Refugees... Lord, what can I do?
In early September 2015, TV channels reported the huge numbers of refugees, mainly from Syria, heading to Europe. On Sunday morning, September 6, 2015, I was doing my morning exercises while watching the TV reports about the refugees and wondered: Lord, what can I do? It was overwhelming.
The Devil – the accuser – comes in to discourage us by pointing the finger at us and making us feel worthless as servants of Christ. In contrast, the Holy Spirit – the encourager and enabler – uses this same TV footage of the endless line of refugees to stretch our faith and to expand our love. The photo of the three-year-old Syrian boy – who drowned along with his older brother and mother as they were heading to Europe – lying on the shores of Turkey, is gut wrenching. All of us can identify with that because all of us have children or grandchildren or friends with children close to that age. Lord, what can we do? Lord, what can I do?
That Sunday morning during the church service, I could not concentrate on the sermon or the words of the hymns because I was very much preoccupied. Then an idea came to mind. What if I use one of my gifts and facilitate a connection between those who would like to give and those who are strategically positioned in the Middle East and Africa and are already reaching out to refugees. So right then, I decided to do something about it.
In October of every year I send out our annual Raising Funds letter to a few people who have supported our ministry year in and year out for a long time. The thought came to mind that perhaps I should add another category to my letter and raise some finances for the refugees. Then another idea came to mind: What if I open up this opportunity to others instead of just the few who receive our annual letter? So on that very day I wrote a newsletter and shared my concerns and about the opportunity to give toward refugee ministries.
Recently, couple of thoughts came to mind:
1. Germany has taken a huge number of refugees, and I hope that the refugees in Germany and in other Western nations will not hurt themselves and their reputations. With the critical mass that was created by the multitudes of refugees entering Hungary, they attracted the attention of the mass media and the world. I hope these refugees will enter the host nations with humility and an appreciation of grace. I hope they quickly work hard to assimilate in their new homelands. If they do not do that, they will end up living in ghettos for many years to come, and they will be hated by the mainstream.
2. Russian media are recalling the late Libyan leader Mu'amar Gaddafi’s gloom prophecy made several months before his violent death. "Now listen you, people of NATO. You’re bombing a wall which stood in the way of African migration to Europe, and in the way of Al-Qaeda terrorists. This wall was Libya. You‘re breaking it. You’re idiots, and you will burn in Hell for thousands of migrants from Africa and for supporting Al-Qaeda. It will be so. I never lie. And I do not lie now." Gaddafi made this statement in an open letter and it got published by the Russian daily Zavtra in May 2011. Bashar al Asad of Syria made similar statements.
There are so many needs in the world and the refugees are all over – in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Europe, North America and many other countries. There are also refugees made up of displaced people within their own countries, such as Syrians in Syria who fled to other cities and towns, and Nigerians who fled from the north because of Boko Haram and found refuge in other cities with people who were willing to host them. According to MercyCorps there are 1,622,839 Syrian refugees in Turkey, 1,174,313 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 242,468 Syrian refugees in Iraq and 623,231 Syrian refugees in Jordan. Within Syria there are 7.6 million internally displaced Syrian refugees.
So I thought of this important question: How do we determine where to invest our resources? For me, there are some guidelines.
1. Do I trust the people to whom I am sending the money with that responsibility? Absolutely.
a. The money that is going to be raised will go toward refugees in Egypt.
Although we do not get to hear about Egypt, there are many refugees there, including Sudanese, Yemenis, Syrians, Iraqis and others. About two thousand years ago, Joseph, along with Mary and the baby Jesus, went to Egypt as refugees. We know nothing about those who hosted them, but what a privilege they had.
b. It will also go toward refugees in Lebanon and within Syria. Lebanon has been a haven for refugees for a very long time, whether they were Palestinians, Iraqis or Syrians.
c. Finally, it will go toward refugees within Nigeria who fled from Boko Haram.
2. Does my gift go toward meeting long-range needs? What does that mean?
We have all heard of the fish vs. the fishing rod. We can give a gift of a fish to a hungry person, and that gift meets the need for a few hours, and then the person will get hungry again. Of course we feel good that we have done our duty. But what if we teach the person how to fish and provide him with a fishing rod? That is a better investment of our resources. Rather than giving him a handout, we are giving him a hand up and pulling him up to his feet. But that is not the end of the story. What if the man goes to fish and the other fishermen at the banks of the river do not allow him to fish? He needs a place by the river. And what if he has a place by the river and the water is polluted and all the fish are dead?
I know of a German family whom we have known for years. They have read my book The Crescent Through The Eyes of The Cross and they are currently reading another of my books Unshackled and Growing. Some months ago they took up the challenge of hosting some Syrians in their house in Germany. They did not just provide a “fish” or money enough for a meal and a few hours relief, but they went further. They opened their house and are teaching those refugees the German language. They are sharing with them the gospel and showing them Jesus in action. They are helping them to get jobs and assimilate into Germany, and protecting them from prejudices such as neo-Nazi attitudes. This dear family is taking the Syrian refugees far beyond the fish and the fishing rod and is helping them to have a place by the river and protecting their water from pollution.
3. Do these refugees get exposed to the gospel? What if we provide for the material needs of people where they succeed in life but end up losing their souls. Has our gift gone far enough?
Jesus in Matthew 25:35-36 said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The gifts we give to those needy people, if it is done with the right motive, is in essence a gift to Jesus. They need to know about Jesus who motivated us to give and who loves them far more than we do.
The gifts that we send the refugees in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Nigeria will be accompanied by the gospel.
But, there are millions of refugees in the world and our effort will be no more than a mere drop in the bucket. This is true, but do not be discouraged or overwhelmed – every drop counts. In the raising funds letter that I send in October, I will share about a refugee family and how this family was given a hand up and how they all had an encounter with Christ.
So far, more than four million Syrian refugees are the outcome of what has been happening in Syria since 2011. Unless the situations in Syria and in other places around the world are fixed, there will be no end to this long line of refugees. What is the solution? Is there a solution? The situation in Syria is very complex and many parties are involved: the government of Bashar al Asad, Islamic fundamentalist groups including ISIL, the Kurds, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia, and the United States along with its allies. The most dangerous aspect of the situation in Syria is ISIL. I find it helpful to understand some of the root problems why ISIL came into existence. I encourage you to go to my blogs that deal with the theological roots of ISIL in my website/blogs in this order: First blog, second blog and third blog. Recently, a highly esteemed scholar told me that after he read these three blogs he wished that US politicians would read them.
On that same Sunday, September 6, 2015, Pope Francis called on every religious community across Europe to do their part to meet the refugee crisis and offer sanctuary to refugee families. He said: “May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family.”
If you would like to learn more about the refugee crisis, please go to “Evangelicals For Middle East Understanding” for this important Weekly Communiqué.