If we are truly going to face the matter of refugeeism in light of the Kingdom, it is important at the outset to understand the gravity of global displacement.
And to mourn.
I submit that the hearts of the North American Church aren’t broken enough for refugees and displaced people.
Have we wept with Jesus? Have we mourned with Nehemiah or lamented with Jeremiah? Have we cried with the thousands of church laborers and aid workers pouring themselves out over the crisis of refugeeism?
In the words of the Scottish minister, Alexander MacLaren, “No man will do worthy work at rebuilding the walls, who has not wept over the ruins.”
When it comes to displacement in our time, mourning will not be hard, if only we dare to look and truly see.
Cast your eyes to the many places bleeding refugees. Take the Middle East, where the war in Syria seems mostly over, but where there are still nearly 12 million displaced Syrians—half of the country. About four million Iraqis are also out of their homes, either refugees abroad or displaced to the deserts and cities of their country. Nearly three million Afghans are displaced, and so are hundreds of thousands of Somalis, Rohingya, Sudanese, and more.
In Lebanon, a tiny country where between a third and a quarter of the people are refugees, it’s not uncommon to meet families who have been displaced multiple times. Recurring conflicts uproot the uprooted.
More than one million people tried to cross the Mediterranean in 2015. Thousands more have made the voyage–or died trying–in the last two years. Many were Syrians, but many others were Afghans, Iraqis, Somalians, Nigerians, Eritreans, Libyans, Ethiopians, and Sudanese. They went aboard speedboats and inflatable rafts and whatever craft was on offer, no matter how unseaworthy. They went looking for a better life. For jobs, for security, for religious freedom, for their children.
Aylan Kurdi, the little boy from Kobani, Syria, went with them. And it killed him.
The need to risk everything drove the tiny Kurdish toddler, along with nearly 4,000 others that year, to his death.
There are other fates than death, and some may be worse.
…Is Our Problem
Think of your own need for shelter, food, warmth in the winter and relief in the summer. Think of what you take for granted when you get sick. Think of the jobs and schools and opportunities in your community.
Imagine all of that is taken away.
Every day, tens of thousands are forced from their homes and stripped of their livelihoods, family photos, and familiar streets. A vast and increasing majority dream of coming West, drawn by the hope of freedom and opportunity for themselves and their children, but are compelled into underdeveloped countries facing resource and opportunity challenges of their own. It is impoverished countries on the borders of war-torn ones, not the West, that take on the bulk of the burden of refugeeism.
Relief agencies—even the mighty United Nations—have been forced to suspend food and voucher programs because they don’t have enough money. Millions are suffering. Tens of thousands are dying. It’s because of war and persecution and lack of opportunity. It’s also because the wealthy West—including the Church—isn’t giving or doing enough to keep the displaced afloat and alive.
No matter how the pundits or politicians portray it—telling Hollywood-ized horror stories about the stereotypical archenemy that is The Young Migrant Male—the displaced are not beasts to be feared. The majority of the refugee community are women and children. They are all humans, with needs and wants, bodies and souls.
Lack of housing, malnutrition and starvation, unemployment and the inability to go to school, sickness and extreme poverty. We know the needs, but don’t know them fully. We don’t feel them equally.
It was a bedraggled Syrian priest, exhausted from distributing aid in battlescapes and watching his flock disperse, who came down the road from Damascus into Lebanon and told me that, more than food and water, the displaced need healing from the psychological and spiritual pain.
Trauma is everywhere. Healing is the biggest need. But healing goes beyond meeting material needs to encompass the mental, social, and spiritual life of every human being—including and especially displaced people.
And the problem of refugeeism is not only reserved for struggling, “warlike” countries populated by people with brown or black skin. Europe, for instance, is not immune. Look at the former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe. Look at Ukraine today. Look at European colonialists who were booted from their African possessions. The colonialists at least had an easier time finding homes again in Europe, if only for their whiteness and their connections to the culture they’d tried to export south.
Every day, our fellow children of God are dispossessed of all they have by war, famine, opportunity deprivation, human rights violations, general violence, and persecution.
Tens of thousands.
Every. Single. Day.
It could have been you. It could have been me. It could have been your brother or your mother or your child.
If we are Christians—lovers of both friends and enemies, neighbors to all—we must acknowledge that the displaced people we see on the news, and those we don’t see, truly are our own brothers and mothers and kids.
They are not their refugees. They are ours.