This is Not a Movie. It's For Real
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit in the living room of a Muslim refugee family and hear their story. It was harrowing - the stuff movies are made of. But it's not a movie. It's real. And it's being replicated by the millions all over the Middle East.
Ahmed (not his real name) was a chef in Syria. He owned and managed several restaurants. He had a home - place where he and his wife began to raise their family of four boys. They were not rich but they were not poor, either. They had a life.
Then the conflict began.
In March of 2011 protests against the Syrian President and his reigning dictatorial regime turned violent. By June of 2011 the entire country was in turmoil and the nation of Syria spiraled into a mirky violent civil war, with multiple factions and atrocities on all sides. The use of chemical weapons, rape, torture, beheadings, and the ongoing list of on-going gruesomeness would give this movie an R rating.
If it were movie. What is happening right now in Syria is not a movie. It's real life for an entire nation of people.
And the death toll rises
The BBC reported that by June of 2013 90,000 Syrians had been killed in the two years since the conflict began. By August of 2014 that number had more than doubled, swelling to over 191,000 and by August of 2015, well over a quarter of a million Syrians are dead. Understandably, people like Ahmed and his family had to do what it takes to stay alive. 4 million people have left the country and another 7 million people remain in Syria with no home and no permenent place to stay.
Ahmed's restaurants, and thus his livelihood, had to close down. He found construction work in neighboring Lebanon to make the money he needed to feed his family. He did a cross-country commute every week for several months until he found out one day that he was unable to come home. Fear for his family and for his own life "made it hard to live." As fighting converged on their town, Ahmed was able to get word to a friend who smuggled his family across the Lebanese border in the back of a truck. Once reunited, the family (with a small baby) trekked cross-country for 9 hours - through the night - before reaching a safe place - where they could legally apply for refugee status with United Nations.
Why We Should Not Be Xenophobes
I can't express my disappointment with the 27 governors (which is apparently expanding) who have said "don't bring Syrians to my State". I won't even go into the illogical, fear-mongering, xenophobic - and frankly un-American - thinking that betrays. I don't concern myself too much with politics. However, this illuminates a lack of moral fortitude in our nations leadership that is concerning to me as an American.
Concern about terrorists is legitimate. No one wants another 9/11 or a night like Paris had this past Friday. Security is indeed the responsibility of the government and can not be ignored. But to refuse Syrian Refugees who have gone through the legal and vetted channels of the Refugee Resettlement program is short-sighted ignorance and the chasing of windmills. Alabama's governor, Robert Bentley said, “I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.”
Did you know, Gov. Bentley, that the the US, through the refugee resettlement program, has been resettling refugees since the 1970's and that of the over 3,000,000 refugees resettled in the US there have been exactly 0 (read: zero) terrorist attacks on US soil perpetuated by these refugees?
Did you know, kind sir, that the vetting process for refugees in this program takes a minimum of 18-24 months - and often families are sitting in limbo for 3-15 years, waiting for the process to unfold?
Did you know that there's actually a difference between the massive movement of people who are fleeing into Europe and those who would be getting on an airplane with legal paperwork to come to your state through refugee ressettlement?
Did you know that allowing certain nationalities into the refugee resettlement program and not others would be a practice based on fear, bigotry and racism?
Thankfully, I don't put my hope in fickle Republican (or Democrat) governors.
The day I met Ahmed and his family, I was with several members of a local church. We drank Arabic coffee together and heard their story. After a couple of years of waiting, Ahmed and his family were some of the lucky ones. They are one of the very few Syrian families who have made it through the program, thus far. They had finally arrived in their new home just two weeks before we met and Ahmed shared his dream of opening an Arabic restaurant there in the town where they've been resettled. Those who live in that town who've never had Arabic cooking will thank God for the day Ahmed and his family arrived, once they taste the Manakish. Everything is new. They're starting over again with a new life.
The church visiting with them listened intently to their journey. Local churches have already assisted. We, the Church, prayed with them in the name of Jesus. They said to please come back anytime and asked that we continue to pray with them in the name of Jesus. Local church members are becoming their friends. Several years ago Ahmed and his family would have had no access to the Gospel. They knew no Christians. There was no church. Now, some of their newest friends and neighbors are Jesus-followers.
The conflict in Syria is not going to resolve any time soon. The repercussions are going to last for decades. The Syrian refugee Crisis is the most significant missiological event of our time. The Church in America needs to stand with refugees over partisan politics.
Stand with the Gospel of Jesus over the Gospel of the American dream.
Stand with a Sovereign God who is moving entire unreached and under-served people groups to a place where they can be reached and can be served.
Stand for people who are not able to stand for themselves, no matter their race or religion. That's the compassion of Christ.
For those who read this - and who are Jesus-followers - would you do me a favor? Before you and your church jump onto the current, fickle political bandwagon that preaches the Gospel of security and safety at the expense of considering core practices of our faith, would you take the time to find and befriend a Muslim neighbor? Learn their names. Play with their kids. Sit in their living room and a cup of Arabic tea or coffee. Listen to their story. Pray to Jesus with them.
I'm fairly certain the fear and bigotry will pass into the oblivion it belongs, if we do this.
And those of us who are Christians will actually be living out the life and the beauty of Jesus, friend of sinners; the same Jesus who rescued us when we were wondering and lost, in a state of helplessness and hopelessness, with nowhere to go. If the Church will rise to this opportunity, we might just see his Kingdom come - a true happy ending that will be better than any movie ever made.