The Picture of little 3yr old Aylan Kurdi’s body laying motionless in the surf, washed up on a beach in Turkey has finally brought the one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our lifetime to the front of the American consciousness. Many people are just learning that in the past 3 ½ years more than 11 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes due to civil war and the rise of ISIS. Over 4 million have become refugees, mostly in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Many, Like Aylan’s family, have risked life and limb in the open seas of the Mediterranean in hopes of making a better life in Europe. Thousands have died trying.
The situation for those who have sought refuge in neighboring countries is terribly disheartening. Whether it is an extended family of 12 living in a one-room rented space, multiple families sharing one small apartment or a young widow and her children living in a tent inside a refugee camp, life is difficult and seems hopeless. These people have left jobs, homes, friends and family— taking only what they could carry. Now with no ability to work they rely on the kindness and generosity of others. Just recently the aid they were receiving from the UN was cut in half, and there simply aren’t enough resources to go around.
Since the picture of Aylan went viral a couple weeks ago, I have been approached by numerous people who want to do something. This got me thinking, “as Christians how should we respond to the tragedy of this little boy’s death, and more importantly, how should we respond to the plight of the Syrian people.”
First we need to pray! Pray for the father who lost, not only one, but both his sons and his wife. Pray that God would reveal himself in the midst of unimaginable grief. Pray for the people of Syria, the more than 11 million who have left everything behind to escape war and death. Pray that God would stir the hearts of his people to action, perhaps even you.
- Be Moved.
It is much too easy to ignore the suffering of millions of people halfway around the world, especially people who don’t look like us and don’t act like us. In the Bible we read over and over again that Jesus had compassion on people. We need to be people of compassion and recognize that just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean that we get to ignore it.
- Don’t Be Afraid
It is disheartening to see how some Christians have responded to the refugee crisis. I can’t tell you how many posts I have seen about the dangers of letting Muslim refugees into our country. Claims that they are all terrorists trying to take over our country, that they will rape our women and kill our children, or that this is all part of some grand Islamic plan to take over the world. There is a disheartening trend of Christians responding with fear and spreading it to others with malicious, hateful, Muslim-bashing comments and posts.
As Christians this kind of response is not an option. More than 100 times, the Bible tells us in one form or another “do not be afraid.” Jesus tells us that we are to love our enemies and pray for them. Somehow, too many of us have embraced safety and security as higher values than love and service. This is not the way of Jesus, he didn’t overcome evil and hate with walls and barriers, he overcame evil with costly self-sacrificial love and died for his enemies on a Roman Cross. Yes, Christian you were one of the enemies he died for (Romans 5:6-11.) (for more on this topic see Ryan Dueck’s blog post from 9/16/15)
Every year there are about 70,000 refugees admitted into the United states from all over the world. About 4000 of those are resettled in Houston (The largest receptor of Refugees in the US.) Most of these people have suffered in ways that you and I cannot comprehend, they come to our country in need of hope and friendship. At Urban Catalyst we provide hope and friendship to hundreds of refugees each year through our English classes. We have plenty of opportunities for volunteers, and if our program is not a great fit we can direct you to one of many resettlement agencies that provide help to refugees. We also partner with organizations serving refugees overseas (right now we are working with Syrian refugees in Jordan.) We do have a limited number of opportunities to serve Syrian Refugees overseas. If you are interested in serving refugees here in Houston or on a short-term trip please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The needs of refugees are great, when they arrive in this country they are expected to be self-sufficient in about 3 months. They have many needs including jobs, furniture, (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a refugee’s home and been given the honor of a chair while most of the family sits on the floor of a nearly empty apartment.) transportation, help learning English as well as help navigating the complex systems in a foreign culture. The resettlement agencies do what they can but they can’t do it all. At Urban Catalyst we provide help to refugees in Houston and overseas. If you would like to help us help these refugees you can give here)
Whatever you do, do something and bring others along with you. Share the needs of Urban Catalyst and other organizations that are trying to provide assistance to refugees in Houston and around the world. Enlist people in your small group or Sunday school class to serve and befriend refugees along side you. Get to know a refugee family, I promise it won’t be easy, but it will change you and you’ll be the better for it. The only way that we are truly going to make a difference is through the same self-sacrificial love that Jesus modeled on the cross!