. Pray for people like Daniele as well as for those they seek to help.
  • Risk your own comfort to help someone else today.







Prayer: Help those who help, O Lord. May they draw from the inexhaustible well of your compassion, so that they may not grow weary of well-doing.

“Hi, Mom–I’m Alive!”
















Imagine not knowing whether your child is alive. Perhaps you haven’t heard from them for months. Or maybe all you know is that they boarded a crowded boat days or weeks before. Then your phone rings, and a beloved voice says, “Hi, Mom—I’m alive!”

This story strains imagination for most of us. Yet, it’s not uncommon for the families of refugees making the perilous trip across the Mediterranean. If the young refugees are lucky enough to make it, the first thing they want to do is “call home.” In his book, Drawings from the Border, Francesco Piobbichi writes, “In Lampedusa, I have heard children say to their mothers, ‘Ciao mamma—sono vivo!’ their white-toothed smiles lighting up Lampedusa’s main street.”

Of course, the poster in Piobbichi’s drawing reminds us of the kids who didn’t make it. How many parents are still waiting, I wonder, for a call that will never come?

Bible Reading: Genesis 1:27 (NRSV)

So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

This verse is so familiar we may have become numb to it. But its message is shocking. It tells us that human beings are created in the image of God. Think about that. If we had any sense, we would break out the brass band, light some fireworks, or even better—fall to our knees.

In view of this verse’s claims, it would also make sense to think hard about turning away from tragedies that leave human beings dying along our world’s borders.

Paola La Rosa puts her finger on the pulse of this tragedy when she writes, “…whether we support the political left or the political right, whether we are religiously unbelieving or believing, whether we consider ourselves to be moral people or immoral people, in ways we may not be aware of, we continue to deny [the refugees’] personhood” (Drawings from the Border, p. vi).

No one has to remind the mother waiting for that phone call that her son is a person. But maybe we need a reminder. Maybe we need to be reminded that each of those people whose bodies litter the beaches and borders of this world were, in fact, created in the image of God.


  • How does the reminder that all are created in the image of God change or reinforce the way you think about refugees and migrants?
  • What were your thoughts and feelings as you read the story, “Hello, Mom—I’m Alive!”?


  • As you listen, watch, or read the news today, mentally insert the phrase “in the image of God” as people are named. Take note of how this affects your thoughts, words, and feelings.
  • Make eye contact with a stranger you encounter today, remembering that they are created in the image of God. See if it makes a difference in how you regard them. Afterwards, talk about this experience with a friend.
  • Read about this ecumenical conference held in Rome at the end of January, 2024 on the topic of migration and refugees Immigration Debate Is Not Unique to U.S.

Prayer: We fall to our knees, gracious God, when we remember both the honor and the responsibility of begin created in your image.

My Daughter! My Daughter!















Artwork by Francesco Piobbichi


From the moment this young mother was pulled from the waters of the Mediterranean, she was desperate to find her young daughter. “Mia bambina!” she cried, over and over. “My daughter! My daughter!”  She clung to the hope that her little girl would be found alive. It was as if hope itself were her lifeboat. Even after she had been transferred to a refugee center in Catania, Sicily, she continued to ask for her daughter. Eventually, the aid workers confirmed that the little girl had fallen into the water and drowned. In that moment, Francesco Piobbichi writes, it was as if “the sun became cold.” Silence fell over them and there were “no more words.”

Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 18:33 (NRSV)

When King David heard the news that his son, Absalom, was dead, he was “deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

In that moment, David was not responding as a king, but as a father. It didn’t seem to matter to him that Absalom had betrayed him, or that his own reaction was perceived as the height of ingratitude by his war-weary troops (see 19:1-8). Until the evidence was incontrovertible, he had continued to hope. The first words out of his mouth when the messenger came with the news were, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?”

When I look as Francesco Piobbichi’s drawing of the young mother hoping against hope that her daughter will be found alive, I do not see a refugee. I see a mother. And for me, the sun becomes cold, and there are no more words.


  • Have you ever clung to hope in the face of all the evidence? What was it like? How does that experience help you to empathize with the mother in this story? With David?
  • How does the contemporary story help you to appreciate the aid workers who seek to assist refugees?


  • Read about a recent rescue on the island of Lampedusa, and Italian government’s attempts to block rescue efforts: May 5, 2019 Rescue
  • Reach out to someone who has recently suffered a profound loss.
  • Read/listen to this story from NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast on May 6, 2024:

Is it easy for migrants to enter the US? We went to the border to find out.

