"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -Emerson

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On the Church and Refugees

Dear American Christian Church,

Oh how I hesitate to even pen these words. Because I know we are all a little braver in the sanctity of our homes, hiding behind the glow of a computer screen. I know these conversations need to be had in person more so than through the internet, but I also know we have to take the time to shine light when darkness threatens to prevail. And I know God has uniquely positioned me these past three years, for such a time as this, as someone with a heart and a passion for the voiceless persecuted people from around the world. Three years ago, I entered the world of refugee resettlement as a volunteer. I’ve gotten an education in a process that I knew nothing about before having stepped in and working with local refugees from Burma. I’ve been able to take my passion and draw others into this world, helping those who have endured so much rebuild their lives in my community.

But then, a cataclysmic event happen. One that shook our foundations because it is heinous in nature and brought back memories of an ordinary September day over a decade ago. Fear from those whose main objective is to incite terror has officially overtaken our Facebook feeds. But we, the Church, stand at a place where many have stood before. You see, we stand at a crossroads of sorts, a place where some of those we consider great, once stood. Charles Spurgeon. William Wilberforce. John Wesley. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ralph Abernathy. Christians who all had to decide what side of history they were going to stand on when things got tough. Because you see, what we are facing right now, is really our bread and butter, what those before us experienced as well: how to love when it is hard, unpopular, and downright scary.

Over 50 million people are forcibly displaced all over the world right now. Fifty. Million. Of those, about 19.5 million are refugees—those who are outside their country of nationality and can’t return due to a well-founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.  Of that 19.5 million, more than half are children. This year, the crisis sweeping many countries across the globe, emerged a new leader in the country with the most refugees: Syria. Over 3.5 million Syrians have fled the persecution and terror that is ripping their homeland to shreds.

Just a few short weeks ago, we as the Church watched a little boy’s dead body wash ashore and we were moved to do something. I was so proud to watch American Christianity emerge as a leader in the forefront of fundraising and getting supplies to those flowing across the borders of Europe in hopes of peace and stability. So many of you had your heart moved so deeply to action. But my, what a difference just a few days can make. Last week, terror struck, and those same rallying forces suddenly became frightened and frigid in its response. Calls to stop allowing the persecuted in have been flooding my feed. And I can’t sit by idly and watch anymore, because while I don’t expect the unbelieving world to do what is right, I do expect the bride of Christ to.

Christian, lean in and hear me on this: you do not want to be on the wrong side of this historical issue because our God is going to hold accountable His Church. We have a Holy standard to uphold and we cannot err on the side of party lines or nationalism—we must err on the side of Jesus.

First, the question must be asked. What do you know about the refugee resettlement process in America and across the globe? Because I’ve been seeing a lot of quotes, facts and figures flying without a lot of citing reputable sources. The media is not, I repeat, is NOT a reputable source. Politicians are not a reputable source. Your neighbor’s Facebook post is not a reputable source.  We need truth here from sources who are in the trenches of refugee resettlement on a daily basis. Not Joe Schmoe whose only source is his xenophobia and slanted news sources. Here is the truth:

1.)    We have to understand terminology first and foremost:

The people fleeing Syria are yes, people fleeing persecution. However, what we are seeing in Europe is not the legal definition of refugees, meaning people who have gone through the process and pipelines that have been in place for years and have safely resettled scores of refugees to 28 countries around the globe accepting them without any incident. What we are seeing in Europe are the mass majority asylum seekers, people who are seeking refugee status, yet who have not gone through the extensive process to gain it. The media does not understand this important difference and has been interchanging these words without care. It matters. Because what is happening in Europe with completely open borders in places is not the same thing that the United States is doing through the UNHCR and the U.S. State Department refugee resettlement program that allows those who have undergone the intense background checks, cross several intelligence agencies, biodata checks, medical screenings, and intense interviews to verify the validity of their plight. (www.unhcr.org for more info)

2.)    We have to know the numbers:

19.5 million Refugees worldwide. This is the largest refugee crisis our world has ever seen since World War II. We are talking about a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Less than 1% get resettled worldwide in countries allowing refugee resettlement. In the next year, the United States has committed to welcome 85,000 refugees. That’s .004% of the world’s persecuted. That’s a shameful spit in the bucket. Of those 85,000, only 10,000 will be arriving from Syria. Just around 10% of the refugees coming to the United States will be coming from the country producing the most right now. The vast majority will come from other places such as Burma, Colombia, or the DR of Congo just to name a few. Church, these numbers are sickening and embarrassing because do you know who takes on the majority of the care for those displaced due to war and violence? Developing countries. The poorest of the poor are the ones opening their arms and homes to those who need it the most. Woe to us, Church! This cannot be our generation’s legacy. (www.unhcr.org for more info)

3.) We have to stop operating out of the same fear that everyone around us seems to:

Most days, I wonder if I’m even reading the same Bible as the vast majority of those who proclaim Christ. Because when I read it, I don’t find any promises of a comfortable, safe existence. Instead, every word I read points to a life that is lived poured out defending and fighting for those who need it most in a world that is unstable and gunning for us. Everything I have read and know about Jesus points to the fact that He has but one stance on refugee resettlement: do it.

Care for the least. Stop and tend for the foreigner who has been pummeled and left for dead. Love your enemies, both real and perceived. This is my Jesus. I don’t know if that is yours, but if it isn’t, please don’t continue to use the label Christian for describing your belief system. I know that’s a hard word for you, but with that label comes a load of responsibility in terms of knowing the God in which we serve. Don’t claim to follow Him if you don’t think we should do what He says.

His word is clear: do not be afraid. Yes, evil will come. Yes, it will rear its ugly face in our backyards and in our cities. It will try to get us to live in terror and fear, because it knows, those things keep us from our God. It will create chaos and incite panic because all of this distracts from the peace and hope we are guaranteed.

This world will continue to spin on what seems to be a downward spiral. Jesus said it. He told us to expect it:

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:4-14)

But our hope is not in this world’s messiahs: politicians who make false promises to keep all the bad out or media sources who claim to know the truth. These messiahs will deceive you. Jesus said it.

Wars and rumors of wars will continue to come. But see to it you are not alarmed, He told you. Persecution will ensue for standing up for righteousness. We. Will. Be. Hated.

Because of the wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. Love grown cold looks like the likes of Christ claiming, Jesus lovers saying no to the world’s most vulnerable and needy.

But to the one who stands firm in love, in trust of the true Messiah, in doing the hard things He has called us to in a scary culture, those He will save. And it is this gospel that will be preached in the whole world: from Syria to Burma and to every war-torn country in between.

Church, I love you so. I don’t want us to collectively err on the wrong side of this crossroads in our history. Let’s rise up and watch perfect love drive out fear.


Your sister and biggest fan



Abigail Todd said...

Well written, dear sister. Continue to reach for His kingdom in all you do.

Jayme Perrine said...

Amen! I wholeheartedly agree. I've had a very hard time siding with (fellow) Christians these days.. This article is a relief to me. Before the hateful comments spew, (i hope they don't but you knew when writing this that they might)
Please know that i have felt the heart of Jesus on this matter more from your writing than any other on the subject that i've read

Ann Robertson said...

Thank you for writing this, Catherine. It completely convicted me, for I have found myself getting sucked in by the fears of the world these last couple of weeks instead of relying on the commands and promises of our Saviour.

Phoebs said...

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes.
I have been wanting to write a similar post; perhaps I will defer to yours instead.


Catherine said...

Thank you all for your kind comments! I will have to say I am a bit surprised...I expected the unkind ones to outweigh the kind ones. So happy to see God use this little corner of the internet to speak His truth.