It's taken me a really long time to be able to write about this topic. So long, in fact, that I guess it's kind of once again made it's way out of the focus of, at least, American media. That doesn't make the topic any less poignant, or the needs any less intense. The thing is, this crisis has been going on for years. Three and a half years ago, I posted THIS post in a meager effort to raise awareness. Then a few months later, frustrated by the lack of response, I tried THIS one. I do realize that I'm not a major voice in the blogosphere but I found myself marveling at the lack of response of the western world to this mega-crisis when other crises pull on our heartstrings so easily...
The Syrian refugee crisis in particular was the topic of much social media attention back in the fall with the images of the drowned toddler on the beach which, of course, created an onslaught of social media sympathy and cries for the world to DO SOMETHING. This was followed a few months later by the Paris attacks which created a different type of social media uproar mostly directed at Syrian refugees, at least, so it seemed in my opinion. I sat back and watched with much sadness as the cries came out to "keep the terrorists out of America". Cries, in my opinion, that are driven by fear of what is not known. The cries of outrage at the desperation experienced by these people fleeing their homes, took a bit of a turn to say the least. Of course, we don't want the innocent to suffer, but maybe we don't want them on our doorstep either. At least that seemed to be the very clear message being expressed as I scrolled through my newsfeed. To say that all Middle Easterners, all Syrians, are terrorists is as completely ridiculous as, well, I'm not going to go there.
And to be clear, this post is not meant as a political plug for any type of policy- foreign or otherwise. I am not making a political statement. That's part of why I've hesitated for so long to write anything. Please don't take this for anything other than what it is. And that is, a statement from someone who loves Jesus and wants to see Him lifted up on the worldwide response to one of the biggest tragedies of our day. I simply want to offer the perspective of an American living in the Middle East. I want to offer the perspective of someone with Syrian friends, someone who regularly talks with Middle Easterners and hears their heartache and feels their pain. I would venture to guess that many of those who are crying out to close our American borders and "keep our streets safe" have had less than one conversation with a Syrian refugee. And here's something that may shock American friends who think that all of these suffering folks are clamoring to get across our borders.... most of them don't want to come to America. They simply want to go home. They love their country of Syria and they want to return. However, at this point, they cannot. Many of them have fled with only the clothes on their backs to avoid unspeakable atrocities at the hands of those we could all agree would be called terrorists. The people fleeing are not the terrorists. What would you choose when your choices were either THIS or THIS?
And let's be real (although this is a subject for another post on another day), if you, as a resident of Memphis, TN, (for example) ask me if I feel safe living in the Middle East, I am likely going to turn that question back on you. And not just Memphis- Anytown, USA. Safety is a relative term and if you are looking to find a safe place to live in this depraved world, you are going to just have to stop looking. My very wise husband has said several times that it seems we are much more concerned in this day and age with the earthly life of the saved (our comfort, safety etc) than the eternal life of the lost. That hurts a little, huh? I really don't mean to be preachy! These are things I often have to remind myself of as I have been just as guilty as the next person of allowing myself to be crippled by fear when it comes to reaching out to a hurting world. We fear what is different. We fear what is unknown. But, if you are a believer in Jesus, we are all called to love in spite of our fear. Because, after all, "perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18)
And let me just park there for a minute. These are words I so need to hear- not just a part of that passage, but the whole thing.
1 John 4:7-21
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his son to be Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives our fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, shoe he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also hove his brother."
When I think of the sacrifice that Christ made for us along with the love He calls us to, I can't help but have a sense of my depravity and fall on my face in thankfulness for what He has done for me. No one is deserving of God's love but He offers it freely. That is grace. The type of love that He calls us to, is not meant to have a bit of selfishness in it!
Religiously speaking, I can't for a minute begin to think that I am somehow worthy of the sacrifice God made for me. I can't help but also think of this in terms of what we begin to think that we deserve or don't deserve here in this life. How can we think that we, as Americans, or any nationality for that matter, are somehow more deserving of a comfortable, riches filled life that those born into less than fortunate circumstances? Jesus himself said, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."(Matthew 10:34) Persecution and hardship are very real parts of following Christ!
For a minute, take the politics out of the whole refugee scenario. Whether or not you agree with opening our borders, face the reality of how you will respond if your neighbor becomes a Middle Eastern refugee. Will you respond in love? Will you open your home?
This point was really driven home for me recently. I had the beautiful privilege of being invited into the home of some Syrian refugee friends. I met them briefly at a medical clinic and as a result was invited to their home along with several other friends. Let me re-iterate. I met them once. They did not know me, my background, my religious or political affiliations and they did not care. It is an ingrain part of Middle Eastern culture to offer hospitality and that is exactly what they did. From the very little that they have as refugees in a country that is not their own, they opened their doors and invited us in. They prepared a beautiful meal and told us their story as they asked to hear ours.
They joyfully shared an abundance from the very little they had.
We laughed together and cried together. I wept thinking of this sweet mother of 5 (4 girls and a boy) whose children didn't sleep for months even after arriving here because they would shake in fear at the sound of an airplane for fear that bombs would start falling. Yes, they have family in neighboring countries where they could go, but that is not their desire. All they desire is to return home to Syria, their home that is being destroyed. But in the meantime, while they cannot do that, they do what they know. They reach out and make new friends. They offer hospitality to those they don't know and likely don't understand because that is a part of their cultural DNA.
The reality is Scripture overflows with references of God being our refuge. Our "ever-present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:10), "my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" (Psalm 91:2), "a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." (Psalm 9:9), "my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." (Psalm 18:2). Doesn't that make us all refugees? Those seeking a safe place, a haven in times of trouble? This world is not our home and we can so easily miss that when our focus is our personal safety instead of the eternity of those who don't know the name of Jesus.
I hope you are challenged by these things as I have been. I hope you will not make judgements about an entire group of people based on the actions of a few. I hope you will see them through the eyes of Christ and pray for compassion.
If you know me, you know how much I love music and the way that lyrics to songs can speak so beautifully into life's circumstances. Ever since David Crowder released the song "Come As You Are" several years ago, I cannot listen to it without thinking of the Syrian refugee crisis, or really, any refugee crisis, but that is the one that hits closest to home for me.
I'll close with a link to this song. Hear these lyrics with a heart of compassion for refugees. Realizing, that at our heart of hearts, that is what we all are: people in search of refuge- safety and shelter. And that can only truly be found in the arms of our Saviour.
"Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal"
HERE is the link to what is, in my mind, the refugee song.