A friend called me Tuesday night and said, “I need your take on the Syrian refugee crisis and the governors’ responses across the country. I got on Facebook purposefully today to see if you had posted anything. I saw you hadn’t so I figured you were thinking and praying before responding. But I really need to know your thoughts because you care for refugees and yet also understand the purpose of government.”
She didn’t see me on Facebook because I had done just that – left the fray to study and pray and ponder and reflect (I think I exited on Monday night?). Proverbs 19:2 is one of my favorite passages. “Zeal without knowledge is not good – how much more will hasty feet miss the way.”
Maybe I like this verse because I like to move fast but it reminds me that zeal and knowledge need to remain attached! Lots of younger people have zeal but very limited knowledge. Lots of older people have knowledge but lack much zeal.
On Facebook I saw a lot of passion, but was struggling to find Facebook posts that dealt honestly with the complexity of the situation.
So rather, I prayed, pondered, discussed with Chad, researched statistics, journaled, and on and on.
I long to be a person with both zeal and knowledge. I don’t want to miss the way because of my zeal, nor do I want to get bogged down (up?) in ivory tower thinking that doesn’t help people. I think Christians should strive to be the hardest thinking and the most passionately involved people on any issue. But it’s simply hard to have both – our brains and emotions have trouble working together sometimes! However, our messy world desperately needs thoughtful practitioners. (The easiest person to be is a “screamer” who basically vents but does not gain knowledge nor does anything tangible.)
To be honest, I didn’t want to write this blog. But my friend’s call prompted me, along with God’s nudge (and mind you, I am NOT saying this blog post contains God’s final word on the topic! Goodness, no. But it contains some of my thoughts as I have processed with God. I wish the blog fully reflected God’s perfect thoughts, but I know in my weakness I have missed it by a lot)! This blog is longer than usual, but these types of issues are pretty tough to capture in 800-1000 words, or a FB post, or certainly a tweet. Just hang with me!
Please know that I am not trying to make anyone angry in this article. But I figure I will make everyone upset at some point (sorry!). So, just as I hope that the Holy Spirit directs my words, I pray that the Holy Spirit directs your mind as you read. All that said, I will now tell you where my reflection has led.
Before we talk specifically about the Syrian refugee crisis, you need to know four things about me.
- We have worked with refugees. My husband and I worked in the Albanian refugee crisis among Muslim refugees, while living in Egypt we entered into the Sudanese refugee crisis, Chad worked for two years with Iraqi refugees in Jordan, we’ve had the opportunity to welcome refugees to the states at airports when we’ve lived in the US, we’ve interacted with those who work with refugees in the US, one of the regional advocates from our organization now represents 10/40 Connections with Bridge (a local resettlement service), and we are considering writing a curriculum in 2016 to help individuals and churches who serve refugees in our city to know how to share the Gospel in both word and deed within various worldviews.We highly respect the groups in our country (most that we know are faith-based Christian groups) who are resettling refugees. Good job to you!
- I desperately want Muslims to know Jesus. When I see Muslims in Chattanooga or around the world, I speak with them. I seek to know them. I seek to share with them – even at places like Party City when I bought plastic table cloths two weeks ago. I see them as people Jesus died for and rose again to save.
- I recognize that at times God moves people into our midst through refugee status or immigration so that they might be exposed to the Gospel. I recognize some Christian refugees will enter other lands and impact that land with the Gospel, and I know some refugees of other faiths will meet Christ in their host nation. How awesome is that!
- I deeply grieve for Paris. Though the attack there is not the point of this article, I am deeply burdened for what happened in that nation. I believe the actions were completely evil. There is no rationale; it was no “set-back”; it was brutal and evil – absolutely, and it grieves the God I worship. Our prayers after this horrendous tragedy are two-fold. One, I pray that the French people recognize their deep need of Jesus Christ. I pray that somehow this evil will cause them to question their eternity and their present lives. I pray for revival to sweep through the French churches once again! Two, I pray that through this horrendous act that Muslims in France and throughout the world will hunger deeply for a relationship with a God who loves. Only through Jesus will they find true peace, righteousness and joy. I pray for millions of Muslims to find Christ.
