When Opportunity Comes Knocking
The Church in the west has an amazing opportunity at its doorsteps. Syrians are desperate for answers, relief and probably most importantly, a home. The country is actively being shredded by a civil war that led to the rise of an opportunistic extremist “state”. 4 million Syrians have actively fled their country. 3 million Iraqis have been internally displaced (and will likely flee if things worsen). As many of those affected are Islamic & Arab you might think that the wealthiest Middle Eastern countries would respond but unfortunately they aren’t.
It’s been a year since I spent time in the Middle East working with Syrian refugees. We were in a country where they could be but they couldn’t work - couldn’t go to school - couldn’t really do anything but be. So we, partnered with a local church, helped deliver parcels necessary for life (mats for beds, blankets, food, diapers for the babies and anything else necessary to survive). It was such an amazing time where we heard many heartbreaking stories but had many more reasons to hope.
Like - they were some of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. Some of the most hospitable. Every home we went to we were immediately welcomed in. Out of their lack they gave to us of what they had. Tea at one home. Some cut up apple at another. A little piece of candy somewhere else. We’d sit on bare floors in bare rooms and listen as they served and shared. I met one 12 year old whose family was trying to figure out surgery for the shrapnel in his arm. Another who lost several friends and family to gun fire as they crossed the border. And a woman and her daughter whose husband worked construction illegally just to try and keep some food in front of them. All of their stories involved trauma. They longed for their homeland. They clinged to any bit of hope they could find.
Amidst this trauma and brokenness many are searching out why. What’s the truth that undergirds their situation? Where are the lies? Many are crying out for God to speak to them in a meaningful way that provides some sort of hope, some sort of peace and maybe some sort of justice. What they’ve known and seen isn’t working.
Meanwhile in the west many of us claim the name of someone who understands the plight of the refugee: Jesus. After all Jesus started his human life as a political refugee running from an extremist regime (I’d call killing all the children Jesus’ age extreme at least - sounds a bit like what we hear of ISIS at least). And Jesus grew up understanding the importance of welcoming the stranger with open arms. His people find themselves as strangers more often than not (see Luke 10 as a starting point) and Jesus identifies our ability to welcome with the inheritance of his Kingdom:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)
And it’s certainly something that God’s people were supposed to understand (not that they always did). You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21). The Israelites spent significant time as refugees, as captives, enslaved and oppressed between times of blessing and their own rule. How they were to treat foreigners themselves was well understood. Or at least should have been.
This history - this legacy - of hospitality and welcome should be something that runs deep in our blood. It’s how the kingdom is established and expanded. We were all once foreigners to Jesus’ kingdom but He welcomed us in. His rule and reign gave new hope - new peace - justice - grace - salvation. It should be something we gladly welcome others into. Crisis like these present real and tangible opportunities to live like Jesus. It’s an opportunity to not just pray but also see Your kingdom come Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
It seems most of the articles I read root themselves in fear (for our own security, opportunity, peace). Headlines like, ”Muslim Trojan Horse?” riddle social media. They ignore the opportunity to live as Jesus and embrace the attitude that says “no“ to the kingdom of God.
Opportunity is knocking. Will we open the door?