By Norris Burkes Feb 28, 2016

In these days of political debate, it seems as though we’re being constantly bombarded with the xenophobic fear that there’s a terrorist hiding in every boatload of Syrian refugees.
In response to that fear, World Vision of Canada produced a touching video depicting Canadian children using several languages – French, Spanish and Arabic – to welcome Syrian children to Canada.

“It’s a very nice place here. There’s no war, you can go to school safely,” says one doe-eyed girl.

“There’s food, there’s toys, there’s clothing; there’s everything you need here,” says another girl.

The children seem to instinctively appreciate that we’re all born with the same hopes and dreams. It’s the lesson I saw illustrated so well one day while working as the pediatric chaplain at Sacramento’s Sutter Medical Center in 2006.

That was the day I went to the Neonatal ICU to comfort two families whose children were born prematurely. I met them both as they stood about ten feet apart in a glass room set aside for grieving parents. In this sacred space, the staff had carefully wrapped these babies in homemade blankets and placed them into the aching arms of their mothers.

I quickly learned that one family was Muslim and the other was Christian. The Muslim child was delivered in the driveway of our emergency room three days earlier. The Christian child had emerged 10 weeks premature with a lung problem.

Now, they were both leaving their new world on the same day.

I shuffled between the families, trying to meet their needs. The Muslim family sought comfort from their religious leader, an imam. The Christian family looked for solace from a blessing of the child.

Within view of both families, I opened a bottle of sterile water and placed a drop on the forehead of the Christian child and asked God to “… bless this child in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Across the room, the Muslim parents softly read the prayers from the Koran.

The mothers occasionally exchanged knowing looks, while both poured their sobbing grief into the shoulders of their husbands.

While the families were dressed a bit differently, they were astonishingly similar. Both expressed the same grief. I saw both mothers cry. I saw both fathers cry. Both families looked toward the future and saw it gone – no childhood, no graduations, no weddings.

In the next few hours, our staff presented mementos to the parents of inked footprints and handprints. The prints illustrated the eternal path the two children would now walk hand-in-hand. Each child was equally created and loved by God. They were born the same and they died the same.

It’s often said that death is the great common denominator, but that sentiment sorely misses what I saw in the NICU that day.

I think birth is the greatest common denominator. Birth is the point at which we all begin the same. The problem comes somewhere between birth and death, when we begin to claim that our nation, our skin color, our religion or our political party makes us better than others.

Contrast those ethnocentric sentiments with the sympathetic Canadian teenager in the World Vision video. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through,” he says to his Syrian counterparts, “but I hope you really like it here in Canada.”

He’s right. Just like the families in the NICU, we can’t imagine what the Syrian families have been through. But, as people created in the image of God, we must try to imagine. See the video at

– Write Norris at or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715. Norris Burkes will be coming to Florida during the first ten days in March. During those weekends, he is available for public speeches, church retreats, marriage seminars, worship services, university or private high school chapels, in-service for healthcare and hospice, and veterans’ events. If you would like to host Norris at your event, please email