With that said, I now move on to the Syrian refugee crisis. Before the Paris massacre and the governors’ responses in the U.S., we had been speaking up for the Syrian refugees and encouraging prayer for them – both the Muslim and the Christian refugees. We had been alerting Christians to the intense difficulties Christian refugees are having from Iraq and Syria. We were seeking to mobilize prayer for the situation before the social media drama. I say this to state that any crisis warrants some sort of action.
Then the Paris massacre happened; the governors of many states asked for a more clear and thorough vetting process, and Facebook seemed to explode. (I still cannot grasp how and why Facebook did not explode with Christians reacting and responding to the Planned Parenthood videos that spoke about severing babies’ bodies, pulling out their brains, and selling parts – have you watched one? I encourage you to do so. Nor can I grasp how I never saw much traffic nor noticed many blogs from Christians, pastors, or refugee resettlement groups that went viral concerned about the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria – the killings of kids in Iraq for their faith or the crucifixion of a 12-year-old recently because he would not deny his faith. Maybe there were many, but they did not capture much media attention and I didn’t hear or notice much passion on Facebook. But somehow the acceptance/delay/denial/uncertainty of Syrian refugees has caused a firestorm of emotion and passion from Christians. I am still pondering all of that…)
Back to the Syrian crisis. I think the Syrian refugee crisis and the government response requires both zeal and knowledge to be applied in different ways based on three specific groups involved.
Three Response-Abilities to the Refugee Crisis
When it comes to the current refugee situation, not all responses are created equal. Not all bear the same weight. Not all can affect the same change.
Basically we see three distinct groups with vastly different responsibilities. One group’s response looks different for another group because their “job” is different. Each group has its place and its responsibilities.
Whether personal, church-based, or government-based, decision-making should not be founded on the scaffolding of fear. Again, it should be based on godly zeal and firm knowledge.
- The Governmental Response
The purpose of government is to govern (shocking, right?). This means to hold in check; to control. The governor in your lawnmower is there to regulate the speed of your engine. The justice system is not a “mercy” system, although aspects of mercy are obviously built into a government. Our laws provide the boundaries to protect and defend the people.
Due to the Paris bombings and intelligence reports, governors and some political leaders are seeking to slow down the immigration process. Why? Because it is their responsibility to do so. Democratic Senator Feinstein (D-CA) and ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said, “I have read the intelligence reports and I tell you they (ISIS) are spreading.” She also said, “I have never been more concerned.” She continued, “ISIL is not contained. ISIL is expanding. They just put out a video saying it is their intent to attack this country. I think we have to be prepared.”
Multiple leaders at the state level have issued concerns that we must “Halt. Pause. Think. Prepare.” As I looked at several of the statements, they did not say, “Never let the Syrians come.”
They said basically, “Let’s make sure we know what we are doing, that they are not going to hurt our citizens.” It’s like the governor on the car – let’s regulate the speed to protect people. I think in our social media-driven landscape, we as Americans may have forgotten how to have a conversation, how to listen, how to consider another’s statements, and how to engage in meaningful dialogue. Rather, we prefer one-sided conversations where we spout our views and wait to see what tribe follows. In a complex world, we need so much more than that. We really need to govern ourselves – pause, stop, think, pray, and then engage with words and actions. (And I do think Christians need to be very mindful that they represent Jesus Christ with the way they write on social media.)
I honor my country that does so much to welcome refugees (stats on this to follow). I believe American Christians should certainly welcome the foreigner in our midst. I am thankful for organizations (like World Relief, Catholic Charities, Bridge) who resettle literally thousands in any given year. I am grateful for churches who have robust ministries to refugees. But I also believe deeply that government has a large place and holds a key responsibility in matters such as refugee resettlement of Syrians, especially as terrorism has shaped the global landscape.
