On September 2, 2015, one year ago today, the world was shocked by the images that emerged from a beach in Turkey. The body of a 3 year old Syrian boy, washed ashore after the inflatable vessel he and his family were traveling aboard seeking freedom in Europe, capsized.
It’s safe to say my life changed significantly that day. I knew there was a war happening in Syria, but truth be told I really had no idea, and I hadn’t taken any steps to find out.
In April that year I listened to World Vision CEO Rich Stearns, give a talk entitled “Syria needs an earthquake” indicating that Syria needed something on a large scale to happen for the world to take notice. Well something did happen, and the world did take notice…
But one year on, has much changed?
As I saw the image of little Alan washed up on the beach, and began to understand the enormity of the refugee crisis, my immediate response was how can we sit by and watch this happen? I have looked back on stories of the Nazi Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide and wondered how the world could have sat by and allowed those atrocities to take place. I looked at what was happening in Syria, and in Iraq, and I began to gain somewhat of an understanding as to why…
Because it’s easier to ignore it and keep going on with our lives. Not because we don’t care, but because of any combination of these factors:
- We are paralysed by our inability to do anything that we feel would in some way make a difference;
- We are actually completely overwhelmed by emotion, and to embrace that emotion, or that discomfort, can be more than we know how to handle or engage;
- Genuine fear for our own safety, or concern about our way of life being interrupted more than we are comfortable with.
I’ve observed and experienced every extreme of each of these responses this past 12 months as I have seen people struggling to comprehend or engage the refugee crisis, and I do understand the core from which each of these responses come.
It does feel so big, and scary and overwhelming, and there is so much that we don’t understand. Diverse opinions and statements driven by fear and hate lead to confusion and can often provide us an excuse to disengage because it’s easy to claim that we don’t know what to believe, or who to trust.
There is more fear, suspicion, and lies in our world, hate is being given free reign, and we are seeking more and more distance from those who are not like us.
I don’t confess to have all the answers, but I can speak to how God has changed me personally over this past year as I have grappled with this. I’ve had to be really intentional about not letting this completely overwhelm me and push into figuring out ways that I can engage where my contribution can make a difference.
And that has been really hard.
I have been challenged to my core in how I view humanity, on how my personal privilege affects how I see the world and where I fit in it- and really address how I do view those who are different to me.
The reality is, we have a responsibility to care, to do whatever we can to intervene in these atrocities. And there is much we can do! There are incredible individuals and organizations who are tirelessly working to serve the millions of displaced people both in the Middle East and around the world, and we do need to financially support those organizations. I have personally witnessed much of their work and there is a long, long road ahead.
Our security does not need to be at the expense of compassion. There are many legitimate and complex considerations surrounding security, but it is all to easy for fear to lead our response.
This is the crisis of our time, we cannot look away, we cannot leave it to someone else.
At the very least, may we shut down the narrative that stems from fear and hate, may we find those who are taking refuge in our own communities and open the door of welcome, may we let those who have fought and struggled to start a new life not be strangers within it, may they be welcomed and loved. May we continue to speak out to those who are vulnerable and whose voices are not being heard.
Over this past year I have had the incredible privilege of meeting some amazing people and hearing stories that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Knowing someones story changes them from a statistic, it takes away the preconceived ideas that we hold and allows us to to truly embrace another. We quickly realize that they hold all the same hopes, fears and dreams as we do.
Next week, I will again be traveling to the Middle East to meet refugees, to hear their stories, and see work that is being done to help rebuild where there has been so much devastation and destruction. I’m really excited to be able to share these stories through the WeWelcomeRefugees Facebook page.