This week I’ve been so annoyed, frustrated and embarrassed by the push to reevaluate the refugees who are coming here. I tried to stay quiet but last night I couldn’t fall asleep without saying something on Facebook. But that’s hardly the best place for a discussion about something that has so many facets and touches so many nerves.
Again, like it is for so many political and social issues, the part that really bugs me is the disproportionate fear that’s driving the whole reaction. The fear! Let me tell you what I fear for me and my family, roughly in order of the time I spend thinking about it:
- Car accidents
- People who target my husband because of his job
- Climate change
- Large-scale cyber attacks
Terrorists who infiltrate the legal refugee system are nowhere on my list! I’ve helped resettle several refugee families over the last few years and the process of arriving here is cumbersome, slow, and complicated. If your goal as a terrorist is to simply stay for a little while to plan an attack and then die while you carry it out, it makes no sense to go through layers and layers of screening, live in terrible conditions, and wait in line for a lottery that may or may not get you here after a year or two. There are so many quick options to get here. Refugee status is not one of them.
And then there are the arguments that their neighbors don’t even want to take them in, so we should take our cue from them. Do you know who their neighbors are? Friendly neighbors, like Lebanon and Jordan, are limping along as they try to help the masses of refugees that have come to them for help. Unfriendly neighbors are just that. Unfriendly places! Since when do we base our morals and our political action on the example of those unfriendly states? Why are we suddenly looking at the Gulf states as if they “know something that we don’t?” These countries have serious human rights violations. They are not the model we want to work from.
And then there are the numbers. We agreed to take 10,000 Syrian refugees. That sounds like an awfully small number to me. We’re the best, most generous, most resourceful country in the world and we offer to take 10,000 of the 4,200,000 registered refugees from Syria? Overall we’re accepting 85,000 refugees from the 19,500,000 worldwide. The percentage is so small it’s not worth calculating.
And then Jesus. That dude is always going against the flow when it comes to self-preservation and generosity, isn’t he? Our overwhelming desire to protect ourselves, not put ourselves out, or take any risks is problematic when the Bible is full of commands from start to finish to love the foreigner and the oppressed, to welcome them, to live peaceably with them, and to help them. Why are Christians so concerned about safeguarding their families and their resources? I thought we were supposed to store our treasures in heaven, to turn the other cheek, to offer grace (or maybe even love?) to our enemies. I truly don’t understand the fear expressed by Jesus followers lately. Our government has taken so many steps to make us safe in the refugee process, even low-balling our ability to take refugees. We don’t need to freak out. We are not our own protectors. God is our protector.
This week I’ve been thinking often of the refugees and migrants I saw two months ago in Vienna. Families with very small children were sleeping on a cold floor with just some cardboard underneath them. Elderly people were sleeping in the same conditions. So many people, so many stories, so much heartache. Refugees are not moving across continents willy-nilly for the fun of it. They are escaping such terrible circumstances at home that the possibility of an uncertain future in Europe or North America is the wisest choice they can think of. What would you want the world to say if you were the refugee? What would you want them to do if you had left your three-bedroom ranch, the door frame with the heights of your kids, the scratched dining room table where you had homework and meals, the deck where you grilled burgers and ate watermelon? What if you were the one traveling with your possessions and your kids on your back? What if you were sleeping in a makeshift camp this winter?
I don’t have this thing figured out in my life. I understand how scary it is to give sacrificially. My generosity could use some serious beefing up. But this thing, these people, they’re not requiring much sacrificial giving from us. We can help them. We can be brave and kind if we want to. We can be remembered for our love instead of our fear.