Prayer: We know that you are a God who sees our misery and hears our cries. Hear the cries of all whose hearts are broken. Soften the hearts of those who have it within their power to alleviate suffering. Amen

You Were a Stranger
















Happy endings are hard to come by on the island of Lamepedusa. For one thing, even the migrants who survive the journey to this tiny island gateway to Europe have a long way to go before they reach anything that could be described as a “happy ending.” Nevertheless, there are glimmers of hope. The kiss of this young couple radiates both relief and hope. “We made it!” it exclaims. Hope—like the island of Lampedusa itself—persists in a sea of suffering.

Bible Reading: Exodus 23:9

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. God is counting on both empathy and memory to reinforce this command in Exodus 23:9: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (JPS).

God’s appeal must have had a powerful impact on the newly liberated covenant people. One wonders if it could have a similar impact on many of us.

Consider, for instance, this statistic: In the years between 1892 and 1954, approximately 12 million immigrants passed through the immigrant inspection station on Ellis Island. Were your ancestors among them? Mine were. I can’t help but wonder if my great-great-great grandparents shared a kiss of hope like the one in the picture.


  • Were your ancestors immigrants? If so, how does that affect the way you view contemporary migrants?
  • What does it feel like to be a stranger in a strange land? To what degree can empathy and memory help us engage the contemporary conversation around migrants and refugees?


  • Research your own family’s story.
  • Read more about the island of Lampedusa in this March 26, 2019 editorial: A Look from the Border.

Prayer: Forgive us for our short memories. Forgive us for our lack of empathy. Forgive us when we are quick to accept God’s grace for ourselves, but slow to show grace to others.

Rachel Weeping
















This image of a mother cradling her baby is heartbreakingly lovely—or at least it is until we realize that they are under the waves. Then it is just heartbreaking.

The tragedy that took their lives and the lives of at least 366 others took place just off the shores of the island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea on October 3, 2013. Over 500 people were crammed onto the rickety boat that caught fire and capsized that night. They were trying to escape war and poverty in places like Eritrea and Somalia.

We don’t know the names of the woman and child in Francesco Piobbichi’s picture. But he drew the picture so that we would not forget their story. Here is how he describes it in words:

On a moonless night, a boat with hundreds of passengers sank just off the coast of

Lampedusa. They asked for help but in vain. Hundreds of people perished at sea.

A baby was born at sea that night and then died without ever having seen the day

or smelled the sweet smell of land. The present sank without giving possibility for the

future to be born…” (Drawings from the Border, Claudiana, p. 21).

Bible Reading: Jeremiah 31:15 (NRSV)

“A voice is heard in Ramah,” the prophet Jeremiah writes. It is a voice of “lamentation and bitter weeping.” The matriarch, Rachel, is “weeping for her children” who have been killed or driven into exile. She “refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (Jer. 31:15).

Although the circumstances of our contemporary exiles are not precisely the same, it is hard not to hear mother Rachel weeping still. What else can one do but weep?

Believe it or not, some seek to blame the victims. “Why would a woman in the last stages of pregnancy try to cross the Mediterranean in a crowded boat? Why would she leave home in the first place?” they ask. These questions are ignorant of the desperation that drives migrants to leave their homes in the first place. They also overlook the fact that many women are raped along the way, and held for months in brutal Libyan “detention centers.”

Rachel is right. Weeping is the appropriate response. But it is not the only response. In a radio broadcast commemorating the anniversary of the October 3 event, Paolo Naso, the coordinator of Mediterranean Hope suggested that–

The only way to commemorate the victims of immigration should be the commitment

to stop this tragedy with laws and programs that allow safe and legal journeys to those

who have been fleeing war, persecution, hunger, and violence.

Weeping is natural. Blaming is inappropriate. But working for change is imperative.


  • The loss of life on October 3, 2013 is often described as a tragedy. In what ways is that word inadequate? In what sense might it better be labeled a crime?
  • Describe your response to Piobbichi’s portrait? Are you drawn to it? Repelled by it? Why? What do you think of the portrait’s nickname: The Madonna of the Mediterranean?


Prayer: Forgive us when we are tempted to look away from problems that seem too big to fix. Help us to find real ways to help. And lest we pray only for ourselves when the suffering of others is so great—stretch out your hands to comfort, to heal, and to save.

