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. The Refugee Crisis

I am writing this blog entry in the pastor’s office at City Church in Winnipeg. Tim Nielsen, the pastor of City Church and a good friend, is sitting at the other desk listening online to a video on the current refugee crisis in Europe. It struck a cord with me and hence this blog.

You probably saw the heartbreaking picture of the police offer carrying the body of young Aylan Kurdi up the beach after the boat that was bringing his family to Greece capsized. It turned the refugee crisis into a major campaign issue in our current election here in Canada.

In Europe it is an even larger issue as thousands of refugees are flooding the continent every day.

As I watch the images on television or online I am thankful that I am not a politician who has to make decisions about how to help these people who have left everything in their flight to safety. There are no easy answers that can take the pain and suffering away.

The question that I want to leave with you is not what should the government do or what should the organizations working with refugees do but what will you do.

What can a small church in a small town do in the light of such overwhelming misery? What does God want your church to do?


The refugee crisis

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency there were 50.1 million people in the world who had been forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2013. This was the first time that the number had crept over the 50 million mark.

This year the war in Syria has greatly increased that number so that the unimaginable task of meeting such need has become even greater. According to the UN the war in Syria had added 2.5 million refugees and 6.5 million displaced persons to that number by the end of last year and that number continues to grow every day.

You would probably find different statistics from other sources but the one thing that all sources agree on is that the number of refugees and displaced persons is gigantic.


The small church responds

Coming back to my question, “what can you as a small church do to respond to such overwhelming need?”, I want to suggest four things.

1. Put a face to the problem

The video that I listened to this morning began by quoting an unlikely person, Joseph Stalin, former dictator of the Soviet Union. Stalin made this very profound statement.

“When one person dies, it’s a tragedy, but when a million people die, it’s a statistic.”

Large numbers deaden our senses but a relationship with a person who is suffering makes it very real.

You will never fully appreciate the refugee crisis until you personally know a refugee.

When the war began in Iraq, I watched the events unfold on CNN and felt like I was watching history. In the room with me was a good friend who had been a refugee from Iraq. I looked over at her and realized that she wasn’t watching history unfold.

She was watching her homeland being attacked. She was praying for the safety of family and friends who could be killed by the bombs being dropped.

That moment, in which I looked at the fear and concern on her face, changed my perspective on what was happening. It was at that moment that I realized that real people were being killed and while this was history, it was history that destroyed lives. That moment put a face to the war for me and I would never view it the same again.

If you want to do something about the refugee crisis, befriend a refugee.

I had breakfast with a denominational leader this morning who mentioned to me that here in Manitoba refugees were moving into many small towns.

The strength of a small church should be relationships.

The greatest need of most refugees is someone who will build a relationship with them.

You probably can’t serve those refugees that are flooding into Europe but you can build a relationship with and serve the refugee who is right in your back yard.

2. Sponsor a refugee family

There is a groundswell in Canada for the government to do more than they are currently doing to help the refugees from Syria. I concur with this movement to bring more refugees into Canada but I would challenge you not to leave it all up to the government.

The thought of governments providing help is a relatively recent thing. I am not suggesting that governments shouldn’t be involved but I would suggest that they shouldn’t carry the whole load. For centuries churches played a larger role in helping people than governments did.

I am not a specialist in sponsoring refugees. I do know that there are expenses involved; there is a mountain of red tape to wade through; there are more frustrations that you probably want to consider. But it can be done and it has been done by churches that aren’t very large.

When I think of the refugee crisis, I think of the story of the boy who was throwing starfish that had been stranded on the beach back into the ocean. Someone looking at the thousands of star fish on the beach suggested to the boy that what he was doing made no sense. He couldn’t possibly make a difference no matter how many he threw back. The beach would still be littered with star fish. As the boy threw one more back, he turned to the man and said, “It made a difference to that one.”

We can’t possible meet the needs of the thousands of refugees in the world but possibly your church could make a difference for one family.

3. Give sacrificially

We live in a very unfair world.

I had supper at the Olive Garden restaurant this evening. I discovered that they serve very large portions and as a result I ate far more than I needed. The meal was delicious. I love Olive Garden bread sticks and I hadn’t eaten them in quite a few years.

While I overate at the Olive Garden, millions of people didn’t eat at all. Young children went to bed hungry. Parents suffered the anguish of not being able to feed their children.

We live in a very unfair world.

I have spent a large part of my life in school. God has opened the doors for me to earn several graduate degrees. I love learning and have enjoyed almost every minuteĀ  of my studies.

Millions in our world can’t even read or write. They never had the chance to attend school and as a result it is difficult for them to get a job.

We live in a very unfair world.

I live in a small community outside Waterloo, Ontario where I just expect to live a safe life. There is a police force that protects my property. There is a host of medical services available to me. There are fire departments and ambulances just a phone call away.

Millions live in fear for their lives and the lives of their families as bombs drop around them and soldiers threaten to steal their children away.

We live in a very unfair world.

I am blessed with so many things and I have those blessing just because I had the good fortune to be born in Canada.

It isn’t fair but it is reality.

God gives us those blessings so that we can bless others who have less.

I would encourage you to give sacrificially and to remember that it isn’t sacrificial unless it involves sacrifice. If our lives are just as comfortable after we give as they were before we give, we have given but we have not given sacrificially.

4. Do something

I think that most people were moved deeply when they watch the body of Aylan Kurdi being carried up the beach. I can’t imagine anyone not being impacted by that scene.

The problem is that we are so bombarded by scenes like that that we can quickly forget no matter how much we were moved. A few days later we can be living our lives like nothing happened.

It isn’t enough to be moved by what you see. People need to be moved to action by what they see. The above suggestions might be starting points for your church to get involved.

You might have a completely different direction that God might lead you to go.

The point isn’t so much what you do but that you do something.


City Church

I began this entry by saying that I was sitting in the office at City Church in Winnipeg.

City Church is different from any other church that I have visited. The membership is made up almost exclusively of first-generation Canadians. Many of them were refugees before coming to Canada.

On a Sunday morning there could be people from almost thirty different countries sitting in the pews. The staff are multi-ethnic united in their love for Jesus and their desire to serve people.

They are located in a very multi-ethnic part of the city so that the church reflects the community that it is part of.

I began this blog in a setting in which people demonstrate every day the love that Jesus has for refugees. At City Church they really do get it that those people who have fled their homes and become refugees, those people matter to God and they need to matter to us.

Don’t ask what the government is going to do for the Syrian refugees.

Ask what you, as part of a small church here in this blessed land of Canada, can do to bring God’s love to refugee people.

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