Urgent crisis on a global scale: how can we help?

Home Variety Urgent crisis on a global scale: how can we help?

Migration of millions of refugees has world-wide effect

Young refugee sleeps as she awaits entrance into Macedonia. Half of the refugees are children. Photo by Ognen Teofilovski for Reuters.

With winter quickly approaching, it is easy to become caught up with finals and Christmas looming over our heads. On top of that, there are concerning events happening in the world that present even more of a conundrum than tests or essays. As followers of Christ, we are naturally inclined to want to keep our fingers on the pulse of the world and process what God is doing, but what does that look like when the world is in the middle of a refugee crisis on scale we have never seen in our lifetime?

The numbers are fluid, but the Syrian refugee crisis has so far affected people in the millions. These are millions of men, women, and children who are lacking not only a home, but a country. It is difficult to identify the precise cause of the displacement, and Dr. Bob Brenneman, Missions and Middle Eastern Studies Specialist  and professor at North Central, emphasizes the complexity of the situations. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly,” he said. “There’s so much to this that could be talked about.” Brenneman described that much of the conflict stems from centuries-long contempt between different Muslim groups. With the controversial invasion/liberation of Iraq in 2003 the minority Sunni Arab power structure fell resulting in tens of thousands of people losing their livelihood, and at the same time, their despised majority rival Shi’ite Muslims became dominant. This anger was exploited by al Qaeda Iraq, which eventually evolved into ISIS. Combined with the chaos of ISIS and government corruption, Syrian and Iraqi families have been forced to leave the country to preserve their lives.

“It’s the biggest refugee crisis since World War II,” said Brenneman, who was on the Turkish-Syrian border and in the Kurdish region of Iraq last spring. “The numbers are pretty astonishing. “42,000 people a day are leaving the area of Syria alone…not to mention hundreds of thousands from other places like Iraq and Iran and so on.” In the midst of this situation, people have little options. Many end up in refugee camps mandated by the United Nations, others try to seek asylum in other countries. Both can present issues. The United Nations’ utmost goal is to keep refugees alive, but then give them resources to return home eventually. While they provide life-saving food and shelter, they are not a permanent solution. “I was in the camps just last spring and they were moderately comfortable but not where you’d want to be the rest of your life,” Brenneman said. “They were in tents, they have a bathroom about every four tents, they have small kitchen facilities, and they’re trying to start some small schools. Livable? Yes. Comfortable? No.” While refugee camps are non-permanent but livable, attempting to find asylum is extremely high-risk.

According to Brenneman, many families will use their entire life savings to pay black market smugglers to take them across borders and get them fake documentation. “A lot of it’s a scam,” Brenneman said. “A lot of people get scammed out of everything and don’t get anywhere.” With the coming winter, many of the routes refugees take will become more and more precarious. Those travelling by land have to worry about the cold and increasing barriers on borders, and refugees travelling by sea will have to face rougher waves.

As far away from the situation we may be, there are actions that we can take. “I think intercessory prayer is huge, that God will work in the situation. Secondly, we need to be advocates for the people.” Brenneman emphasizes that there are already organizations in place that can tackle the big problems. Lacking food and shelter, many refugees have almost no security, and their faith in Islam has been shaken. While we can participate in providing food and shelter, we can also provide relationally. Many refugees may have questions about spirituality, and we can help talk it out with them and possibly lead them to Christ. However, Brenneman emphasizes that the point is “not exploit people so that they feel like they have to [accept Christ] to get aid.” The primary goal is to be there for them in their need, and once they are fed and out of danger, to be open to discussing Christ with them if they ask. “We just really need God’s wisdom to walk that road,” Brenneman said. “I think we better not exploit the situation but say we’re here, we’re Christians, and we’re here to help you, if you want to know more we’re glad to talk.”

In a situation like this, it can be difficult to see God working. God is able to work through us, and by being the body of Christ we can show them love that is a change from the brutality and violence refugees have seen. As Brenneman said, “The Bible’s full of refugee stories, Jesus was a refugee, Moses was a refugee, and so we’re on familiar turfs with this. We’re all pilgrims anyway, right? In one sense we’re all refugees in this world.”