Every year on June 20th, we celebrate World Refugee Day. It is a time to remember the plight of vulnerable refugees around the world. To learn more about better ministering to refugees, I recently attended a Refugee Roundtable conference. To kick off the conference, someone read Acts 17:24-27:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
As soon as I heard this verse, it was like an arrow to my heart. I was already sympathetic to the plight of refugees in our city, but this verse made me realize my Christian responsibility to these new neighbors, as well.
So, let's start with a little information:
Who are Refugees?
By definition, a refugee is a person forced to leave their home because of dangers such as civil war, persecution, or famine. They do not leave for a better life; they leave for mere survival. Right now, our world is in the middle of a migrant crisis, the worst one since the end of World War II.
Refugees can be anyone: young children, parents carrying babies, or senior adults. They are fleeing war, destruction, and death and are often on foot, taking only what they can carry. On their way, they must avoid enemy soldiers and marauding gangs. Border guards might rob them of their few possessions, causing them to continue with no resources.
What Challenges Do They Face?
One seven-year-old girl fleeing civil war in Syria said, “The last thing I remember of Syria before we left was when my mother was taking me from our place to our grandparents. The roads were full of dead corpses. I saw dead people with no heads or no hands or legs. I was so shocked I couldn’t stop crying. To calm me down, my grandfather told me they were mean people, but I still prayed for them, because even if some considered them mean, they were still dead human beings.” 1.
Refugees usually find they are not welcome in neighboring countries as they are perceived as taking resources from the citizens. They may be housed in refugee camps or in apartments shared by several families. They are starting a new life in a strange country with a different language. Employment is difficult to find.
Lebanon, a country with about four million citizens, shares its eastern border with Syria. On any given day, they are reluctantly hosting 1.5–2 million refugees from the Syrian civil war. Since Syria occupied Lebanon from 1976 – 2005, most Syrians are hated by the Lebanese.
What Can We Do?
In spite of the small sizes, limited resources, and cultural barriers that they face, Lebanese churches have paved the way for refugee work. One pastor explained it this way, “We believe that the smallest light can penetrate the greatest darkness. We believe we are here with a specific purpose in this area. We’re at the right place, at the right moment. Everyone in our church is now at work. This changed everything in the church. Everyone is at work with the refugees. We started with our own members. We saw many of the refugees coming to Christ. Now 70% of our workers are Syrian refugees themselves. We now have a lot of ministries among the Syrians.” 2.
This small church offers vocational training, English classes, job opportunities, and Bible clubs for children. They distribute food, clothing, and household supplies to those in need. And they have a school for 300 children. They have found many coming to Christ through their efforts.
So, how will World Refugee Day be recognized in your church? Will you take time to educate your church about the dire need of refugees? Will you take time to pray for refugees? Will you take time to reach out and minister to refugees through non-profit agencies in your community? A refugee from Iran who became a Christ follower said, “They met us in our need.” That sentence has stayed in my head. Where are you meeting refugees in their need to show them physical and spiritual love?