We should pray for our governing leaders whose ability to respond involves clear steps to help people as well as provide for public safety. Like the governor on our lawnmower, they are to “regulate” and “control” who enter. That is their responsibility. If they are not seeking to do that, they are failing in their elected responsibilities.
To be thoughtful about why and what some government officials have stated, I researched and pondered this current crisis as well as government vs. individual roles/responsibilities.
The government has access to intelligence that I and you are not privy to. We’ve helped purchase that technology through our taxes, and citizens trust that their governments are using and acting upon the technology to the best of their abilities. As individuals, churches, and non-profits, we have something to offer but none of us reads the classified reports. I am personally glad; I cannot imagine what they sort through. They are responsible to use the technology and interpret it. They know some things we as citizens just don’t know.
Usually refugees worldwide average around 80% women and children. In the Albanian refugee crisis, most of the men I saw were very old or young boys. The able-bodied men were home fighting for their nation. They were not filling the immigration lines. However, the statistics coming out of Syria and Iraq and North Africa are different. 62% of the refugees exiting these areas are men with 22% children and 16% women (click here for article). Should the children and other hurting people that are coming be helped? Absolutely. But I will get there later.
The fact that the current stats differ from the global norm should indeed give governments pause. That is their responsibility, to think, to ask questions, and to consider the best response for those in their charge.
Someone told me, “Well, maybe they came to seek work and they’ll send back for their families.” Maybe, possibly. I do not know why able-bodied men would leave their families in a war zone, since when you read the reports, it’s incredibly dangerous for women and children. Abuse, kidnapping, many sold as slaves to ISIS. If the men leave for many months, what will happen to the women and children who stay back in homes or camps? (Click here for plight of refugee women.)
I am sure that many innocent refugees from these areas are caught between a rock and a hard place! Dear Jesus, please protect and help them, and help us reach out to them in that difficult place. Help us be creative to know how to help the Syrians – Muslim and Christian – within holding areas before they can reach resettlement countries. There are always solutions – we must be creative!
Neither the U.S. federal government nor the U.S. state governments are run by a biblical theocracy. It should not look like a mission organization. It’s not commissioned by the same mandate as I am as an individual follower. I as an individual or part of a church should turn no one away. But the government is commissioned for a different job. If we think it’s the government’s job to look like and be the Church, we have confused the lines between the government and the Church.
I am thankful that Jesus lived as a refugee, was adopted by his earthly dad, had a mother who was pregnant before marriage (through a miracle) and at some point lost his dad so had a mother who was a widow and he grew up at some point without an earthly dad. So many hurting people can relate to a God-Man like that!
But simply because Jesus was a refugee/migrant, is the U.S. government supposed to open its doors to everyone? I don’t know what border controls they had in Egypt 2,000 years ago, but I do know two things from history. 1. Mary and Joseph didn’t have to fill out passport forms or apply for visas to get into Egypt. I’ve filled out hundreds of those forms and have probably killed a few trees doing it, but this was not Jesus’ reality. 2. Nor did Mary and Joseph live in a time with billion-dollar databases tracking terrorism. Also first century Jews were not known to enter nations and target innocent citizens.
Also, equating the situation of the boatload of Jews that the US turned away during WWII does not parallel the situation today. The Jews had not declared war on the US, and we believe they should have been allowed asylum. Obviously, ISIS has a different and clearly stated agenda, therefore caution should be exercised. Again, I KNOW that the great majority of Syrian refugees are not ISIS fighters. However, I am looking at the U.S. government’s responsibility.
I found an interesting article that expressed some of the progress and pitfalls of the vetting process. Again, if you hear the vetting process is perfect, don’t believe it. And if you think it’s all failing, don’t believe that either. In so many ways, Jesus as a baby refugee does not equate with the Syrian situation. The U.S. is radical Islam’s #1 target. Therefore, the government must govern and discover whom we can graciously welcome onto our shores. Our history as a nation leads the world in resettling refugees – that speaks to our values. The U.S. has accepted more resettled refugees than any other nation. But with the U.S. as a target, it makes the process that much more complex and deep thought and governance are required.
