Currently, there are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world with 21.3 million of those people being refugees. Refugees are those who have fled their country for fear of their safety because of war, threats of persecution, or natural disasters. While refugees come from all over the world, fleeing their country for one reason or another, 51% of refugees come from Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan combined. Most refugees flee to collar countries that are in equally fragile states. Turkey has taken on the hosting of the most refugees with a whopping 2.9 million people. Turkey wasn’t in that great of shape in the first place and Syrians and the Turks don’t usually get along that well. But nonetheless, they saw a need and they are filling it. Lebanon does not have one community that isn’t dealing with the refugee crisis, and most of the Middle East is in fragments as it deals with all of the displaced people and the war. With Europe being relatively close to the Middle East, they have taken on quite a chunk of the people fleeing their countries, as well. The UNHCR weekly report of Europe reported that in the week of December 12 alone, Italy received 4,225 refugees and the Greek island had 478 displaced people arrive by boats.
Now, the war in Syria is in its sixth year and things are changing very quickly, but on top of that, the average refugee will remain displaced for 17 years before they find a permanent residence. So even if there is suddenly a peaceful resolution to the war that is going on in the Middle East, there are still going to be millions of displaced people 17 years from now. Regardless of how involved we are in this war, or who is doing what, if the fighting miraculously stopped, there would still be a lot to do.
It pains me to hear conversations about refugees among American Christians be centered around the question of if we should let “them” into our country. This is not where a divide should be. This shouldn’t even be brought up as an issue. Conversations about refugees should start with “So how are we going to help? How many people can you take?” Not, “What are your thoughts on letting refugees into our country?”
We are acting on this crisis out of fear and not out of love. If we were acting out of love, this situation would be tremendously different. Lives would be changed, people would be saved, the world would see Christians in an entirely different light. Can you imagine what we would look like to the rest of the world if we just jumped right in without apprehension? If the rest of the world saw us diving in and helping without fear or reservations, they would see us as the hands and feet of Jesus, as we should be. They would look at us and go, “ I want to be part of that.” My friend Cody said the other day, “Christianity is so hard to sell with words. If I just knew about it from what people said, I would not be a Christian. You can’t sell Christ with words.” Damn straight. Let’s look at the church as a triage center and see how many people we can serve. I love what Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Christ would handle this out of love.
Instead, the majority of us are dealing with this out of fear. First of all, fear is a sin. To quote the chaplain of Serve Seattle, Kyle Reynolds, “We judge the sins we are likely to commit less harshly than those we would never make.” So if we’re going to go on about how your neighbor is having an affair or how my coworker has been lying on their work hours, we may want to take a look at how we feel about refugees entering our country. We are scared to let refugees into our country because we are scared of what would happen. When debating whether welcome the refugees or not, the latter usually argues terrorism. This a fear most have, but I don’t think we are quite addressing the true fear that is there.
The fear of the unknown. The fear of having to give up some of our comforts, like our million dollar church buildings being set up as encampments, for the sake of other people. The fear of seeing things in real life we would rather just watch through our tv screen. Fears surrounding financial stability and cultural clashing. Prejudice; Having to figure out how to live alongside people who are not like ourselves. Heaven forbid we may not speak the same language as each other and will have to do the best we can to understand one another.
I think a lot of times the argument of terrorism is used as a cop-out. If we didn’t have terrorism to blame for this moral failing, we would certainly find another reason to not help them. We are using our fears of terrorism as an excuse, and it’s unacceptable. We have dehumanized people who are stuck in this crisis by screaming terrorist when anyone brings up the issue of refugees.
The U.S. has taken on 10,000 Syrian refugees in total since this whole thing began. The vetting process for each refugee is extensive – a 2 ½ year process. “The most rigorous screening of any traveler in the U.S.” There have been no acts of terrorism by Syrian refugees in the United States. Since 9/11, there have been 784,000 refugee resettlements in the U.S. and only 3 people have been charged with plotting acts of terrorism.
I was listening to talk by a man who works for World Vision a few weeks ago. He had some great insight to the “issue” of radicalizing refugee children. He brought up the point that the 50% of refugees are children. Right now these kids are deciding what they believe about life. What are they going to believe? Who are they going to follow? They’re going to follow whoever gives them food. Whoever gives them shelter and clothes and shows them love. Shouldn’t that be the church? Shouldn’t we be using this opportunity and showing these children what Jesus looks like? By the church, I mean not just the people who meet in the building on Sunday morning. I mean us as individuals, every day.
My heart hurts. It hurts for the refugees that have lost their homes, their livelihood, their family members. It breaks for the 33 million children who have nothing right now. The kids who see the world as a dark place because that is all they know and all they will know for the next 17 years. The children who are going to have to grow up in this – without education, without food or shelter most of the time, without even a country to call home.
My heart hurts for all of those things and all of those people, but it also hurts for the church. For the people who love Jesus but do not act on that love. When I look at western Christianity, I can’t believe this is what we are considering acceptable. This dry, shallow version of this amazing thing we have in front of us. If faith, without works, is dead, then what do we even have? I am baffled by the fact that this could even be a touchy subject among us, that we are not bringing this up every Sunday. We should be looking at this as an opportunity, with an urgent attitude. Not something we read about and say a quick prayer for, but look at it for what it is – a crisis. We should be in a panic over this, searching for where we can help and what we can do. Our brothers and sisters are dying. They don’t have a home. They don’t have a country. Wouldn’t you look to your fellow humans if this was you? If the U.S. was in this sort of crisis, wouldn’t we be looking to other countries? If nothing else, wouldn’t we turn to other Christians who so clearly have more?
Please, consider this a test of your humanness. Don’t let this become something that we look back and are ashamed of because we did nothing. Lay down your protesting signs, step off of your soapbox, and grab a shovel and maybe some MREs. We have a lot of work to do.
Your safety is less at risk than your humanity.