Sunday, September 6, 2015

Our Syrian, African, European, Global Refugee Crisis. - by Brad Matlack


The recent media photos and stories that have been coming out in America are giving more attention to the global migrant crisis.  Media in Africa and Europe have been talking about this with greater urgency for at least the last three years at a much higher level of urgency that we have been aware of in the U.S.  I have been surprised by the fact that this seems to be somewhat of a new story for some.  Maybe it is just that the American church is first now waking up to these horrific facts. 

Global media such as BBC and Aljazeera have been documenting this for a few years now.  You might be loyal to Fox News or CNN America, but it wouldn’t hurt for some of us to go back and look at some of the stories and documentaries on this topic reported from foreign media over the last few years.  The alarm has been sounding for a long time already.  At least take the time to look at a map and find some of the routes these boats might be taking from North Africa to Europe.  Knowing this alone is sobering.  

I believe this information delay happens primarily because the issue is not on our front lines in the U.S. as it is in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.  While the U.S. does take in thousands of refugees each year, they are not necessarily arriving in the helpless, destitute and malnourished condition like those in the photos arriving from North Africa in the overcrowded boats.  Yet, we have seen this in the U.S. in the past from migrants risking their lives in small boats coming from Cuba trying to reach the tip of Florida.  Maybe being born and raised in Italy, my ears are more sensitive to the news over in Europe.  More than 350,000 refugees have tried to enter the E.U. for asylum so far this year.  More than 2,600 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, trying to reach Greece or Italy - all in the hands of paid people traffickers.  Statistics such as these are updated daily in other global news.

But, I decided to write this not to discuss awareness but primarily to remind the church about what God might be up to.  When God makes us aware of issues such as these, He is not just telling us to be aware of the crisis but He invites us to join him in doing something about it.  I don’t mean that you, the church should lay other things aside and focus now on this, give to this, send teams to this as if it is the philanthropic flavor of the month.  What I am trying to point out is that God is and has been constantly telling his story to us in just this way.  So He is using this and other stories to draw us in, to listen, to know him, to seek him and his plans.  He has not changed anything.  

We might feel helpless and even ask God why he allows such things to happen.  Surely God feels indignation by the injustice and sorrow in the suffering and death and longs for reconciliation in the lives of migrants. When reading the Bible, we find a God whose character loves to rescue people but we should also remember that he has always had the big picture in mind.  Jesus always stayed focused on the bigger picture of the Kingdom.  He healed today but it was always in order to reveal the eternal message of God’s kingdom.

Part of that bigger picture is that we are also part of the story.  God wants you and I to be part of the transformation so that when goodness prevails, when evil is thwarted, when a migrant is rescued, when we are somehow involved, even we are transformed, and He is glorified!   God is calling his children to himself.  He is still God of the nations, working out his sovereign plan, bringing us and more into eternal glory in amazing, unusual, not our plan, awesome, epic ways so that he and not us can receive the most glory!

Here are some things that we, the church, should be thinking about.  
1.     God does not just want to rescue people, migrant refugees, from their physical plight.  He cares about their whole beings and more than anything wants them to know Him, to know Jesus, to feel his love, to receive his grace, to understand the story, so that even others will hear and know Him and so that God will be even more glorified.  If we, the church, only desire the physical rescue for these people, we are suffering from a myopic view of the Gospel.  When we want and long for more for them out of the physical, spiritual, emotional, relational, we align ourselves properly with God’s plan for them.

2.     God most likely wants us to use these crises as a way for us, the church, to “position for discipleship”,  to continue on course with the mission of Jesus given to the church.  You might be wondering how you could disciple a refugee?  It starts with a relationship.  Do you even know a refugee?  Your city or town most likely has given asylum to migrants and refugees.  You know those Arabic speaking foreigners who just moved in up the street?  There is a very good chance they have a story of escaping tyranny, trafficking, war, not too different than the migrants on boats.  Do you feel the same level of compassion for your neighbor as you do for the drowning migrants?  Is it a coincidence that God landed them on your street, in your school, at your work…   

3.     God, the Holy Spirit is challenging us, the church to think and act more globally. But this is not just awareness to disciple refugees, it is about us reaching, telling, positioning to disciple everyone, everyone!  As far as the global crisis, if it makes you feel better you could send money to an NGO. (Side note: I’m not a proponent of only giving since it creates a false sense of fulfillment maybe this is for another blog post).  We ought to send trained people who will help, we should partner with those who are on the front lines rescuing migrants for the sake of the Gospel.  If you are having trouble finding someone serving on the front lines for the sake of the Gospel, maybe you are the one who should go. 

4.     God may be challenging you to check your dependence on Him.  Church, what are you depending on him for?  How can we teach the world about our dependable God?  How can we tell the world about the Biblical stories of asylum, rescue and redemption.  Our stories today are nothing new.  God has already written out these stories.  Why are we so shocked and surprised by them?  History has always been as tragic.  Could it be that the church has become lest active and less relative to crises?  Why do we let ourselves get so comfortable and complacent that when a crisis comes it plows us down?  The whole world is floating, wondering on the proverbial boat waiting to be rescued, daily drowning, longing to reach a place of peace.  Shouldn’t our hearts maintain a torn and devastated shape, constantly challenging us to be before the face of God and desperately discovering his eternal glory?

Let these media stories move you now and challenge you but don’t get comfortable!  Don’t let the consumerist society deceive you into thinking that it’s ok to forget and eventually look away.  Stop being so surprised by evil. Forgetting to be in on God’s plan, not staying with His heartbeat, pursuing a comfortable life and forgetting the world is exactly what Satan’s plan is, pulling us away from God.  Jesus taught the Apostles right.  They were focused on the Gospel.  They willingly suffered for it!  

I have recently been reminded of the words of Clement (A.D. 30-100, lived during the time of the Apostles and the early church) writing to the Corinthians: "We know many among ourselves who have given themselves up to bonds, in order that they might ransom others. Many, too, have surrendered themselves to slavery, that with the price which they received from themselves, they might provide food for others."  This was the early church.  They were willing to become slaves so that others might be fed and perhaps discipled so that they would understand and believe the Gospel.   This really challenges me!  Would we be willing to do this today?  Of course slavery is different today than it was 2000 years ago so maybe we would not be slaves, but how do we place this passion into our context?  Would we willingly become migrants?  Would we be willing to turn our lives upside down for the sake of the Gospel?  Will we reach the migrants coming to our shores and living on our block? 
 
Maybe you are called to just pray.  I have been in prayer, remaining available to the Lord’s call, willing to go, maybe back to Italy and help with the migrant crisis.  I’ve even considered the fact that having grown up in Italy and living in Africa, may qualify or equip me in some unique ways to do this.   But I haven’t yet heard God tell me to go.  Maybe there is enough happening for us in Africa or in the U.S.  So I just continue to pray in a wider way.  Keep praying particularly about how the Lord would use you specifically.  Maybe it is too scary for you.  Asking God what He would want us to know or do in a time of crises is exactly where we all should be.
Recognize what God might be up to.  He knows that it would be impossible for us as Americans to go and make disciples in Syria today.  In his amazing, unusual, not our plan, awesome, epic plan, He has brought Syria and the rest of the world to our doorsteps so that we might not need to go.  But that means we must make the most of the opportunity he has invited us to participate in.  Reaching your migrant neighbor, a drowning child of God.


The photos above are not from the Syrian refugee crisis. They are Rohingya people. Look up a search on their migrant story as a rejected people, the Rohingya of Myanmar.
What might God’s story be for them?  How might we help them?

-B