A Familiar Face








             Artwork by Francesco Piobbichi

Story: If the face in the prow of the boat looks familiar, it’s because it is that of Anne Frank. Most of us know her story. Though she died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, Anne’s words live on in a book that has since been translated into over sixty languages: The Diary of a Young Girl. Penned during the years she and her family were in hiding from the Nazis (1942-1944), Anne’s diary gives us a tender and terrifying glimpse into the soul of a young woman who ached to live in a world free of hate, persecution, and war.

What many do not know is that Anne’s father, Otto, tried desperately to get his family out of the Netherlands. His efforts were thwarted in part by the restrictive immigration policies of the United States. Anne is portrayed with a smile in this drawing, but perhaps the artist, Francesco Piobbichi, is inviting us to imagine Anne finally making her escape with others who share her hopes and dreams of a life free from hate, persecution, and war. He may also be nudging us into asking ourselves an uncomfortable question: If we care so much about Anne Frank, why don’t we care more about the lives of the other people in the boat?

Bible Reading: Hebrews 13:1-3 (NRSV)

 This passage from Hebrews urges us to “show mutual love.” It’s another way of stating Jesus’ golden rule: “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Of course, this requires both imagination and empathy—both of which seem to be in short supply sometimes. Still, if we could manage to drum up even a little bit of both, we might find it easier—and more urgent—to open our hearts and wallets to refugees. “What if I were on one of those rickety boats, trying to make my way across the Mediterranean?” we might ask. “What if I had given everything I had to purchase my passage from unscrupulous traffickers? What if I had been raped and tortured in a Libyan prison?”

If that were not sufficient motivation, the book of Hebrews points out another possibility. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” it says, “for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

When we read The Diary of Anne Frank we say to ourselves, “If only I had been there I would have tried to help her!” There is no way to know, of course, if we really would have tried. But there is a way to find out if we’re willing to help the real and present refugees that, like Anne Frank, are trying to find their way to freedom. Who knows if, in helping one of them, we might be aiding another Anne?


  • What was your reaction when you realized that it was Anne Frank in the prow of the boat?
  • Why is it so much easier to care about Anne Frank than contemporary refugees?


  • Research what’s happening with Humanitarian Corridors. This ecumenical effort seeks to provide safe passage for at least some refugees. This link to the World Council of Churches’ web-site describes the safe arrival in France of refugees from Syria and Iraq in July, 2017: Humanitarian Corridors Story
  • Read The Diary of Anne Frank or watch one of the movies, documentaries, or mini-series based on Anne’s story. As you watch, consider how you might help a contemporary refugee find a way to life and freedom.
  • Read this story from April 11, 2024 in the Washington Post about recent shipwreck in the Mediterranean.

Prayer: Forgive us, O God, for caring selectively. Forgive us for turning away from people who may not look like us, or speak like us, or worship like us. Fire our imagination; fuel our empathy. Then guide us to ways we can make a difference.

Note: Back in 2019, I wrote a series of Bible studies focused on the Bible’s consistent call to welcome the stranger. I’ve decided it’s time to revisit that series.

Musicians don’t typically offer an encore unless their audience asks for one. In this case, it’s not so much the audience that’s demanding an encore, but current events. Rhetoric has grown increasingly vicious, racist, and violent as politicians seek to stoke the fear and anger they think will get them elected. In language that sounds chillingly like the fascism of the 1930’s and 40’s, Donald Trump accuses immigrants of being sub-human and of “poisoning the blood” of America.

Just as chilling to me is the failure of so many Christians to speak out against this rhetoric and the policies that grow out of it. Many of us seem to be oblivious to the content of our own Scriptures.

And so, I offer this, the Encore Edition of the “Welcoming the Stranger” Series.

Samia’s Story









Only God knows the names of all the people who have sought the relative safety of Lampedusa’s shores. But we know the name of the woman in this picture. It is Samia Usuf Omar. She was a sprinter for Somalia in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When she returned to Somalia after competing in the Olympics, she found herself in an increasingly dangerous and restrictive situation. So, in October of 2010 she began the journey she hoped would take her to Europe, a new coach, and a chance at the 2012 Olympics.  In October of 2012 her overcrowded boat ran out of gas. She drowned within sight of the rescue boat. The only reason we know about her is because another Samali athlete, gold medalist Abdi Bile, told her story.

