When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19: 33-34 NRSV)
It’s funny how putting a human face on something, on an “issue” tends to make us see it in a different light. This happens all the time. For example, a number of years ago some members of family changed their stance on gay rights and marriage equality after a friend of our family’s came out. In what seems almost unbelievable to me, they now set around a table with our friends and treat these two young men just like any other young love birds! It’s really been quite a remarkable thing to witness.
So today I want to apply that thinking to refugees. If you’ve followed me for awhile you know that this is something I care very deeply about. This isn’t meant to be a “political” post either, it’s meant to be a “human” post. We need to stop seeing these folks as a political football and start seeing them as human beings with red blood just like us, with hopes and dreams just like us, and fears and concerns, just like us.
Recently I’ve been reading a book on refugees and resettlement called “Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis,” by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir. These gentlemen all work for World Relief, one of the biggest NGOs that work to help refugees. If you know World Relief, then you know they are pretty much a staunch evangelical organization. These guys aren’t what you would generally call “bleeding heart liberals” or “progressive mainline Christians.” What they are is an evangelical Christian organization that takes the Bible’s commands about refugees and helping others very seriously, and that’s awesome!
One chapter in the book looks this thought of “humanizing” refugees straight in the eye by telling a few different stories. One is of a veterinarian and his family who were forced to flee the escalating violence in Syria. After trying to find a safe place in their home country they fled to Turkey, where the laws did not allow this man, Rami, or his family to work and sustain themselves. Rami and his family eventually registered with the United Nations High Council on Refugees (UNHCR) and after months and SEVERAL interviews with both the UN and various US agencies, Rami and his family were resettled to the United States with legal status. Within a couple of months, all the adults in the family had jobs and were able to meet their rent and begin repaying the loan for their plane tickets to the USA. Rami hopes to continue his work as a veterinarian after completing English courses and US licensing requirements. He and his family and children are grateful to the USA for the chance to live a peaceful life. (Bauman et. al. 51-54)
The book also tells a story about a woman named Deborah. Deborah is a Christian, and was being persecuted in her native Burma for her religious beliefs. Deborah’s husband had passed away, and she decided to flee Burma with her two young kids. They managed to make it all the way to Malaysia, where they were forced to live with several other refugee families in a single family dwelling with only one bathroom. Deborah spoke English, which helped her land a job working with a refugee aid organization in Malaysia, where she registered with the UNHCR. Finally FOUR YEARS after her resettlement case began, her and her children were allowed into the United States. They settled outside of Chicago where Deborah works to cover all their obligations and is heavily involved in a local church. She too is thankful. (Bauman et. al. 55-57)
Those are just a couple of stories from the book I’m reading. Just google “refugee stories” and you can find a whole lot more. I encourage you to do just that.
Oh, and by the way, there are many, MANY refugees still living in the country to which they originally fled, and most will stay there, as refugee resettlement tends to focus on only the most vulnerable cases. The UNHCR website relates the story of Sam.
Sam is originally from Afghanistan. He was forced to flee the country at 17 after both of his parents were murdered just because they were musicians. He managed to make it to Greece and started to build a life. One night he was walking home when he was ambushed and beaten by a mob. They left him unconscious in the road, where he was discovered by a passer by and taken home. It kind of a sounds like what happens in the story of the Good Samaritan, doesn’t it?
With that in mind, the question for all of us is, how many suffering people are we ignoring in the streets of the world while we walk on by in our everyday lives and whine about being “safe” or someone “taking our jobs?”
Sam is quoted as saying this on the UNHCR site:
For me, one of the greatest challenges facing society, the government, and organizations like UNHCR, is combating hate. I wish that all could understand this: we are forced to flee our homes, we’re not coming here to cause trouble. I wish they could understand we’re all human beings, living under the same sky.
Think about that quote next time you hear people on the news complaining about refugees or fear mongering about refugees. If you’re a Christian, spend some time in Scripture honestly grappling with it’s teachings on welcoming the stranger. Pray about it.
Then just maybe seek out some refugee stories in your own community.
This is part one of a series that I’m going to do on the refugee crisis as I read through this book. If you miss further entries you’ll be able to find them under the “refugee” tag or the new category I’ll be making called “Seeking Refuge Series.”