“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” John 4:18
This morning at the car loop, I helped kids out of passenger seats and wished them a happy morning. In class, sat beside them and painted pictures of Pokemon, Elsa, Star Wars, and Rainbow mountains. We had a brief dance party to the tune of “Come on Eileen” and belted the lyrics to Adele’s new song. Tiny hands held mine as we walked to the playground for recess. The ran around in the grass, laughing, squealing, and escaping the occasional bee. I heard their tiny voices calling out, “Look, Ms Stalvey!”
As I watched them, my heart ached. My mind was preoccupied with thoughts of children half a world away.
Currently, Syrian children are drowning the Mediterranean Sea in a desperate attempt to reach safety on European soil. The infrastructure of their homeland has collapsed around them, forcing millions to drop out of school and flee their homes. Those who remain in their country are caught in the middle of a violent civil war which has claimed the lives of 240,000 people, including 12,000 children. Civilians are the victims of extremism: they are bombed, shot at, and attacked with chemical warfare on their own streets. Those who flee for their lives are left without basic human necessities like clean water, food, and shelter.
12 million people have fled their homes because of this conflict. Half of them are children.
With numbers like that, the Crisis in Syria is being called “The Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the World Today.”
Recently, prominent political voices have spoken out against the Presidents plan to allow 10,000 Syrian Refugees to seek asylum in our county. Their primary motivation in denying refugees reassignment in the US is fear. Many fear that ISIS or other terrorists groups could sneak into the country by obtaining refugee status, as they threaten to.
This fear was heightened by the horrific attacks on Paris last week, which left 129 people dead. In the face of such senseless, visceral violence, it’s natural to be afraid. It’s wise to be cautious.
But it’s also tempting to descend into terror and let fear rule in our hearts. In the middle of panic, it’s easy to forget the very real people who have been most victimized by extremism.
I believe that during this difficult, sensitive time, it’s important that we keep the following things in mind:
1. Obtaining refugee status in the US is an incredibly long and difficult process. Applicants are vetted rigorously, undergoing an intensive screening process which takes 18 to 24 months. The extensive process includes live interviews, medical examinations, and backgrounds checks performed by the State Department, Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the National Counter-Terrorism Center, and the FBI, making it “The most stringent security process for anyone entering the US” according to Deputy State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner.
Since 9/11, 750,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. and not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.
2. Fear of terrorism, violence, and ISIS is something Syrian Refugees know all about. Their lives have literally been ruined by Islamic radicals.
By succumbing to fear, we are help Terrorists to achieve what they set out to do. By rejecting refugees, we aren’t sending away terrorists, we’re sending away their victims. We’re sending away widows and children.
3. As Christians, we are called to care for the abused and the victimized, to plead the case of the orphan and the widow, and to embrace foreigners as if they were our own. This remains our commandment even when it is inconvenient, uncomfortable, or risky.
Our scripture is full to the brim with a mandate for social justice, radical hospitality, and self sacrifice.
Leviticus 19:33-34 says to treat the foreigners as if he were native born and love them as yourself. Deuteronomy 10:18-19 Says that God loves the foreigner residing among us and commands that we love them as well.
Perhaps the most convicting passage for me is found in Matthew 25, when Jesus says that the way we treat the suffering is the way we treat Christ himself. Jesus’ words are poignant and haunting:
“Depart from me, you who are cursed…For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me...Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
To turn our back on the refugee, the poor, the displaced and the oppressed is to literally turn our backs on Christ. He places himself among them as one of them. When we embrace someone in in need, we embrace him. When we slam the door, we slam it in Jesus’ face.
As Stephen Mattson puts it, “Although there might be many political, financial, and logistical reasons for citizens to reject the influx of global refugees, there are no theological ones. It may be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and extremely hard, but Jesus wants us to care for these people — the poor, homeless, sick, persecuted, downtrodden, and oppressed.”
These commands-to love our enemies unconditionally and to welcome strangers-they are not easy for anyone. I have been especially convicted as I reflect on these words and pray over the crisis. I want a heart that resembles the compassionate heart of God, but I don’t always want the pain, discomfort, and inconvenience that accompanies its transformation.
But I trust him. I know he loves these people so deeply, people who are suffering injustices worse than I can imagine. I listen deeply for the voice of God as it repeats, Do not be afraid. I remember that Jesus did not only call us to embrace the refugee, he was a refugee himself.
As my husband and I drove through the rain last night, we talked about the things we’d read, seen, and heard on the radio.
He sighed. “If they’re going to send them away, they’ll need to change the poem on the Statue.” he said.
You know the one. Its engraved at the foot of our Lady Liberty, who ever extends a hopeful light towards the bay, beckoning for those who seek freedom to find rest on her shore:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
I know that this issue is polarizing. But silence is not an option, because these people matter to My God and so they matter to me. I’ve included links to various sources that I have found helpful while reading about this issue.