Bible Reading: Ruth 4:11-18 (NRSV)

Ruth was a refugee. She fled famine with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and struggled to find acceptance in Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem. As a foreigner, a widow, and a recent convert to her mother-in-law’s faith, Ruth exists on the margins of the community of which she longs to become a part.  In this passage from the end of the book that bears her name, we see the community finally returning her embrace. Instead of “Ruth, the Moabite,” she is here named with the matriarchs, Rachel and Leah. In the genealogies that follow, we realize that she is the great-grandmother of King David.

Ruth’s story reminds us that “foreigners” have had a crucial role to play in God’s story of salvation. It prompts us to remember that every refugee has a name and a story that is known to God even if it is not known to us. It makes us wonder about how the gifts and hopes of those who have died might have changed our world for the better. Finally, it nudges us to open our hearts, our minds, and our homes to people who we perceive to be different from ourselves.


  • How does knowing that Samia’s name and story affect your image of what it means to be a refugee?
  • How might our response to the refugee crisis change if we knew the names and stories of the people involved?


Prayer: Gracious God, to you all your children by name. We lift before you all the people who risk their lives to find safety on distant shores. Even if they are anonymous to us, they are known and loved by you. We pray, especially, that Samia’s story may inspire others. May it help us to revise our assumptions and check our stereotypes. Comfort all those who grieve for those the world has forgotten, but whose love and legacy will always be a part of those they have left behind.

Note: Back in 2019, I wrote a series of Bible studies focused on the Bible’s consistent call to welcome the stranger. I’ve decided it’s time to revisit that series.

Musicians don’t typically offer an encore unless their audience asks for one. In this case, it’s not so much the audience that’s demanding an encore, but current events. Rhetoric has grown increasingly vicious, racist, and violent as politicians seek to stoke the fear and anger they think will get them elected. In language that sounds chillingly like the fascism of the 1930’s and 40’s, Donald Trump accuses immigrants of being sub-human and of “poisoning the blood” of America.

Just as chilling to me is the failure of so many Christians to speak out against this rhetoric and the policies that grow out of it. Many of us seem to be oblivious to the content of our own Scriptures.

And so, I offer this, the Encore Edition of the “Welcoming the Stranger” Series.

Welcoming the Stranger Series-Encore Edition








            Drawing by Francesco Piobbichi

Read: Matthew 25:31-40

…for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35, NRSV).

Back in 2019, I wrote a series of Bible studies focused on the Bible’s consistent call to welcome the stranger. I’ve decided it’s time to revisit that series.

Musicians don’t typically offer an encore unless their audience asks for one. In this case, it’s not so much the audience that’s demanding an encore, but current events. Rhetoric has grown increasingly vicious, racist, and violent as politicians seek to stoke the fear and anger they think will get them elected. In language that sounds chillingly like the fascism of the 1930’s and 40’s, Donald Trump accuses immigrants of being sub-human and of “poisoning the blood” of America.

Just as chilling to me is the failure of so many Christians to speak out against this rhetoric and the policies that grow out of it. Many of us seem to be oblivious to the content of our own Scriptures.

And so, I offer this, the Encore Edition of the “Welcoming the Stranger” Series.

Joseph Stalin is said to have observed that “a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.” One doesn’t have to approve of Stalin to recognize his point. And it may have something to do with our insensitivity to the very human faces of immigrants and refugees. Overwhelmed by statistics (for example, it’s estimated that the civil war in Sudan has created over 8 million refugees), we become numb to the very human tragedies that would allow us to recognize the face of Jesus in these “strangers.”

That’s why I decided to focus on one person’s story for each of the reflections in this series. The stories are true and are brought vividly to life by Italian artist and relief worker, Francesco Piobbichi. While the “border” in these stories is the Mediterranean Sea, the themes of desperation and hope apply to people everywhere who leave their homes in search of safety and a better life.

Each reflection features a story, a drawing, Scripture, prayer, discussion questions, and

action prompts. I pray that they awaken in you a deeper sense of why “welcoming the stranger” is not only central to the Christian faith but incumbent upon those of us who profess to be Christians.


  • Why do you think there is so much hostility toward immigrants and refugees even among Christians?
  • Where in the world do you see Jesus in the faces of “strangers”?


Prayer: Give us the courage to see beyond statistics. Show us how to welcome others as you have welcomed us.