Having blogged recently about the Good Samaritan, it seems only natural that I should try and write something about the refugee crisis that is getting more profound and more complex by the minute. The stories we read in our newspapers and see on our screens are actually only a small part of the tragedy; reading the German press on a daily basis, as I do, has been a real eye opener in terms of the sheer scale of the disaster unfolding.
Christians everywhere are grappling to come up with a coherent response, and I certainly do not have any answers. But here are a very few sketchy thoughts:
- This is not just a European problem. I keep seeing headlines which talk of the “European refugee crisis”, but it’s far more a crisis for those living in Africa and the Middle East. We live now in a global village. For too long we have thought that problems in obscure parts of the world can be reported on and then ignored. We grew tired of hearing about the atrocities being committed in the Syrian civil war, or the collapse of effective government in Libya, or the insurgencies in Iraq, and failed to face the fact that nowadays we are all connected by communications and technology. So those living under the threat of poverty and violence can see what life in the West is like (and indeed may already have family and friends living here); and if we were but willing to grasp what was happening in these faraway places, we would have realised far sooner that we would soon be facing a tragedy on our doorsteps.
- We are paying for our lack of understanding. There is no doubt that many leaders in the Middle East have been dictators of the worst and most brutal sort. But unless I have completely misread the message from our governments, the general idea has been that once these dictators were overthrown, somehow stable, liberal democracy would take root. The failure to understand the culture and history of these regions has had catastrophic results – not least for the traditional churches of the region who are now suffering unparalleled persecution. And even while we focus on the plight of refugees, we must not forget to pray for those Christians who are staying, either because they have no choice, or because – amazingly enough – they feel called to stay.
- We have a duty to love our neighbour. For decades it has been impossible for Christians to openly work in many of the countries from which these refugees have now been fleeing. But now they are coming to us, surely this is the time to show the love of Jesus Christ in practical, compassionate action? Nowhere in the parable of the good Samaritan do we read of the ethnic identity or religion of the body left lying on the road. The good Samaritan took a risk to help someone unlike himself. And one day this is something we as a local church will have to do. So we need to start thinking now about how we should respond the day a family of asylum seekers walk through our doors – because come they will.
- Long term development has to be our priority if we are serious about dealing with the problem of economic migrants. This means working with agencies on the ground in long-term projects providing skills, education and training, so people in the poorest areas are given the tools to help themselves. We give so generously to immediate tragedies, and indeed it is right that we do. But what about our long-term commitment to small projects that bring transformation family by family, village by village? It may only be a very small step, but working to support organisations like Tearfund, like Send a Cow at least seems to be a start.
- Prayer for wisdom, love, compassion is needed more than ever at this time. As we all grapple with a problem where there are no easy solutions,we need to turn to the Lord for guidance both at a local and national level. It is very easy to make an emotional response, and to set up your own local initiatives. But we need cool heads alongside warm hearts, and above all the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us through the days ahead. And while it is easy to criticise our political leaders, we must not forget that they too are struggling with these issues, and they also need our prayers more than ever.