I’ve hesitated to write on the Syrian refugee crisis. I don’t know very much about the politics of refugees nor the strategies of involving ourselves in another Sunni/Shiite and dictatorial conflict, and it all seems so overwhelmingly impossible that I find the temptation to bury my head beneath a mountain of sand to be rather welcoming.
Life is hard. It is excruciatingly painful, it is full of terror, disappointment, betrayal, and challenge. And loving people makes it harder. Because when we love others we feel not only our own pain and fear, we feel their’s too. When we choose to love people, we choose to carry their burden with them. And if we follow Christ, we know he has taken the weight of our burdens so that we can do precisely that, we must do that. We have been loved beyond any human capability of love, and because of this great love, that hung and bled for our wretched selves, we can go out and love in a way that seems beyond human ability. Because it is beyond human ability, it is supernatural to love endlessly, to let ourselves weep and hurt and break apart on behalf of the world, but we have a God who puts us back together so that we we can do it again and again and again.
It is painful to look on the faces of these men, women and children who have fled their homes, to look at the reality of what their lives are now. Aliens in a country that doesn’t want them, uncertainty, loss, no space to call their own. I’m sure when they stepped foot on relatively safe, solid ground they felt great relief that they were not among the drowned, or those back home who’s bodies were collateral damage in a war between powers with innocents left to litter the streets. But I am certain that relief dwindled quickly as the reality of what lay ahead opened before them. Four million Syrians have fled their homeland. 4,000,000 people left everything to seek asylum, somewhere, anywhere, that wasn’t in the country with the Assad regime manipulating and murdering, with ISIS on the other side, like two rocks waiting to crush them between. It is painful and terrifying to pay attention to this, but if we follow Christ, we must, we must look and we must love, and if we are going to love we must do it fully.
America is slow to accept more refugees (which it has always been slow to do, our acceptance of the Jewish people prior to WWII was painfully small), and though a handful of European countries are opening their borders most of these countries economies cannot shoulder the burden of this exodus of people. It is a flood of need. So train stations have become temporary homes, and families are waiting indefinitely in holding camps, and it seems like no one really knows what to do next.
But we have to keep opening and welcoming, we have to shoulder the burden of these who come in desperation. And we also have to ask questions.
Is it really the best we can do for these people to give them poor circumstances in a land that is not their home? Why is there so little pressure against the responsible parties that are murdering people and raging a civil war that is displacing a mass of people? Why is there so little being done in the face of the terror of ISIS and its destruction of peoples all over the Middle East? Why has everyone been silent toward Saudi Arabia who has taken in a grand total of ZERO refugees from their neighbors in crisis? Why haven’t we held Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the U.A.E and Kuwait responsible for their funding and arming of the conflict in Syria? Why is Putin allowed to drag his feet when Russia has both the power and authority to stop the massacres? Certainly America isn’t considered an authority for peace-keeping in the Middle East, but does that excuse us from doing anything? And why does the UN keep placing requests on Assad that they know he won’t honor? It is a false accusation to say that the world hasn’t responded to the violence in Syria, but thus far these responses have failed, so what can be done instead?
We must ask these questions, and while we wait for answers we must face the fearful faces that stand desperate for safety.
There is no question of what we must do for the refugees that stand looking for help. We must help them. They have fled in search of safety and protection, so, we must protect them. We must open our hands and say, “come” just as Jesus beckons us to himself, when we are weak and needy and empty. We must allow our economies to be strained because their need is great enough that we have no choice but to welcome them with open arms. To fling wide the doors of the churches, to beg our American government to welcome them here. But we don’t stop there. We must also work on their behalf to help bring justice to their homeland. Because a secondary, and struggling life in America or Europe isn’t the only thing we can offer. As we petition for our country to welcome more refugees to our land, we can also seek justice for their land. There is no easy answer to Syria’s bloodied soil, but that doesn’t mean we stop asking and pleading for it. If we are going to choose to love, it will require much of us. And as Christians, we can do nothing less.
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers . But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:16-18
We who know this love, the love of the God who died for us while we were his enemies, we are filled with it, to a capacity that requires it overflow into the world. If we love God, we must love the refugee as God does. We must seek justice on their behalf if we love this God who is just. We must welcome the oppressed with open arms, and we must hold the oppressors accountable. We must judge rightly, and think well, and ask questions that no one wants to ask, because the answer may require too much of us.
So, we cannot, as we may desire, bury our head in the sands, and say our grief is too much to bear another burden. We cannot cling to the world’s goods so tightly that we are unwilling to relinquish some on behalf of those who have none. We cannot love our leisure and rest so greatly that we are unwilling to suffer on behalf of those who’s lives know nothing of peace.
Christ says to come to him and we will have rest. His burden is light, not because it is easy, but because he bears the load. We have rest, not because our lives are lives of leisure, but because he gives us incomprehensible peace as we enter into the suffering of the world to bring the good news of him who came to save. When we lean on Jesus he gives us a new heart that looks to seek justice on behalf of the weak, that seeks to give with open hands, that seeks to love people how he has loved us. Fearlessly, ferociously and endlessly.
I do not know the complexities of war, of borders and refugees. But I do know Jesus, and I know what he commands us to do when we follow him. I know that he demands much, and I know that he has given us more.
If you would like to be informed of opportunities to help the crisis, check out We Welcome Refugees . They are dedicated to mobilizing the global church to respond as the hands and feet of Christ in the face of this great need. Whether through refugee sponsorship, American church partnership with churches in Europe who have opened their doors, supporting rescue work, government advocacy, or prayer; there are ways we can respond now, today.