There is something about a picture, an icon, that galvanizes emotions and sets one’s conscience. The recent image of little Aylan Kurdi, washed up dead on a Turkish beach, is that image for the current migrant crisis in Europe. I call it a migrant crisis, because it is much more than a wave of immigration. Here in the States, we talk about the wave of foreign-born migrants to the US. But in Europe, it is not a wave; it is a tsunami.
This year, Germany expects to grant asylum to 800,000 more people. That number is four times larger than last year’s total. Many other European countries are refusing asylum to most and only granting a small number compared to the multitude that is washing up on their shores. Speaking of shores, the number having died attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year is 30 times larger than last year. A simple google search will showcase the glorified rafts full of hundreds of people trying to make it across the vast expanse of dangerous water.
Yet in the midst of statistics, we all wake up one morning to an image that makes the numbers real. Little Aylan was from Syria and he and members of his family were aboard one of those boats desperately trying to make it to safety in Europe. The Kurdi family is one story in the midst of thousands stuck between two unthinkable choices. In front of them, the dark waters of the Mediterranean separating them from the hope of life. Behind them, the terror of Syrian captivity, violence, and the threat of ISIS.
The story of Aylan narrates for us a tale that is all-too-common. We talk about global migration a lot here on the blog, but we must not lose sight of the reasons behind this unprecedented spread of peoples around the world. Sure, for some it is a job or education. For so many more, it is the fear of oppression, the threat of death, the pangs of hunger, the shadow of disease, or the hands of a drug cartel. The refugee crisis in Europe right now is the result of mankind running from evil and seeking out hope. Not merely mankind; men… women… children… named Aylan.
For the sake of His name
In the face of evil (and there is no shortage these days) it is easy to lose sight of hope. It is easy to lose sight of God’s ordering of history. Surely God plays no part in the affairs of terror cells and corrupt governments. Yet, the Bible tells us a different story. The Old Testament is replete with examples of God using nations for his ultimate end. Habakkuk tells of one such use of the Chaldeans, a particularly vile people, to bring about God’s purposes on Earth. Ezekiel heralds similar proclamations from God concerning the rise and fall of nations, all for His name. So, we must not lose sight of hope. In the face of evil, God is not silent, he is near and his mighty hands are at work in the affairs of men for his name sake.
So that they can seek him and perhaps find him
In Acts 17, Paul reminds his listeners at the Areopagus that it is God who determines the periods and boundaries of man, so that they can seek Him and perhaps find Him. Yes, migrants are flooding out of closed, terrorized areas across Africa and the Middle East in hopes of finding life in Europe. However, something more is afoot, for it is God who determines the periods and boundaries of man. Unprecedented global migration is no coincidence. As the curtain of Islam closes around so many countries, perhaps God is moving peoples for more than safety. Perhaps he is doing a work for the glory of his name.
So many migrants come from the least-reached places, and while they are looking for temporary hope, it is our responsibility to share with them an unending hope. Syria is desperately closed off to the gospel, but pathways to access these people are being created by their global movements. We must seize these opportunities so that these people may find real freedom.
Made in the image of God
Finally, let us not miss this opportunity to remind ourselves of the Imago Dei. Faces too easily become numbers in headlines. Being forced to witness little Aylan, face down in the sand, washing up like drift-wood, should stir our souls with renewed love for our neighbor. Aylan bore the image of God, and God loves migrants just as he loves you and me. The early church was known for their compassion to the marginalized, taking in children off the street as their own. In an evil world, may we stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. After all, that is precisely what Christ has done for us.