Responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis
Until yesterday, I had successfully managed to not see the viral picture of the little Syrian boy, Aylan, anywhere on social media. Every time I even saw a hint of what might be an article with a picture I would quickly skim over it. I knew my heart couldn’t take it. But yesterday, my eyes inadvertently settled on the picture, and I immediately burst into tears. I couldn’t help it. You would have to be a very stoic individual to not be moved by the sight of a small child lying face down in the surf and sand, obviously dead. I couldn’t quiet the sobs as I buried my face in my arm and wept. Maybe it’s because I have two boys myself, one not much younger than little Aylan. Maybe it’s because I almost drowned as a child, and one of my biggest fears is that happening to my own sons. Or maybe it’s that as a parent, I can’t even imagine the type of horror his parents must have felt as they lost him into the Mediterranean, not seeing him again until his picture is plastered all over the internet. Whatever the reason, I continued to weep as I read article after article about the ongoing Syrian conflict and the masses of refugees now flooding into Europe. It’s truly a crisis, one that is called the worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have read social comments by Christians and non-Christians alike, and some of them disturbed me. Now that I’ve actually had the courage (or maybe not courage, since I had avoided it for so long) to read about the issues, the comments I’ve read are that much more disturbing.
I have read multiple Christians make this comment: “We need to watch out for our own. It’s a terrible situation, but America shouldn’t get involved.” Or how about this: “We have enough trouble keeping the Mexican border under control. Syria needs to take care of their own people.” And my favorite (read that in the most facetious voice possible): “We can’t let that many Muslims into our country, or into Europe. It will cause huge issues and cause a threat to Christianity.”
Let me say this in the most non-judgmental way I can. Christians, we cannot say and believe these things. It is not like Christ. It is not the way of the man from Nazareth who left everything he had in heaven to come down and accept us as we were: sinners and wanderers, foreigner and aliens in a strange country with no way of finding help on our own.
Can you imagine if Christ’s attitude had been one of “they need to take care of themselves”? If his solution to the problem had been to round us up and place us behind barbed wire fences, set armed guards around us, and throw food and water over the fence to us like animals, while he tried to come up with a solution to the “refugee problem”? Far be it from Christian men and women to think this way, act this way, and spout opinions all over the Internet that one day our children will find and say, “I am ashamed.” Christians have been on the wrong side of history before (insert examples here like slavery, the Crusades and the witch hunts. No, I’m not going to build bridges.) It’s not too late for us to be on the right side this time: the side that actually lives out the commands of Christ to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and tend the sick, whether they belong to our country or not. Remember Matthew 25? Jesus has no qualms about calling out those who offer no such assistance to those in need. In fact, they are cast into hell because they weren’t truly his followers. Read it for yourself. Matthew 25:41-46: 41
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Brothers and sisters, will you join with me and minister in what ways we can to those in our midst who are refugees themselves? Whatever city you live in, whatever country you are from, there are programs to assist “the least of these.” We all were once aliens, strangers, and foreigners, and our God opened up his arms and brought us in. He sent His Son to not just open up his arms in welcome, but to spread them out to die for the sins of his people, which include not just the Jews but also the Gentiles. He has a vested interest in the outcast, the destitute, and the starving. We the church are His hands and feet. We are the ones who can not only bring practical aid, but spiritual aid to lost, dying, confused people who are displaced from their homeland and searching for refuge.
Their god has failed them. Ours never will. Their god gives them no assurance they can ever be in his good graces. Ours gives them everlasting assurance, stamped with his seal of approval on the resurrection of the man from Galilee who walked on this earth, embraced the prodigal, loved on children like Aylan, wept over his stubborn people who refused him, and now stands at the throne of grace interceding for us. So let’s pray, church. Pray about how we can help. Some of us might give money. Some of us might sponsor a refugee family. Some of us might buy a plane ticket to Greece, or Hungary. Whatever God is calling you to do, do it. And please, let’s stop with this, “We need to take care of our own” nonsense. Jesus says the opposite. The Gospel of Christ is not concerned at all with who is "our own" because the Gospel of Christ is designed to break down barriers, not build them up. To the extent that “Our own” is even a biblical concept, it certainly includes all those that God places in front of us, including those not of our race, religion, or gender.
It includes those like Aylan.
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