Recently however, a headline statistic struck a heart string that really resonated with us. It read …
The global refugee crisis reached a peak this year, and is still climbing. At this time in human history there are more refugees and displaced people than at any other time on planet earth. 65.3 million or 1/113 human beings are displaced from their homes (UNHCR).
As we have mentioned previously, Grant and I live in the centre of Sofia in an area termed by the locals as ‘Little Iran’, primarily due to the high number of Syrian and Iranian residents and shopkeepers in the central area around Баня баши джамия (Banya Bashi Mosque).
In the last two years that we have lived in this apartment, we have watched a steady increase in the number of refugees but just recently we have noticed a significant increase in the refugee population in our area.
Around the corner from where we are living, is a UNESCO office that distributes food to refugees and we as a family, have been moved by the sight and plight of this ragged group of people who have sacrificed everything for the sake of a safer future.
As with most European countries, Bulgarians vacillate between empathy and frustration and from our vantage point, we acknowledge that it is extremely difficult at times to remain impartial and objective and to know how best to respond.
This past September, the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) here in Bulgaria, published that it registered 2,776 people asylum seekers in Bulgaria during August, 1,543 asylum seekers more than it registered in July. Within the refugee centers the number of refugees is rising and it is currently estimated that the centers in some areas are now at about 93% of their capacity while in other areas the centers are at a 174% occupancy rate and that number is expected to rise.
With the spate of bombings in neighboring Turkey, the impact of the influx of refugee’s can at times be challenging to locals and given that a few of the terror attacks have been initiated by ‘supposed refugees’, it certainly has challenged many people and their way of thinking.
Governments across the globe have been forced to re-evaluate how best to handle the mass of refugees seeking safety and asylum – from the very men who may well be hiding in the midst of the ragged group of refugees desperate to gain access to Europe.
Opening borders to millions of families forced to flee their homes under conditions of indescribable violence and prolonged starvation has become much more than a huge social and economic burden for the countries and communities willing to offer sanctuary to the displaced.
Bundled babies and their exhausted Mothers have been contaminated by their mere proximity to danger, while young men and their desperate fathers are given the potential to be active carriers of hate and a recent estimate is that every third refugee child is parentless …. in other words an estimated 100 000+ refugee children, are currently parentless in Europe – unprotected and vulnerable and exposed to innumerable levels of exploitation.
The question on many lips is “should we let them in?”
The concern is legitimate. It’s real. This is happening. And whether we like it or not, every governing body has an obligation, first and foremost, to its own citizens, their economy, and their security. The risks must and need to be assessed.
But refugees cannot be ignored. Not by the Government, and more importantly not by the Church.
However, far from the compassion and mercy we as believers should be displaying, an embarrassing number of Christians across the globe have taken to social media to halt the welcome of battered men, women, and children. Fear for property, fear for their lives, fear for their kids, their faith; fear, fear, fear … it is fear that mandates our “What if?“
When we look at vast numbers of people moving across borders today, the problems we encounter are peppered with so many “what ifs” that they often leave us paralyzed and utterly incapable of doing anything. But, if we are to be objective about these ‘What if’s’ they all boil down pretty much to the same thing …
‘What if I try to help them and something bad happens to me?’
We all want to love others. We want to serve and give and help. We want to meet needs whether perceived or real. I truly believe that at the core of us all this is the kind of human beings we all want to be. Sadly though, more often than not before we even take the first small step to help, we start counting the cost to self. We really do want to help the orphan, the widow, the refugee… but not at our own expense…
Luke 10:25-37 (NLT) One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Too often nowadays, we miss the point that the Samaritan was a despised figure, a condemned outcast in the eyes of the audience Jesus was talking to, denounced, branded and stigmatized. The Samaritan was a “good neighbour”, yes, but he was also hated by his neighbour. Doing good to an individual who under other circumstances would have shunned him.
Fear and terror turn us into priests and Levites.
Fear will always lead us to the other side of the road, away from the one in need, because fear convinces us that to stop and help is too costly, or too dirty or too dangerous.
It’s true, if we open our borders, doors, homes, and hearts to refugees or the ‘least of these’, there is a chance that we may unwittingly show love to our enemies. We may even end up getting hurt. But if we choose to avoid our neighbors and ignore their dire circumstances – when we as believers are willing to let innocent people with genuine needs die in the street because we’re too scared to get involved – then terror has already done its job – it has stolen our identity in Christ.
“He has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts.” (2 Corinthians 1:22a NLT)
We as believers are not defined by our feelings and we are not defined by the opinions of others or by our circumstances.
We are defined by God and God alone. He identifies us as his own. The concrete, solid, gospel truth is that as believers, we are who God says we are, and no one else has a vote or a say in the matter.
Jesus was able to face the incredible demands of his mission because He knew exactly who He was and whose He was. He knew that He mattered to God, and that gave Him confidence to move purposefully in faith.
We are now identified with Christ and have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We are God’s precious children, and He created us in a way that pleases Him.
As such surely the question on our lips should really be “Are we really going to stand by and let that happen?”
Shouldn’t we rather be looking to do what we are called to do?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-38
God is sovereign in all things, the migration of people across borders is no exception.
Though the situation is awful and pretty scary at times, as believers we can and must accept that God is not surprised by what is happening in Syria, the Middle East or Africa and He has purposed and equipped us the church to meet needs and bear the message of hope in the midst of this tragedy.
We are here to try and make a difference for eternity – to advance His kingdom and His purposes in our little corner of the world.