Over the past several days and weeks, I feel like our general (U.S.) American consciousness is being more and more awakened. We’ve witnessed recent world events that have really served to spotlight the issues of the years of unrest and injustice in Syria (and, if I may add, other places like it).
I just finished reading a thoughtful article about the missional component of the current Syrian situation (Thanks, Facebook friend!). As the author of the above article writes, by inviting more refugees from a geographical context that is, at best, less open to Christianity (or, at worst, outright hostile as reported by news outlets like WSJ and the Independent) to one where it is freely practiced, it’s true: we’re offering not just a safe place to live, but the opportunity to more readily learn of and choose to follow Jesus.
But when I consider the situation going on today in Syria and related parts of the world, I really think there are multiple layers to address, not just one. And so there are a host of questions weighing on my heart and mind.
THE TENSION IS HERE
“Seeing the people, He [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.'” –Matthew 9:36-38
“Therefore be careful how you walk; not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.” -Paul, Ephesians 5:15-17
As the Lord’s heart is for all nations, it’s clear that we have another Gospel-sharing opportunity with a community that has not largely engaged the Truth of Jesus, a fact that has been on my heart for some time now. And yet, I find a tension here that we must address in both-and fashion: the reality of the times we’re living in, the knowledge that the days are evil, and the need to walk in God’s wisdom as Paul reminds us in the above Scripture. I think the recent Paris attacks and other similar events remind us that this is true.
Also on my heart is the reality of our sluggish U.S. Church. I wonder: Are we prepared to spread the Gospel with Syrian refugees if we fail to share the Gospel with our neighbor down the street? Or hesitate to live truly obedient, transformed lives and thereby embody the Gospel to a lost and dying world? If in our daily lives, we’re stutter stepping at Jesus’ call for full obedience to His Word, His way, His wisdom rather than that of our culture, our communities, or our way of thinking, will we really prove an effective witness and servant as the Body of Jesus Christ?
And what of the Syrian and other refugees already living alongside us? As a Church, how are we doing in reaching out to these men and women with the Gospel of Jesus Christ now?
And as we invite the suffering from Syrian community to live with us in our country, are we also willing to acknowledge the (very real) possibility is that some (NOT all), who are not seeking refuge but ways to undermine the freedoms of our U.S. society, may indeed try to capitalize on the refugee’s plight to further their own wicked agenda?
Because let’s face it, friends: Satan, the adversary and enemy of our souls, is real, busy, and actively deceiving men, women, and children on ALL shores into ways of thinking and acting to further his “steal, kill, destroy” agenda and violently oppose the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Lord Jesus Himself warned us to be aware of the thief’s schemes, a point which the apostles (like Paul and Peter) readily underscore, calling us as believers to be on our guard. So let’s be sober as these world events play out before us, knowing that enemy does prowl like a “roaring lion” seeking someone to devour, though not as an obvious boogey man, but quite often “disguising himself as an angel of light” by presenting the appearance of what looks good.
Let’s not be fooled. It’s truly in all of our best interests to weigh this possibility of those with evil agendas trying to fly under the radar to enter the safe havens we’re offering to those truly in need. After all, the Syrian people are fleeing violence and evil done to their people at the hands of such men and women. And I don’t think “evil” too strong a word in this situation. When you consider the carnage, killings, rape, abuse, and other inhumane treatment doled out by such men and women against their own people, what else could these actions be called but truly evil?
And can we acknowledge that the possibility of such a scenario may be more than mere “possibility” without letting it paralyze us in fear? Because, friends, though Christ calls us to be on our guard against the enemy’s schemes, in the face of human suffering, He’s not called us to inaction but wise, Spirit-led action.
DISPLACING OURSELVES FOR THE DISPLACED
“A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.” –David, Psalm 68:5-6
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” –Paul, Philippians 3:20-21
If I may, allow me to take this a step further. May I suggest, perhaps, a more uncomfortable question for us to entertain?
However Jesus should call us to it, are WE willing to leave our comfort, even walk away our homes in the U.S., and invest our lives where the crisis is in the Middle East?
Yes, we need to welcome the refugee into our homes here in the U.S. In fact, this option may be one of several good short-term responses. But, I believe, primary to this action step is that we need to welcome the Syrian community into our hearts and see their situation with the eyes and compassion of Jesus.
Let’s try to step into their shoes for a moment. How would we like to be the ones forcefully displaced from our homes? From our families? To have them brutally treated, even killed, before our eyes? To see our homes destroyed and our neighborhoods demolished by enemy fire? To lose the places we’ve come to hold dear and the traditions we love and the places of joy and celebrating that used to define and shape us?
I think we have more to consider than just (though necessary) finding a safe place for the Syrians impacted by terrible injustice. We also need to join in the long, difficult work of journeying alongside the displaced, helping to preserve their beloved homelands, communities, neighborhoods, families within the context in which they live, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that preserves and redeems their culture as a special expression of God’s creative design (and not simply convert it to our Western sensibilities).
Read the second post in this two-part series: “With Spirit-led Compassion: Empathy, Prayer, and Walking in Love”!