Now that we have rounded the corner on a new year, I thought it good to grab some fresh factoids about the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. Of course, the situation over there will not be back to “normal” for a long time, as millions of people move across dozens of countries. However, in the din of media coverage, it is helpful to dig through it and provide a concise account.
Here is what you need to know. There are (primarily) three places being tossed around in the news concerning the migrant crisis. If you are living here in America, the media is talking about three main stages for this current crisis. Two of those are legitimately a crisis, and the third is a political football that is getting tossed around.
The Middle East
The Middle East is still the primary location of this refugee disaster. Most of the media attention seems to be directed toward Europe. Unfortunately, that keeps people from seeing the desperate humanitarian crisis occurring in the countries surrounding Syria. A country that once had a population of 23 million people, Syria has now had a total of 13 million people displaced. That is over half the country… half.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The result is millions of people living in cramped refugee settlements in neighbouring countries. There are significant, immediate humanitarian needs. People are starving. Sickness abounds. The epicenter of this crisis is still in the Middle East, and it needs immediate relief.
The crisis also spills over into Europe, and it appears that most of the news coverage now surrounds this migration phenomenon. At the end of last year, the number of migrants to the European Union officially passed the 1 million mark. Already this year another 80,000 have been processed, and it does not appear to be slowing down. The vast majority of these have come by sea. We have all seen the pictures of those cramped, dangerous boats, and we remember the tragedy of lives lost.
While a different kind of crisis than the Middle East (the humanitarian needs are nowhere near as dire), this is also a crisis. Europe is stretching hard right now to include a million new neighbors forced from their homes. The assimilation of this many people suddenly into a society is a massive undertaking with massive consequences. Countries must figure out how to divide them up and how to integrate them into the existing population. This is, in many ways, a cultural crisis. In addition, it is a logistic crisis and certainly a financial crisis.
The United States
I include the United States because it is getting a lot of airtime (in US media) concerning the refugee crisis, not because we actually have anything remotely resembling a crisis. To be clear, the refugee situation right now is no crisis in the United States. Instead, the refugee issue has been turned into a political football partly due to fear and partly due to its convenient timing around elections.
Europe and the Middle East are dealing with millions of people who need homes and basic necessities, and the media coverage here is batting around the fate of a few thousand potential refugees and making the issue as divisive as possible. To quote David Platt on this issue, “It is a sure sign of American self-centeredness that we would take the suffering of 13 million people and turn it into an issue that is all about us.”
Now, I am not saying our side of the story is not important. I am also not going to pontificate on here about what the government should do. We have some important decisions to make as a country, and we need to figure out how to make them with both compassion and wisdom. However, we need to realize that there is a real migrant crisis going on, and it is not here.
We do have some refugees coming here. In addition to that, we have over 43 million immigrants living in the US already. America has far more international migrants than any other country in the world. Many of these peoples are from places in the world that have no access to the gospel and now they find themselves living in the heartland of evangelical Christianity. That has to mean something.
So, what’s a church to do?
As we look forward, I think it is important for us to consider how we approach this issue. We need to think about the real refugee crisis overseas and how we can mobilize and support efforts that further the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Certainly, the old adage of praying, giving, and going comes into play here. I encourage you to be praying for these people. Prayer should not be that thing we do when we feel we cannot doing anything “real.” Prayer is our first and greatest weapon in the fight against evil. In addition, there are organizations that are working on the ground in Europe and the Middle East right now, and you can find out about other ways to help.
Here at home a whole host of other things can be done. As a rule, local churches should be the most welcoming communities in their city. We must be marked by hospitality, and that includes people who look different from us and even believe different from us. Our goal is to bear witness to the gospel of the kingdom and to its king. We must proclaim the gospel with open mouths and open arms. Call it gospel hospitality. Consider finding ways to receive international newcomers to your city. Refugees are often the easiest connections because of organizations like World Relief.
Finally, a large group of evangelical leaders came together to discuss the refugee crisis and the result was the GC2 Summit. At their website is a resources tab. If you are a church leader or just a lay person who wants to find ways to get involved, you can check out those resources for many good helps. There are curriculum, prayer guides, and even organizations that can get you started.
Photo by Rebecca Harms from Wendland, Germany (Ungarn September 2015)
[CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D