Notice the direction of the refugees coming out of Iraq and Syria and where they are going. Though Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan have been completely inundated with refugees and are trying to deal with the crisis (Please also pray for these nations as they seek to survive this crisis also!), I discovered that many Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, etc. have received workers, but no refugees yet. Rather the refugees are finding more open doors in Europe and the West (Again, the reasons behind this are complex.) Saudi Arabia did offer to build 200 mosques in Germany though for the refugees in one article I found and has offered finances for refugee camps elsewhere.
My research led me to more disturbing information. Syria’s Christian population before the civil war was 10%. Syrian Christians were the most attacked and most vulnerable to the violence than any other group targeted by ISIS. I discovered that many Christian Syrians are not even entering UN refugee camps which is almost the only way to get legal clearance to go as an asylum seeker into another country. Christians often do not go into the UN camps because of the persecution within the camps – food restrictions for some and physical attacks that result in sexual abuse and/or death – by others in the camps (perhaps even ISIS plants).
Thus, the Syrian and Iraqi Christians are truly isolated and are struggling with little help at all. The U.S. already has recently added 2,100 Syrian refugees in its midst. Did you know when I researched tonight to make sure of my numbers, only 53 (or so) of those are Christians? Less than 2%. If 10% of Syrians are Christians, nations like the U.S. should assure we are welcoming in at least 10% of them into our country and discovering ways to help them stay safe until they can get here. (Syrian Christian article) We believe that instead of passionate letters to state level government officials who are struggling to do their responsibility of protecting and defending their constituents, we should gather as groups to pray for their wisdom. They certainly need it and would probably welcome it! What if viral posts on Facebook said and letters to their offices said:
“I am praying for you as you read the intelligence reports. I know the calls you make are difficult. I want you to know I am a follower of Jesus. If Syrian refugees come to our state, I pledge to you that I will spend time, energy, and my own personal money to welcome them, help them assimilate, and find others to do so as well. I will do my part to take the burden off the state and live out my Christian faith with both words and deeds.”
Now that’s a Christian response that needs to go viral! It’s easy to say “welcome”; it’s much harder to re-arrange one’s personal life to make a stranger feel welcomed as you stick with them until they eventually get on their feet and/or become your friend.
2. The Church/Non-profit Organization Response
The second group who has a responsibility to deliver a response is the church or the non-profit organization. Once refugees arrive here, I think no one should be turned away from our help. We are directed by biblical standards to care for the foreigner in our midst.
Did your church or organization already have an actual plan for refugees that was being implemented before the Syrian crisis? A coordinated ministry effort meets the tangible and spiritual needs of refugees – airport pick-ups, car rides to work, school, and doctor appointments, English lessons, tutoring, inoculations, haircuts, lice treatments, grocery store runs, furniture collections and drop-offs at apartments, cultural classes to help them adapt, and personal dinners in church members’ homes? Is there training happening to help church members share their faith and understand the refugee’s faith and worldview? Does your church have Bibles in multiple languages or at least access to Bibles so the Word can also be shared?
Maybe your church does, or maybe it does not, but Scripture teaches that this is where the Church should be – out among people. It’s messy; it’s really, really messy.
Will your Church be there to engage the Syrian or Iraqi refugee in a holistic way once they get here? Of course, many other refugees (as well as students, and migrants, and business people) from other nations are already here. Hopefully your group is already befriending them, because the church has a clear mandate and a responsibility to care for the foreigner in our midst (even as we trust the government to protect and defend us from attack, but not expect the government to fulfil Matthew 25). If there is not something already in your church in this area, perhaps God wants you to start it!
3. The Individual Response
So my last group for discussing, I start with two questions showing polar opposites.
