By Barbie Fischer
“Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love…”
Psalm 107: 4-8 (ESV)
Over the last several weeks the news has been overwhelmed with stories of people dying as they wander the land looking for a city to dwell in, a city of hope, free from fear of war, persecution and death. These stories can often be overwhelming and easily dismissed. I have even found myself avoiding the news in the last two weeks, especially after three year old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore. His parents had tried to join relatives in Canada, but were denied. Their boat capsized as they fled the war in Syria and Aylan, his five year old brother, and 35 year old mother lost their lives. His father had been coping with the loss of their home and possessions to the war in Syria, now he has lost his wife and children as well. It reminded me of the story of Job.
What is being called the “European Migrant Crisis” has brought to mind many Bible Stories of people forced from their homes because of conflict, persecution, or natural disaster. Even Jesus as a child was forced from his home with his Mother and Father, taking refuge in Egypt from political persecution.
The news stories of refugees dying in a quest for a place of peace and my own mixed reactions to them have lead me to a time of contemplation and two questions keep coming to mind: How are we as Christians responding to this crisis? What do we see when we look at the faces of those fleeing?
In August it seemed most of the people entering Europe were fleeing from Libya, Nigeria, and other conflict ridden countries in Africa. More recently reports are saying the majority of those fleeing are doing so from Syria. The crisis in Syria has been raging for almost five years now and it is one that hits close to home.
As the “Arab Spring” began in the fall of 2010, I had just begun classes at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. One of my classmates is my brother Mohammed, who had left his family, the comforts of home and his job as a professor at the University of Damascus to study peacebuilding in a foreign land. Mohammed towers over me, with his height, yet has one of the kindest spirits I have ever encountered. We came to find we share many of the same values, including family, faith and peace. Over the past five years I have watched Mohammed put his own life at risk to help bring attention to the plight of the Syrian people, his brothers and sisters. He has gone days without sleep, and has given close to everything to seek peace for his home land. We do not share a native tongue or home country, yet I count Mohammed as my brother.
Scripture is clear that we are all created by God (Colossians 1:16), and whether we recognize that or not that makes us all brothers and sisters. Mohammed is my brother and in the people I see on the television or my computer screen climbing through barbed wire barricades on the Hungarian border, crying and clutching their loved ones as they climb the shores of Greece, and those detained in “migrant camps” which function as prisons, they too are my brothers and sisters.
I have one biological sister, she is older than me, and very protective of me. I can remember getting hurt as a child and she would run to my aid. Is that our response to the current crisis we see in Europe? Do we see our brothers and sisters in the people fleeing the violence in their homelands? Do we see Christ in them?
Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus speaks of those who will enter the Kingdom of God as those who have fed him when he was hungry, gave him drink when he was thirsty, invited him in when he was a stranger, clothed him, looked after him as he was sick, and visited him in prison. He says in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.”
There are stories of people clothing and feeding the refugees, thousands left shoes at a Hungarian train station for refugees; those reaching Munich are being greeted with food and teddy bears; a family has used their own money and time to operate the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, patrolling the waters helping migrants make it to land safely; people around the world are taking a stand saying refugees are welcome here. Yet, I still wonder, how many refugees would our churches take in? How many would you take in? After all they are our brothers and sisters.
While I hope we will do anything and everything we can for our family, one thing we can do is pray for their safety, for God’s guidance in how we can respond, pray for peace. Beyond that may we also act on their behalf, advocating for peace in their countries and giving as we can to agencies working on the ground offering support such as Mennonite Central Committee’s Syria and Iraq Crisis Response.
Romans 15:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” No matter what I do, how I respond, right now I mourn. I mourn with the refugees, my brothers and sisters.