This is a guest post by an IMB missionary currently serving in the field, who has elected to write under a pseudonym for security reasons.
The war in Syria has trudged onward for over five years. Refugees and internally displaced peoples have been affected since day one. Many in the west, however, have only become aware of their difficulties for a little over a year. Since then there has been much talk (and, unfortunately, little action) in regards to how to approach this refugee crisis. It has also become apparent that ISIS is using the desperate plight of these refugees (for which they share a large responsibility) to infiltrate Europe and other countries in an effort to spread their evil, jihadist beliefs. All of these factors (and more) make this a complex and difficult conversation.
As I sit here in my home, less than 100 meters from a Syrian family begging on the street and in the same city as thousands and thousands of other refugees, I see many things in the discussion to be discouraged by; but, praise the Lord, I also see many things to be encouraged by. I am guilty of many of these things, but by the grace of God, we can all learn how to discuss and act for His glory.
In this first post I will share 6 discouraging things I see in the discussion amongst Christians concerning the refugee crisis from the eyes of a worker in the Middle East/Central Asia:
- Misplaced energies
Most believers in the states seem to have spent more time arguing on Facebook about why we should or should not let refugees into the USA instead of spending their energies figuring out how to best help the refugees in the places most of them are located: Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Greece, and the rest of Europe. (I am guilty of this too). We know that they need help, so instead of arguing about policy and national security, let’s figure out the best way to help them. God’s glory is not declared in having the right Twitter avatar or arguing on Facebook but rather in caring for the sojourner, widow, and orphan, in our serving the poor, the hungry, and the hurting (i.e. the refugee), and, most of all, in our proclaiming His gospel as we do these things. So, pray and consider what action you should support.
- Emotionally driven action
Fear. Worry. Anger. Compassion. Sympathy. These are all emotions I’ve felt, read about, or heard from believers in regards to the refugee crisis. All of these are legitimate feelings and emotions. None of them are legitimate guides for how we should act. Our emotions change with each new story or attack; scripture stays the same. Politicians of every persuasion bait our emotions to work their agendas. Fear-mongering and bleeding-heart guilting are both wrong. The constant media-cycle invokes un-calculated, emotionally driven, reactionary, hyper-focused, disproportionate fear and beliefs about our world. Do not look to your emotions for guidance – shape them through the lens of scripture so they drive you to biblical action.
Social media, conversations about the refugee crisis, and, yes, even network news, are submersed in dangerous misconceptions. The biggest being that “Islam” and “Muslims” are the same. Of course there is a deep association between the two, but they are not one-in-the-same. Islam is the religion; a Muslim is the adherent. Islam, in its orthodoxy, is not peaceful (no matter what the politicians or pundits say – my friends and our brothers and sisters in Christ who have suffered at its hands can testify); most Muslims, however – including those I live around and am in community with day-to-day – are peaceful. Islam is the foundation for what ISIS does, but Muslims are, by-in-large, not in agreement. Islam means following the Quran, and secondarily, the Hadiths; most Muslims have not read the Quran, and if they have, they didn’t understand it because they don’t speak Arabic (most Muslims are not Arab), so they follow whatever the “teacher” says. With nearly 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, it is unfortunate, inappropriate, and ignorant of us to lump them all together in one group (Nabeel Qureshi does a wonderful job helping us understand this distinction in “Answering Jihad”). This misconception, and others like them, while somewhat understandable, are still discouraging and unhelpful.
- Missed opportunity
“What you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20). We see throughout scripture and history how God has used great acts of natural or human-caused destruction to bring about people’s salvation and his glory. From where I sit it seems that the goodness and sovereignty of God is rarely taken seriously. This war has been used by God to show the true colors of Islam to millions of Syrians and Muslims from neighboring nations. These evil acts by ISIS and surrounding governments have caused many to question the faith they have been told their whole lives was correct. One example: *Ahmet got baptized this weekend. I have to write that sentence again. *Ahmet, a 17 year old Kurdish refugee, got baptized this weekend. His journey to Christ began a few years ago because those who were precursors to ISIS forced his family from the big city back to his hometown, where he met believers for the first time. Thousands of refugees are on the move, many to places where there is more gospel access then there was in their home country. We should not look at the crisis as something that will be used by ISIS to attack the west. We should look at the crisis as something that will be used by God to spread his kingdom.
- Kingdom loyalties
I must preface this by saying I love my country. I believe that the USA has mostly been a force for goodness and justice. But it breaks my heart to see the kingdom of Uncle Sam heralded more than the kingdom of our risen Lord. People may deny this, but their social media posts, comments to me and each other, and it seems, their hearts, beg to differ. I have seen a pastor write an article saying “my neighbors are only those who value the same things I do.” I’ve seen posts from pastors comparing refugees to snakes who may need a home, but are waiting to bite. I’ve seen believers calling us to arm ourselves, or to “carpet bomb” Syria, with little regard for these lives created in the image of God. This is not to say that we shouldn’t think about the security issues, the political and geo-political implications, the costs, and the possible danger of evil men trying to use the plight of the refugee for terror. We should consider these things. But these considerations are secondary for Christians. We are citizens of another kingdom, first; an eternal kingdom. And so we “seek first his kingdom and His righteousness.” We “desire a better country, a heavenly one.” We live according to the beliefs and values of the kingdom of Christ our Lord.
- Wrong input
The news media tells us about every new action taken by terrorists. Our social media tells about every new statistic or story that may or may not be true. The politicians running for office tell us how only they can solve this problem, how they alone can save America. The organizations calling us to take action tell us about the millions who have been displaced, the thousands who have died, and the greatness of the need. Our own emotions tell us to be afraid, to be angry. The world around us tells us to trust in politicians, militaries, borders, or even distance.
But the Bible tells us where our trust should be founded, in the God who saves and cares for his people, in Christ who has risen and is coming again, in the Spirit who empowers us through hardship and in mission. The Bible tells us that all people – no matter their nationality, citizenship, ethnicity, religion, beliefs, or location – all people are created in the image of God. The Bible tells us to do justice and love mercy. The Bible tells us that God “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner.” The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, even our enemies. Perhaps the most discouraging thing about the discussion surrounding the refugee crisis is that the main source of input, the main guide for how to act, feel, and think, the information that is determining our path the most has not been the Bible, but the constant media cycle which breeds fear. Let God’s word be the main thing we consume, for daily life, and for how to act in the midst of this crisis.
David Platt has helped see how the bible shapes our view of the refugee crisis here.
While this post has been about the areas of discouragement, stay tuned for Part Two of the encouraging things to note! We at B21 are thankful for those who have maintained a prophetic voice in the midst of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. At our panel we will have one of those leading voices, IMB President David Platt, and we will be sure to talk about this pressing issue and others like it. Register by Friday May 14th for discounted admission! Register here.