Editorial: Global refugee crisis demands response

Five years of civil war have produced up to 5 million Syrian refugees, among 65 million refugees worldwide—the worst humanitarian crisis in history. (Photo: Orlok / Shutterstock.com)

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The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis is a test for Christians. Will we demonstrate the loving, healing presence of Christ to 65 million refugees, most of them Muslims? Will we see the face of Jesus—who also was a refugee—in their faces?

knox newMarv KnoxThe fate of those refugees—as well as the relevance of the church—depend upon our response, a leader of the World Vision relief organization insisted. He’s exactly right.

Steve Haas, World Vision’s chief catalytic officer, described the global refugee crisis, and particularly the calamity caused by civil war in Syria, to a Bible study class at Wilshire Baptist Church.

Untenable, enormous

“There are 65 million refugees. In the past 18 months, that number grew by 15 million,” Haas said.

The Syrian civil war, which began when government soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad fired on peaceful protestors during the “Arab spring” uprising in March 2011, has produced calamitous results, he reported.

“In Syria, 8 million people have been internally displaced, and 4 million to 5 million have said even living inside Syria is untenable” and have become refugees, he said. “Their experiences are bone-chilling, brutal.”

To help explain the enormity of the situation, Haas compared Syria’s displaced people and refugees to America.

“If Syria were (the size of) the U.S., how many cities would this describe? How many people would be homeless right now?” he asked. Comparatively, the homeless rate would be 161 million, the combined total of 19 cities—San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Albuquerque, Austin, Jacksonville, San Franciso, Indianapolis, Columbus (Ohio), Fort Worth, Charlotte, Detroit, Seattle, Denver, Washington, Pittsburg, Boston, Nashville, Baltimore.

The world finally took notice of the Syrian refugees’ plight when 700,000 to 800,000 of them tried to relocate in Europe, Haas reported.

Epic proportions

“It’s the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, and it fits within a larger context—the worst humanitarian crisis we’ve ever seen, in terms of 65 million (global) refugees,” he said.

Those 65 million people have scattered among countries such as Sudan, Somalia, India, Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan and about 45 others.

And the plight affects more than the refugees, he stressed. “These refugees are moving into places that are also dealing with loss or fragility. They are having difficulty feeding their own citizens, and in comes these large numbers of people.”

The refugee crisis is a “generational test,” Haas said, citing Michael Gerson, former head speechwriter for George W. Bush and now a Washington Post columnist.

“If the global refugee response is insufficient here, it is insufficient,” Gerson wrote. “If American churches and charities are not relevant here, they are irrelevant.”

Ironically, the refugee crisis escalated as global poverty declined, Haas said. In 25 years, deaths of children under age 5 declined by 33 percent, while the global population soared by 1 billion. More than 2 billion people gained access to clean drinking water, the maternal death rate fell by half, and the malaria rate declined 25 percent.

“So, where is poverty going?” he asked. “It’s going to fragile places, … where trust has been broken down, where government concepts are largely absent, where the wealthy and powerful feed on the unpowerful with no recourse for justice.”

Eighty-six percent of refugees have migrated to some of the world’s poorest countries, he said.

This is a test

The crisis spawned by 65 million refugees created a “test case” for Christians, Haas insisted.

“I believe God’s got us in a test, and he’s saying: ‘Work it out. … It’s not the world you want; it’s the world you have. And I’ve given you the resources, the treasure, the talent. And I want you to invest in these places. Don’t recede; dive in.”

The test is whether Christians will give people throughout the Muslim world an opportunity to fall in love with Jesus, he said.

Those people need food, hospitals, housing, clothes, education for children, jobs training for adults, clean water, waste-treatment plants and other support services crucial for life and health.

It’s “missions for big people,” Haas said.

“We’re in a battle against time,” he noted. A major concern is “the radicalization of youth,” which makes refugee camps recruiting grounds for terrorist organizations.

But the crisis also gives Christians an opportunity to present—and find—Jesus.

“When we come together to show ourselves as the hands and feet of Jesus, what happens? We find Jesus there,” he reported.

“The heart of Islam is really wounded. The question is: Do you just let it bleed? There are real people here. Or do you go and minister the love of Jesus? Where we minister the love of Jesus, we’re seeing the heart of Islam start to beat toward Jesus.

“Folks you never would have thought would have the opportunity to experience the love of Jesus are actually experiencing it—in real time. The impact is incredible. But we’re going to be in this for a while.”

What to do?

So, what can we do? Jesus said we can measure our response to him by how we treat “the least” of this world, and you cannot imagine a lesser “least” than 65 million refugees.

Here’s where to start:

Learn. Listen to the news. Read about the refugee crisis and violence in the Middle East.

Of course, it’s complicated. But ignorance is no excuse for inaction.

Pray. This seems like a “Sunday school answer,” but it’s real. Pray for the refugees. And even if their enormous plight tests the limits of your faith, pray for yourself. Ask God to give you a heart for them, and then see what happens when God answers that prayer.

Invest. Missions and relief organizations depend upon our support. And when you think about who needs your money the most, it’s hard to find a better answer than refugees. World Vision is a wonderful, responsible ministry, well worth your support. Click here for donation options.

Go. Or at least help others go. Relief organizations need volunteers on the ground, and opportunities are abundant through churches, missions organizations and relief ministries.

Follow Marv on Twitter: @marvknoxbs

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