- “If you think the government should welcome all Syrian refugees with open doors, are you living as Christ wants you to – with open arms actively serving the foreigner in your midst?”
- “If you think the government should close all borders now and forevermore, are you living as Christ wants you to – with open arms actively serving foreigners in your midst?”
The point here is that regardless of government policy, as individuals and families, we can show powerful compassion to foreigners. We should personally be welcomers to foreigners. Our hospitality can warm hearts and change lives.
However, many opportunities have been missed because of a lack of individual (and church) hospitality. Did you know that 80% of foreign students in university and grad school never enter a U.S. home – let alone a Christian one? A horrendous statistic! Did you know that both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi studied in Gadsden, Alabama? What if a loving Christian family had invited them to eat a meal, befriended them, and shared the love of Christ with them (maybe someone did? But there’s an 80% chance no one did). Perhaps the entire history of the world would look different!
Caring is bearing. My fingers flying over my keyboard is not tangibly helping a refugee – not until my mind, heart, and hands/feet engage them in their midst. Simply writing a blog or writing a post on Facebook indicating my passion for refugees or declaring my desire that they live with me (implying I am opening my front door when my state is shutting theirs) is simply “talk” until action is applied. I urge you to contact your local refugee settlement center and go volunteer – they would be so happy for your time and energy! You could be a great blessing to a refugee family!
Here are some other practical things you can do:
- Teach an ESL class nearby your home.
- Volunteer with a refugee settlement organization in your city. Tell them you will host a Muslim refugee family and see to it that they get where they need to go. Invite that Muslim individual or family to eat with your family weekly. (You may have to stop some of your kids’ activities to do this and you’ll definitely miss some tv shows because you will be living reality! Do it – caring is bearing!) If you’re newly married, with the date money you are saving, invite a refugee family to your home and share a meal.
- Give money to organizations who are helping people in crisis.
- Open your home to an exchange student.
- Pray for the Muslim world and intercede on behalf of those who do not know the love of Christ!
- Serve as a missionary near or far.
- Share the Gospel with clarity and kindness to the people you meet that are from different backgrounds.
- Commit to not scream. Rather, actively engage or start activities and invite others to join you.
- With purpose, always connect the deed of the Gospel with the Name of Jesus Christ!
As I stated, each of these three distinct groups (govt, church, personal) must respond based on their own structured responsibilities. Each group has a sphere of responsibility and each has an ability to respond. Most of us do not fall into the governing category, and so our responses can easily be more compassionate and merciful. They should be.
My final point in this article is a reminder that fear should neither motivate nor hinder Christians – not the fear of death, not fear of attack, not fear of jobs being taken away, not the fear of our culture changing, and not the fear of political incorrectness. As Christians we must pray for our leaders to govern well (even when they don’t). And whether they do or don’t, once the foreigners are here, we must step up and passionately serve.
It’s our job as Christians to live out Matthew 25.
Living without both zeal and knowledge is dangerous. Zeal without knowledge can lead to destructive fire rather than a guiding lantern. Knowledge without zeal can freeze out compassion and action.
Let’s glorify God by thinking and acting. Let’s apply knowledge as we seek to act in wisdom. But let’s never allow our faith to be governed by mere logic. Let’s allow God to do illogical acts through us for His sake in the world.
When knowledge and zeal unite, our hands and feet engage well for such a time as this. You see, I deeply believe God always honors good theology (our thinking about God) that puts on sneakers and lives among the people.
Ahhh, I realized over the past week how nice it is to not be on social media. What if we all pulled off of it for a week, spent a lot of time in prayer for both our government and refugees, and then went out and befriended a Muslim or person from another nation in Jesus’ Name. Gotta feeling that’s what Jesus would love to see “go viral” all over the world.
Just some simple thoughts from a girl whose feet like to move.
P.S. As you know, numerous articles are being produced on this topic. We wrote this piece with the info that we could find. If you have data that shows something different, we acknowledge that is very possible. Good job!