WHAT IF YOU HAD ONE HOUR?
I asked this question recently of a couple thousand people…it definitely makes you think!
Let’s imagine that while you are reading this blog; someone knocks loudly on your door, and tells you that you have ONE HOUR to get whatever you want out of your home; get your family, possessions, pets, and leave! To further highten this dramatic moment, let’s say the person is dressed in military attire, carrying an assault rifle.
REFUGEE. It’s a word filled with meaning. It is an unwanted identity that is synonymous with “Life as you know it is ruined.”
Add to your chaotic exit that you may or may not be able to drive your vehicle. There certainly won’t be any open gas stations, and forget stopping by your closed bank and now inoperable ATM. This would be unlike any trip you’ve taken, and likely…a one-way journey to destinations unknown, and largely unfriendly. When you arrive, most people will be unhappy, even angry, that you are there.
I had a conversation with Richard Stearns (head of World Vision) several months ago. He said this is what MILLIONS of citizens across the Middle East have experienced. Over coffee and desserts, he told a small group of us clustered around a high top table about Syrians who have been forced to flee their homes, and who are now living in designated refugee camps, or simply scavenging on vacant land.
Most refugees were “everyday people” living normal lives. Richard told of countless Syrians in refugee camps…with a key. The last thing many people did when they packed up and left in a panic, was lock the door to their three bedroom home, in the hopes of returning. In unknowing futility they hold on to their house-key, longing to return…to go home. Little do they know their homes are now rubble, wreckage of an enduring civil war.
The refugee crisis is at epic proportions, and it isn’t going away any time soon. Seasoned relief workers I’ve spoken with in Europe and the Middle East ask, almost dumbfounded, “Where is the rest of the world?” One cited her experience during the Kosovo crisis; “It seemed like everyone from the U.N. to various governments, to relief agencies and the church were involved in the Kosovo crisis; but here, now…for millions of displaced Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians…comparatively speaking, it’s like the world doesn’t care.”
Typical estimates place the number of Syrian refugees at over 12.5 MILLION people. About 6.4 million are trying to live somewhere inside of Syria, but over 5.4 million are now in foreign, largely unwelcoming lands. The majority of Syrian refugees are temporarily surviving in neighboring Middle Eastern countries (Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, even Iraq and Northern Africa.)
Tragically (brace yourself) over 8.4 MILLION of these refugees are children! Wow. Imagine the children in your family, your neighborhood, your church; living in fear of displacement, violence, starvation, neglect, abuse and even death. For the 1 Million refugees who have fled across Europe in the past year, 100,000 are unaccompanied minors.
Unfortunately, we in the United States have our understanding shaped almost entirely by news agencies motivated to draw an audience. We primarily see refugees as threats to safety, civility, and our way of life. While this may be true of a small percentage, most are innocent men, women and children; they are teachers, business people, laborers, shop owners, students, homemakers and senior citizens, and they are desperate.
When it comes to immigration policy toward foreigners, that is for our government leaders to address national safety in our changing and increasingly dangerous world. It is likewise the responsibility of elected and military officials to mount strategies to come against threats, both foreign and domestic, traditional and terrorist in nature.
However…It falls to the church, to Christians, to address the need for compassion. How can we mute our ears to the words of Jesus who said “I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, a stranger and you took me in?” (Matthew 25: 34-36.) To those who say, “Yes, but…we must be wise to the accompanying threat of terrorism that is dangerously embedded in this crisis!”
True, wisdom in this crisis is needed, but military safety does not preclude the call for caring. The Apostle Paul counters our passivity in Romans 12:20 where he challenges us, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” Never underestimate the power of Christian compassion. Acts 7:58-9:6 recounts the story of a terrorist who imprisoned, abused and killed Christians on behalf of his religion. Church history shows how this young terrorist experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ, and changed his name (and his terrorist ways) from Saul to Paul.
The correct, long term solutions to the current crisis are complicated and still unknown. The immediate and obvious responses for Christians are to support compassion at the point of need! Find those doing relief work who are currently deployed across the Middle East, or Europe and support them. Likewise, support their work financially in the hopes that refugees (many of whom are of Muslim faith and have never even seen a Christian) will experience first-hand, the love of Christ.
It is easy to be immobilized by fear, by the media, and by a crisis halfway across the world. Get “unstuck” and resolve to do something substantive to provide basic Christian Compassion for those who Jesus might refer to as “the least of these.”