I cannot say one was the best of friends and one was the worst, but I must admit to feeling annoyed with one of these 2 friends of mine. One Iraqi, one American. One Muslim, one Christian. One married, one divorced. One jaded from abuse suffered long ago…and the other too.
One sat me down in her kitchen, served me tea, pushed me to eat. She told me about her nephew. He lived in an area of Baghdad segregated by the Sunni-Shi’a rift, although he has a parent from each sect. His mother grew increasingly frantic as she watched police come through and round up all the young men, who disappeared–where? To jail, for being the wrong sect? To conscription in a militia, which would probably mean death? To a mass grave for being the wrong sort of Muslim?
When her son turned 16, she concocted a plan. Yes it’s a desperate plan, but it’s one being followed by millions of people right now and no doubt that makes it sound more feasible. She and a group of other mothers gathered up all the money they could, thousands of dollars, and sent a group of their teenaged sons to Turkey. There, the boys found smugglers getting rich off the desperation of parents.
My other friend posts articles on Facebook. “Security before Compassion,” they trumpet. She writes me emails. She says things like, “I know as Christians we are supposed to care for the needy. But these so-called refugees are all young men! Why aren’t they working? Why aren’t they fighting for their country?” She is offended at what she sees as a lack of gratitude.
This friend doesn’t understand the point of leaving. “They are safe and secure in Turkey,” she tells me. I have never heard refugee camps referred to in this way. Doesn’t she understand that countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon don’t allow refugees to work, keep them marginalized, on the fringes? (This isn’t meant as criticism. Each country has taken in millions of desperate people) The children grow up uneducated, their childhood spent trying to hawk small things to help the family survive. Now the UNHCR is cutting the small funds they’ve needed to survive. No wonder everyone is leaving. But when I point these things out, she doesn’t listen. She insists that only women and children are “real” refugees.
picture credit: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror
“My nephew, he took boat, very small…like Titanic,” my first friend tells me. I nod. She means a life-boat. I’ve seen the pictures and I’m sure you have too. She tells me that there were 50 people on it. Thankfully they made it though, to Greece, and then her nephew and his friends started the long, arduous journey north. Along the way, they all got separated, but her nephew made it to Germany. Because of his age and the fact that he had no family with him, they processed him quickly. Now he’s in an apartment with 2 other single young men, Syrians. He’s in high school. All his needs are met except for his emotional ones. He’s lonely and homesick.
“He calls my sister and says ‘I want to go back.’ She says NO,” says my friend. I nod. “No he mustn’t go back,” I agree. “It will get better for him. It will be very hard at first but it will get better.”
The child is homesick. He doesn’t like the food. He misses his mother and her cooking. My heart breaks, thinking of my own children, of my daughter calling me in her second week of college and saying, “Why aren’t you here to do my laundry?” in a manner that was joking but also carried a note of longing. It’s hard to grow up, harder still to do it in a new country and culture, alone.
My other friend says things like, “Oh sure some of them are legitimate. But many of these refugees are not the same ones we are being told are supposedly being rescued. They are opportunists, with insurgents mixed in, who are riding the wave.”
I point out that if my family was in that situation, we too would send our boys. My husband and I would stay, and our daughter would certainly be raped and possibly kidnapped and trafficked if we tried to send her alone. If we couldn’t all go (and the cost is 1000s per person for smugglers), I would send my sons. I can’t imagine a more heart-breaking decision, but I already know I would do as many families in the Middle East are doing and have done. And I would pray and bless anyone who showed them kindness, anyone who didn’t assume that the color of their skin made them suspicious, or that their name branded them a potential terrorist.
Yes we need to be smart, but security can’t come before compassion. If you pause a moment and run the entire Bible through your head, you would be hard-pressed to find a verse that even sorta kinda supports that attitude. God didn’t give us a spirit of fear. Jesus looked on the crowds (of mostly men) with compassion.
Sadly, her attitude is not unusual for people dwelling in safety with overstocked barns. Every week we sing songs. “Spirit take me where my faith is without borders.” “I stand with heart abandoned to the One who gave it all.” But the moment at which we put ourselves before others’ desperate need, when we imply that God likes us best of all and doesn’t really care about the lost, we have become the desperate ones in great peril. Thankfully, we too can receive mercy and find help–if only we recognize our need of it.