As I write this in the comfort of a London hotel room there are many thousands of people of all ages sleeping in makeshift tents, on discarded carpets, and broken down boxes all over Europe. They’ve left their homes not with a spirit of optimistic excitement, but with one of desperate fear. They are fleeing the atrocities of a civil war fueled by a tyrannical leader, foreign powers, and religious fanatics. With so many hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, Europe and the west will never be the same. It is completely dependent on us, however, if the inevitable transformation of our society is for the better or for the worse.
Before arriving in London I was in Turkey, which shares a border with Syria. I was in Istanbul and Izmir, a city on the western coast just a short distance from Greek islands, the Western soil closest to the conflict. The parks and streets are lined with migrants who have temporarily settled there. In Izmir, every shop sells life jackets and street vendors peddle waterproof document bags that can be worn around the neck. If there is a supply like that, it’s clear that there is an expected demand as so many desperate people seek to take their families on a dangerous trek to the west to escape the carnage that robbed them of their homes.
Historically, Americans are insulated and often refuse to recognize the reality of human crises until it is too late. American Christians are not much better and often much worse. American Christians are those, remember, who not only witnessed and perpetrated slavery and Jim Crowe, but supported it and resisted change rather than responding with revulsion to the institutions and with compassion for the victims. Unfortunately, we have had many tests over the last 100 years and it is rare that we’ve passed any of them. We are in the midst of a test now, an opportunity to respond with mercy, compassion, and love.We are in the midst of a test now, an opportunity to respond with mercy, compassion, and love Click To Tweet
We have often needed to see the horror to recognize that it is real. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower knew this when he toured concentration camps of Eastern Europe following World War II and ordered that film evidence of German atrocities be made lest any at home refuse to believe. There are plenty of images of the present crisis available, including the lifeless body of a Syrian boy washed ashore in Turkey.
I have seen those images, but I have actually seen these families first hand. In Istanbul, I saw one family of a father, mother, and twin boys no older than three seated in a park on a piece of cardboard, the boys having found small buckets to sit on. They wore what was obviously nice clothing that had become filthy and matted. The boys, who should have been energetic and loud as they ran and played, were completely still, completely silent, and completely shell-shocked. The parents looked despondent and defeated. In Izmir, I saw groups of refugees with luggage piled up in a park with make-shift shelters. They sat and slept with no work, no distraction, and ho hope.
The heart of the test that the west now faces, and particularly the test that western Christians now face, is whether we value our safety, security, and way of life more than we value the obligations that we have to love and serve others.
There are some voices in the west who fear that an influx of Muslim migrants will tip the balance of our societies and fundamentally change our culture. Many fear that among the migrants are terrorists using the opportunity to infiltrate the west. Assuming the absolute worst is true, this does not nullify the obligation that we owe to the stranger, the foreigner, and the sojourner.
Does the most heinous terrorist bear the image of God any less? Even if we risk our lives and safety by opening our borders, our lives, and our hearts, are we not simply following the model of Christ in doing so? Jesus came into the world knowing that He would die for the good of those who would ultimately kill him. The risk posed to western Christians by these migrants is minimal even though there are certainly those among the hundreds of thousands of them with ill intent. Even those with ill intent, however, are not beyond God’s love and as a result, are not beyond the bounds of our compassion.
There is no doubt that there are many Christians in Europe and in North America who are doing much. The faithfulness of these brothers and sisters should not be marginalized, but the apathy (or worse!) with which so many others view the migrant crisis cannot be ignored or dismissed. It is a response that is unbecoming of a follower of Jesus. German Chancellor Angela Merkel keeps repeating, “Wir schaffen es!”—“We can do it!” with regard to the influx of refugees. There are those who speak up to contest this, but the voices of Christians should not be among them.
In fact, the voices of Christians around the world need to be those saying, “Yes! And Germany will not do it alone because we will help!”
It is difficult to suggest concrete ways in which Christians outside of Europe can help, but our help must go beyond emergency relief. Emergency relief solves a very immediate problem, but is not a long term strategy for helping the uprooted to reestablish lives and flourish in an adopted land. That requires more than writing a check or passing out blankets and food. It requires us to remember that our obligation to them is to respond to them in the way that we would hope that others would respond to us if we were to be similarly situated.
For us American Christians, we have rarely, if ever, found ourselves in a context where our mere existence and presence was viewed with suspicion and fear. For us, there has always been hope. There’s always been the prospect that tomorrow will be better, that the next generation will have more, and that our future will be secure. Part of the challenge, then, involves stepping outside of that and recognizing all that these men and women have lost and then considering the terror that must accompany that. An appropriate response requires openness, vulnerability, and selflessness. Fortunately, Jesus Himself has modeled open, vulnerable, and selfless compassion. We have such a tremendous opportunity to reflect that Christlikeness—to share Christ by modeling Christ to those in desperate need.We have a tremendous opportunity to reflect Christlikeness by modeling Christ to those in need Click To Tweet