No one should be surprised that a mass of refugees has pushed its way across Syria’s borders and out of the country toward safety elsewhere. The civil war between the dictator Assad’s government forces and the various rebel groups had done enough damage and created plenty of upheaval, but the addition of the ISIS insurgency has blocked off the border to the east with Iraq, and pockets of ISIS control have increased the safety risks along with the shooting and bombing. And realistically, Europe’s prosperity, combined with a cooler climate, make the prospect of living in a refugee camp infinitely more attractive than camping out in the bare, hot desert of Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
I may get a bit sarcastic here, but bear with me as I make my point. I think it’s a good one, worth making.
As Syrian refugees by the thousands streamed into Eastern Europe, overwhelming small, poor countries like Kosovo, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Bosnia, where the ravages of war haven’t been completely repaired yet, either, Europeans reached out to them. Of course, many of the people living on the Balkan peninsula are Muslim, and so reached out to their fellow Muslims as they moved north. But there are also many Christians among the Syrian population, since more than 10% of the country was Christian at the time that the civil war erupted.
Europeans of all nationalities, including the Serbs, Croats, Greeks, Hungarians, Austrians and Germans in particular, collected resources and sent help. The crisis did prompt some countries, especially those who were small and felt overwhelmed by the flood of people, to take steps to close off the refugee stream as well, but Europe, yes, liberal, socialist Europe with very few practicing Christians among the population, saw the humanitarian crisis develop, pulled together the resources to feed, clothe and house the massive numbers of people, and helped. And they’re still helping.
One of the greatest needs, aside from providing basic services, is to relieve the crush of people on the European countries where they’ve taken refuge. So, they look to the United States to help. You know, us. The country with the statue of Liberty and the poem that is engraved at its base, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” Well, where does the world always look when it needs help, right?
Not surprising, our government comes up with a plan to help relieve the crush of refugees by taking a pretty good sized number of them ourselves, including working out a way to get them across the ocean, far, far away from the troubles in their own country, and as a means of helping Europe, particularly Germany, Hungary and Austria, where most of the refugees have landed. And, given the political mindset in our country these days, not surprisingly there is a strong, vitriolic, negative reaction to taking in Syrian refugees, on religious grounds. Most of them are Muslim. Taking in such a large number of Muslims will ruin the country and open the door to Islamic insurgency and Sharia law breaking out all over the US, right? Keep them out. We didn’t invite them. After all, Muslims are violent terrorists, right?
Of course, the numbers we’re talking about aren’t that big. I think its something like 75,000 altogether, not exactly a flood tide, or even comparable to the number who have flooded through small countries like Kosovo or Croatia, into Hungary and Germany. Nor have any of these people exhibited the insurgent, radicalized tendencies of ISIS or Al Qaida. In fact, these people are fleeing from that sort of rule of law, because they are just as much in danger from ISIS as they are from the Assad regime. But that doesn’t seem to matter. There are voices, some of them among the Christian community, being raised against allowing any Syrian refugees to enter the US.
Turning refugees away from America on the basis of their religious faith seems completely incongruous with our American heritage, and history. We’ve done it before, because of pernicious and obtuse immigration policy that is too complicated to get into here. Just look up and read the story of the ship the St Louis in the summer of 1939. But this is 2015, and our government has opened the door to freedom, as it well should, given our resources and our heritage and history.
American Christians should be particularly anxious to help collect resources, and to serve these people when they come with welcoming, open arms. Aside from the fact that such action is the only one I can think of in a situation like this that is consistent with what we claim to believe as Christ followers, it is an unusual evangelistic opportunity. There are some Christians among these refugees, but most of them are Muslims, coming from a country, and an environment, where any sharing of the gospel has been highly restricted, and most of anything these people have heard about the Christian faith has been wrong, or from only a Muslim perspective.
All of a sudden, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in European countries where there’s absolutely no restriction whatsoever on sharing the gospel, and they are in need in such a way that kindness shown to them would go a long way toward opening a door to at least being able to see the real Jesus, and real Christians. Noting that Canada, our secular, socialist neighbor to the north, has opened a door to Syrian refugees not only to find freedom from fear in a camp somewhere, but to put their skills and education to use, and make a permanent home in Canada, if they choose. That’s the sort of opportunity that Christians should be promoting, eh?
Fear and lack of understanding are enemies of freedom, which means they are restrictions on the forward movement of the Kingdom of God. Here’s a real opportunity and a real calling for Christians in America to set aside the accumulation of resources for our own enjoyment, and do something positive to advance the kingdom of God.