The refugee crisis in Europe is reaching a tipping point. Experts have stated it is the worse refugee situation since WWII. Nearly half – 49% or 10.6 million people have been displaced due to the war in Syria. Families are fleeing the war torn country in hopes of survival. The images on the news are deeply disturbing as parents carry children off boats with no prospect of shelter or food. If this is the situation they are fleeing to, I can’t imagine the conditions from which they fled. Yet, they are oftentimes received with hostility. One camera woman was recently fired after she was videoed indiscriminately kicking and tripping refugees. One scene showed a father carrying his infant child when she sticks her foot out to trip them causing them to fall forward face-down into a field. Thankfully, she was immediately dismissed. In thinking about this crisis, how should the church respond?
First, we must remember it is not a political but a moral issue. Immigration issues are hotly debated among politicians (note: immigrants and refugees are not the same thing). Yet, I imagine if the United States was bordering Syria, the news would not simply be discussing the crisis but the political ramifications of helping them. How many should we accept? How do we screen them appropriately? The United States recently agreed to receive 10,000 Syrians over the next year. Certainly, there will be further political discussions about such a decision. Our country is currently suspicious of security threats. What impact would receiving so many persons from a country where ISIS is entrenched have on domestic threats? Yes, these are certainly legitimate issues. However, the principle concern is not a political but a moral one. One lady being interviewed stated, “I am human. They are human. Why would I not help?” As I watched the news, I could only nod my head in agreement. Jesus stated, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). This woman was clearly living out this command.
Second, Christians should be the first to show hospitality. Our faith is grounded in a refugee story. Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod as he killed all children 2 years old and younger. Joseph and Mary fled their hometown for Egypt. During this time they were refugees residing in a land not of their choosing. Jesus instructs us to offer food and water to those in his name as if we were serving Jesus himself. Jesus was a refugee. Taken literally, when we offer kindness to refugees we are offering kindness to Christ. As refugees left Hungary on foot for the long trek to Austria and Germany, many Hungarians came out to offer food and water. I hope those lining the streets were believers. If not, they should have been.
Third, it is not a foreign issue but a local issue. There is a constant flood of refugees into the United States. We have always been a welcoming country to people fleeing political and religious persecution. Certainly, there are opportunities to support refugees by simply googling your local area. In most cases, they do not wish to be here. Their preference would be to remain in their country of origin. By arriving in this country, there is detachment, loneliness, frustration, homesickness to say nothing of grief (reports indicate that nearly every refugee leaving Syria has lost a close family member due to the war). They are dealing with settling in a new home without someone they love. As a global church, we should be quick to ease this transition by opening up our hearts and doors to those in need of love and grace. And quite frankly, it is possible, that in the midst of their turmoil, they might find eternal rest through Christ by means of our hospitality.