Thursday, March 17, 2016

Empire Or Neighbor: Which Are We Called To Be?

Recently I posted on social media: I continue to pray for the Syrian refugees. We are, all of us, sojourners in this world and, therefore, should embrace them as our own.

I was not surprised that the responses I got were very mixed. This has happened any time that I have written or posted anything about the Syrian refugees. There is fear and hostility of them and this is perpetrated by too many political figures who promote their own campaigns through fear and distrust of others. Too many Christians are falling in line with this attitude of empire over neighbor. We are more concerned with our own comfort and safety than with the suffering and persecution of the Syrian people. But this goes contrary to our own faith that stresses time and again that we cannot ever be indifferent to the needs and sufferings of others, especially Brothers and Sisters in Christ.1st John 4:20 says quite clearly, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." We should have the spirit of the neighbor not the empire. It's not about keeping out but reaching out.

Do these angry people even think about those in the faith who have been effected by this civil war?

And they have been Christians far longer than we have. In fact, Christianity is among the oldest in the world and goes back two millenia. There are Christians there who still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ. 

In Syria, they are made up of:
70% Sunni Muslims
12% Alawites
10% Christians

Since the civil war erupted in 2011, half of the 22 million Syrians fled the country. Out of the 1.1 million Christians, 700,000 have fled Syria. 18% of the refugees are now Christian Syrians. 

In the town of Aleppo, out of the 160,000 Christians that were there only 40,000 now remain.

Only the wealthier could flee. This left the middle class, who became poor, and the poor, who are now far worse off than they were before. 

Now Christians find themselves isolated from their neighbors. They have been ordered to convert to Islam or else pay an exorbitant Jizya (religious levy) or face death. Many Christians are targeted, threatened and beheaded. Many have been kidnapped. Some forced into slavery.  The symbol painted on their buildings to let Isis and other militant groups know that someone is a Christian is:

They are becoming martyrs for the faith 

Their churches have been burned or destroyed.

Yet they are still meeting to worship, knowing that their faith could cause them to lose their lives.

And don't think for a second that it isn't costing many of them their lives. Turned in by neighbors and family members, these Christians are paying the ultimate price. As Jesus warned in Matthew 10:21, "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death."

Even in the refugee camps, believers have erected make-shift churches out of tarps so that they can still meet and worship Christ. 

Yet for those believers in Syria, they are desperate and see no aid in sight. The world has forgotten them and they wonder where their Brothers and Sisters of the faith are. Does God not hear their prayers?

Do they, like the Psalmist, cry out:

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me. . . 

God hears their cries. But do we?

As one prelate stated, "Western governments are not helping, with the exception of Germany whose government provided food parcels, medical kits and education programs to our church."

 How can we, as the body of Christ, not act on our Brothers and Sisters' of Syria's behalf?

Are we the Pharisee and the Levite ignoring the man who was beaten, robbed and left in the ditch to die?  The Syrians are our neighbors. Hebrews 13:1 & 2 tells us, "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels unaware . . ."

As I wrote, we are all sojourners and should embrace the stranger. It is only when we do this that we receive the blessing the stranger brings.

These are not statistics. They are people. With names and families. Statistics rob them of their tears, of their stories, of their identity. We must see them as more than a news item or a statistic. We must see them as part of ourselves in the body of Christ.

We cannot be motivated by fear but only by love. When we truly realize we, ourselves, are so deeply loved by the Father, how then can we not go and do likewise?  When we understand the love of God, we see the world through it and all is transformed into the sacred and holy.

Christians cannot ignore those who are being persecuted for their faith, those who are in exile and hardship.

When polled by LifeWay Research polled American Protestant churches about the refugee crisis, they found them twice as likely to fear the refugees. When asked if this crisis was brought up in their churches:

72% said it was never discussed
8% said they were currently involved in helping the refugees
Only 9% had a desire to get involved

Where is the love of Christ in that? How does this reflect the heart of the Father who has compassion on the poor, the suffering, the sojourner, the refugee, and the outcast? Those are the very people Jesus, who we claim to follow, identified himself with. So why, as his followers, don't we?

If God has not given us a spirit of fear why do we approach this issue with so much fear?
Jesus said over and over, "Do not fear" and even "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul . . ."

Our Brothers and Sisters in Syria are facing genocide and we are too busy wanting to build walls to keep them out. What does that tell them about their worth? Are we really more concerned about our own comfort and safety?

If we are not acting out of either fear or selfishness, then we can lay those down before Christ. And then we must act.

If you're not sure of what you can do, the International Missions Board posted 10 ways Christians can help:

1. Pray (a great website to get daily prayers is
2. Get informed
3. Inform others
4. Organize
5. Advocate
6. Help directly
7. Go yourself
8. Embrace Syrians
9. Look around you
10. Donate

"What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten
to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the
sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."
-Saint Augustine

1 comment:

  1. I genuinely appreciate your heart. Your numbers ring true in my own community. I am actively involved in my local church and the Syrian crisis is not on anyone's radar. My compassion and convictions run so deep, and I am completely at odds with 90% of my Christian friends. I am baffled. Where have we gone wrong? I am almost reluctant to openly identify as Christian because the Evangelicals are going so off track... Glad I have come across you. @fearconqueror