A note to begin: I have long hesitated to write this, mostly because of where I now live. There are no refugees in my new home-city. Most of the people who surround me are very afraid of refugees. Are these people angry and hateful individuals? Not at all! They are kind and loving to anyone they meet. They’ve made me feel at home in our city, and have gone the extra mile to take care of me and my little family. I’ve grown to love them. And I ask them–you–for open eyes and mercy for this brief, scattered note.
A friend of mine recently returned from volunteering on the Greek island of Lesvos. She was helping in a shelter for unaccompanied minors, young boys fleeing the civil war in Syria. Now she feels a staggering burden of guilt after having finished her 3-month term and returned to a comfortable life in the United States.
Why? Because of the unbelievable needs she feels she has turned her back on. And yet, how can one person meet those needs? Rickety camps everywhere from Hungary to France, children without parents, families who have lost members to war–or to drowning in the crossing from Syria. PTSD and other mental health issues, physical repercussions of war like broken limbs or worse.
So is the answer to allow more people to come to the United States?
I don’t think it’s that easy. Bringing everyone here is neither financially possible for our country nor what most Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghanis desire. They want to be able to return to their homes in peace.
However, some families do just want to make a new start. I worked with many of those families when I was teaching ESL to refugees. One young Iraqi woman, a dentist in her home country, wanted to be able to take the classes necessary to practice dentistry here in the U.S. Another woman told me that she took her teenaged sons and daughter out of Iraq and Syria (she had lived in both countries, trying to escape war) for 2 reasons: 1) she was receiving threats from ISIS, and 2) her daughter had been severely wounded during the Iraq War when she was very small and needed better healthcare. A young man had been a translator for the U.S. forces and now found himself in hot water with the encroaching ISIS sympathizers, so he decided to come here as well.
Of course, all these people came before there was such a thing as a travel ban. I hope you will see the common thread among them: they just want normal, safe lives. Refugees are screened well (see my article on how the screening process works), and very few are terrorists. If a terrorists wants to get here, he/she will find a way to do so.
I’m not asking that we be prepared to receive every refugee in the world. That’s impossible. I’m asking for hearts of empathy. And here’s the thing that’s been bothering me so much:
I have seen more empathy for refugees among unbelievers than among Christians.
Why? Of all people, Christians should be known for their love. Especially for their fellow Christians, yes, but also for others. We should long to see the Muslim world saved, and perhaps this time of unrest and fear for them is an opening for the gospel. Our hearts should ache when we hear about the young boys stuck in Greece without their families, or when we hear about a fire breaking out in a refugee camp. (Even if some of their own set the fire, as happened when a few disgruntled people destroyed the temporary homes of over a thousand refugees near Dunkirk, France.)
“You need to think about the safety of our own country,” I always hear.
I agree. But, please, have some mercy! When you speak of refugees, speak with compassion about people who have lost their families, their homes, everything that ever mattered to them. Fear less and love more (as I urged in my Note to Christians about Syrian Refugees). If you’re able, perhaps consider volunteering with refugees, either here or abroad. If not, at least don’t forward emails full of fake information about refugees. (Yes, I’ve received many of them!) Check your information, please. [By the way, here’s the rebuttal of one of the Canadian chain emails which claims that refugees receive more money than seniors. It shows that refugees are expected to repay their transportation debt to the Canadian government.]
Please, don’t let people who care nothing for Christ outdo you in showing love and compassion.
nounplural noun: refugees
- a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.