Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 23, 2016

On the Front Lines

The world is in turmoil, the nations are in an uproar, and many people find themselves in very deep trouble. Over the past several years I have ventured to the front lines of human suffering. In recent years, I have visited hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Regardless of the circumstances or events that drove them from their respective homes, all of these refugees share several things in common.

Rohingya Lady at Tent
They have suffered the worst.

The one common denominator among the refugee families that I have visited over the years is that they have suffered the worst. Regardless of whether they are Muslim or Christian background, every single family experienced loss on a scale that is hard to comprehend. Their stories are profiles in pain — evidence of the cruelty bestowed on them by other human beings.

Miriam and Janan
They are struggling to make sense of it all.

Suffering causes all people to reflect deeply about the why of it all. Some refugee families suffered because the battle came to them — to their neighborhood. Others suffered because they were Muslim, the wrong kind of Muslim, or a Christian infidel deserving of death. It isn’t difficult for those who place people in categories to justify their acts of cruelty toward those in the wrong category. Someone always suffers at the hands of those who do not regard human life as sacred.

Rohingya Lady Hand Up
They want the best for their families.

Without question, every refugee family I have visited over the years wants the best. They know that life will never be what it was before and that they will never recover what they lost. They all long for a new start — one that will enable them to provide for their families. They wonder if they will be able to find work so that they can put food on their table. And, they are concerned about the welfare of their children and about things like education and medical care.

Bekaa Valley Family
They need help in order to start over.

The challenges of being a refugee in a host country are beyond difficult. None of the families I have visited ever expected that they would leave their ancestral homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Imagine yourself in that situation, without access to the people and places and possessions that define your life and make it meaningful for you. Starting over is hard. Refugee families want and need a hand up — an article of clothing, a sleeping mat, shoes for their kids, access to medical care, and the hope of a place to call home.

Rohingya Kids at Tent
Ultimately, they want and need hope.

The writer of Proverbs put it best, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (13:12). Hope is as vital to our survival as the air we breathe. Without it, we wither away. For those refugee families that find themselves caught in the teeth of a storm, any shred of hope becomes something to cling to, something to keep them afloat a little longer. Hope in the form of humanitarian aid, a visit from someone who cares, a word of encouragement, an unexpected act of kindness — these matter to families in pain.

Our world is indeed in turmoil. As Christ-followers we must be present on the front lines of human suffering. We must be the hands and feet of Jesus and show the world the distinctiveness of our biblical worldview — one that regards human life as sacred and cares about the least of these. We must continue to pray, give, and move in the direction of the suffering. And when we reach them, we must love without condition and serve compassionately without expecting anything in return.


Responses

  1. “O” What are your thoughts on allowing thousands of refugees into this country when it has already been proven that terrorists are infiltrating the refugees so they can get into other countries and then do their acts of terror? I am all for helping these people in their desperate need, but I am also very concerned about making it easy for terrorists to get in.

    KC

    • Hey KC…

      Based on my experience among the Syrian refugees in Jordan, the process of going to another country is beyond difficult. Every refugee family must be interviewed by UN personnel — some more than once. This is to determine the best option for relocating and starting over and to assess the matter of a living stipend to help them make their transition to either the USA, Canada, or Australia.

      Of the hundreds of refugees I have visited, only one expressed any desire to do harm. He was a man who had watched Assad’s forces kill his brother. He said that if he could return to Syria he would gladly kill Assad. That kind of emotion is understandable. He knew that this would never happen and that he would have to make peace with the death of his brother.

      Without exception, every family I have met is living with the frustrating uncertainty of what will happen to them, to their kids, and to extended family members living with them. They are frightened, just as you and I would be if we found ourselves in the same situation.

      As for terrorists infiltrating the ranks of refugees, it is likely that a bad apple can find its way into the crate. If that happens, however, you don’t throw away the crate of apples. You deal with the bad apple.

      Of greater concern to me is the number of senseless acts of violence in our own country that have no relation to refugees. While I was in Jordan in July to serve refugees, my daily news feed from America made America look like the most violent place on the planet. Many people I have met overseas have asked me how I can live in a country filled with so many acts of violence — shootings at schools, shootings at shopping centers and places of employment, snipers taking out policemen, etc. From their side of the world our country looks as unsafe as we perceive theirs to be.

      As a Christ-follower I am bound by a higher consideration. The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates two views on helping others. The priest and Levite refused to help. They wondered, “What will happen to me if I help that man?” The Good Samaritan took a risk by asking “What will happen to that man if I do not help him?” Ultimately we must ask ourselves what Jesus would do in a world where there are so many hurting people.

      I understand the concerns and reservations about the refugee crisis. It is a difficult issue with no easy answers. But, as Christ-followers we cannot be absent from these front lines. We must give others the same consideration we would want if we found ourselves in the same terrible predicament.

      One thing is certain, this is the time for us to step up to be the hands and feet of Jesus by loving and caring for hurting humanity. As my dear Jordanian friend Jamal once said to me, “If we will allow others the opportunity to listen to the music of our lives as Christ-followers, then sooner or later they will want to know the words.” And that is exactly what I have experienced. Hurting humanity is asking why a Christ-follower would meet the needs of a Muslim. As a result, many are asking about the words and discovering a new song.

      Thanks for your question. Please join me in praying for all those who are struggling to care for their families in this particular slice of human history.

      • We just returned from Jordan where we met Syrian refugee families. The need is great. My dream would be for every church in America to volunteer to sponsor a family, or several if they are able, and stand by them and help them understand the American culture, learn to speak English, enroll in school, find employment, etc. The people we met were working class people, educated, experienced, and reduced to sweeping floors or carrying loads at construction sites for a few pennies a day. These were the backbone of Syrian society and they have had to abandon everything in the midst of witnessing and experiencing horrendous violence. Now when I pray for the Syrians I see their faces, remember their stories, and I weep as I pray.

        Thank you for the work you do and for telling us about it.

      • Thanks for sharing, Ann. I agree that if every church recognized the strategic significance of being the hands and feet of Jesus among Syrian refugees it could be an absolute game changer. God has given us this opportunity to show His love to those who are hurting. May we embrace this moment in history to show His love to people in crisis.


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