Gifts of Kindness {Book Club}

Think with me about a painful season in your life. An experience that left you reeling, a disappointment or dream that died. Days or weeks that stretched on with challenges and sorrow.

In the midst of the heartache or burdens that weighed heavy, can you see the gifts?

The section this week of our book, Butterfly by Yusra Mardini, takes us along on the journey of Yusra and her sister as they try to leave Syria and get to Germany. From a plane to Istanbul, bus rides, and then the harrowing boat ride to Greece, Yusra shares so many details about the waiting, the questions, and the challenges.

I can’t imagine the fear, the physical toll the journey took on her and those with whom she traveled. Food was often scarce and sleeping involved the hard ground and maybe a sleeping bag. They questioned who they could trust and what decision was the best. This group was not the first to try and get to Europe, so they knew the stories of hardship and even death for those who had gone before.

In the midst of it all, though, I was struck over and over again by the gifts in this section. There were moments of kindness from many different people all along the way. When the group was waiting for the right time to board a small boat, strangers become friends and provided protection and companionship for Yusra and her sister.

After their group made it to Greece, barely surviving the ride after the boat suffered engine failure, a young girl sees Yusra’s bare feet and Mustafa’s wet clothes and gives them a sweatshirt and tennis shoes, along with glasses of water. Their conversation is limited, yet I couldn’t help but smile at such a generous gift of kindness.

When restaurant owners turned them away, probably overwhelmed by the need day after day, the group finds food and kindness from a woman who not only helps fill their stomachs but tells them about a place to stay the night. She also allows them to charge their cell phones (a need I hadn’t even thought about, but so important!).

The new-found friends wait for each other, give advice or share information they have acquired. In the midst of the hunger and fear and danger, there is kindness and care and compassion.

In many ways, the experience of Yusra and her sister is unique because of the funds they were able to bring with them. I know not all who leave their homes in search of safety and a future have the options that Yusra and her group did.

What were some of the gifts you saw in this section? What else struck you?

We will continue reading about Yusra’s journey next week!

July 20- Chapters 13-17

July 27- Chapters 18-22, Conclusion


  1. Michelle July 13, 2021

    Sarah, I love you how highlighted the small gifts and kindnesses along the way. It makes me think of my mom and how she has quoted Phil 4:8 and the “whatevers”. My paraphrasing: Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praise-worthy, think about these things.” As we fix our thoughts on that which we can be thankful for, it starts getting easier and easier to have a heart of gratitude in even the hardest times.

    We had yet another tragic loss in our ministry this week. And yet I’m already asking the Lord to use this painful testimony to bring something good. That the loss will not be in vain, and that not only healing, but growth may come out of death. Thank you for the reminder to look for the gifts in the hard.

    I’m really appreciating the humanizing of refugees through this story. Yusra helps highlight that there isn’t one specific “refugee stereotype”. And she emphasizes the process of trying to do things the right way. Making sure that when there can be papers stamped and approved, that that’s what they do. She makes it clear that there are not a lot of options for leaving. It makes me think of the common argument “We just want them to come through the immigration system the right way. To be legal.” As hard as Yusra’s group works to “be legal” there are still parts of their journey that are not exactly sanctioned and approved. And yet, what other options do they have in some of their situations? Looking forward to diving into the next section!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann July 13, 2021

      Michelle, these are great thoughts! I’m so sorry for you and those in your ministry who are having to go through another loss. Seeing God’s goodness in the midst of heartbreak doesn’t take away the pain or grief. I think it can shift our perspective though, and I know it helps me hold on to hope in the hard things.

  2. Bayta Schwarz July 13, 2021

    Gosh, I remember seeing so many reports about the different places Yusra and the others pass through on the news back in 2015 or so. It was harrowing then but hearing this first-hand account makes it even more so. All those decisions needing to be made with so little knowledge or time to think about them but potentially huge consequences.
    I was also struck by the kindness and generosity of some of the local people. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to have so many people arrive on your little island, inadvertently destroying much of the local industry (tourism). So amazing when people are able to keep a sift heart in the midst of it all.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann July 14, 2021

      Bayta, that’s so true, it’s one thing to read in the news or hear stories but powerful to read about each step of Yusra’s story. One thing that surprised me was all the waiting (which might come in more in the next chapters). 🙂 It wasn’t always straightforward and I’m not sure I would have known how to find out information or what to do next.

  3. Bayta Schwarz July 14, 2021

    I know! They were incredibly resourceful.

  4. Rachel Kahindi July 16, 2021

    The journey is so stressful! One step at a time, and every step can go wrong in a hundred different ways. I loved the way the people in her group stuck together and became like family.

  5. Deanne July 20, 2021

    I remember we were traveling through Europe that summer, from a wedding in France to a conference in Austria and then on to Germany. We were just ahead of the huge influx of refugees from Hungary to Austria. I remember thinking how simple it was for us to pass across borders from country to country and how difficult for them. Also remembering some of the inane comments (like why would refugees have cell phones and worrying about terrorists among the refugees). These people were the lucky ones with funds and a network to help them through.

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