The Refugee Crisis: Make It Personal

refugee men and boys shelteed in a community centerRegular readers of this blog will know that I post periodically to raise awareness of a truly remarkable initiative called the Cradle of Christianity Fund, which focuses on bringing short, midrange, and long term aid and support to the neediest Middle East refugees (chiefly those who have not benefited from UN relief). I hope, then, that you will be as moved to action as I was with the following article by Phil Reinders. His wisdom and pastor’s heart have combined here to address what the UN has called the “mega-crisis” of our time, straining the world’s relief efforts. C.S.

The Refugee Crisis: Make It Personal
by Phil Reinders

I’m a follower of one who began his life as an asylum seeker. I’m a member of a family of faith whose history stretches back to Abraham, and is summarized in refugee terms: “my father was a wandering Aramean.” The God who has called me has this penchant of binding up his life with those who are on the margins, with the vulnerable and the weak. To take on the name of Christ, then, is to bind your life with the plight of those very same people.

So it is no surprise that Jesus calls people to a care and compassion for others, regardless of the differences and circumstances. Every person who takes on the name of Jesus isn’t afforded the option of turning away from outsiders. In fact, our very reputation and the name of Jesus is wrapped up in that sort of generous care. “Listen also to the immigrant who isn’t from your people Israel but who comes from a distant country because of your reputation … do everything that the immigrant asks.” (I Kings 8:41ff)

The plight of refugees has never been more stark, obvious and in your face. And, no doubt, the complexity of the situation is vexing: the instability of Eastern European and Middle-Eastern political climates, the risks and dangers of radicalized jihadists, the sheer scale of the need.

So what do we do? Listen to the refugee-Jesus, where we find the simplest, clearest of wisdom. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

But that sounds too basic for this crisis, too simplistic for global geopolitical problems, right?

I’m convinced that the Jewish carpenter is actually the wisest, smartest being to live, and so I’m persuaded that his deceptively simple words are actually the wisdom of the ages, something that is meant to play out in personal relationships and between global neighbors.

It’s often called the Golden Rule, and thought to be another version of something repeated within different religious streams. And while a semblance of it is seen in other religious contexts, what Jesus says is unique and transformative. We see forms of this Golden Rule in eastern Confucianism, where Confucius urges, “do not do to others what you would not wish done to yourself.” Among Greek philosophers, the Stoic Epictetus said, “What you avoid suffering for yourself, seek not to inflict on others.” Socrates wrote: “What stirs your anger when done to you by others, that do not do to others.” And in rabbinic Judaism, Rabbi Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else.” These versions are both negative and passive. Avoiding or refraining from something I would not want done to me is a different standard of action than actively pursuing the thing I wish for myself for the sake of the other, which is the life Jesus invites into.

The brilliance of Jesus’ wisdom for how to respond pretty much to any situation is this: make it personal. The gold standard for moral action is to remove it from abstraction, from the pointed-finger deflection of “what others should do,” and from the resigned shrug of “it’s too complex so let’s leave it to the experts.” Instead, Jesus makes us the authority on how to respond to our friends, neighbors, and global, geopolitical issues: do to others what you would have them do to you.

Forget the professors, pundits and policy wonks; check your own heart.

Escher StairsFor a moment, as best as you’re able, enter into the story of a refugee. If it was your home that was riddled with bullets and bomb fragments, your neighborhood a rubble, with neighbors and extended family killed; if you had no money because the local economy was devastated due to the instability; if your children went to bed hungry; and if you made the sane but crazy decision to get out of Dodge and walk to wherever was safe, how would you want to be treated?

If you were stuck for years in the purgatory of a refugee camp, watching your children sink into the despair of a hopeless future, facing some Escher-like bureaucratic government approval process, how would you want to be treated? If you lacked all access to a flourishing life, far from any semblance of home, dependent upon the goodwill of others, how would you want to be treated? Think of the hopes refugees have for their lives and for their families. Imagine the fears that dominate their lives? Then think, “if I was in that person’s shoes, what would I want?” What would you hope for from foreign countries and governments when yours was corrupt or impotent to do anything to help you?

See what Jesus is doing? He taps into our own natural, God-given instinct to care for ourselves but then pulls the most liberating, redemptive move. He takes that inward-looking instinct but pivots us outward, redirecting all those good instincts for care and protection towards the other. Whatever we hoped and wanted others would do for us, he now commands us to go and do that for others.

And did you notice the first words: “in everything.” That’s a pretty comprehensive scope. Don’t try to limit this wisdom for small-scale issues. “In everything.” This is not a kindergarten lesson in niceness. It is the wisdom of the ages, saving us from inward-focused fear and self-absorption, aligning ourselves with the grain of the universe, which is God’s self-giving love, his fondness for the least, the last, and the lost.

A refugee is not a problem but God in disguise. They are a gift for anyone who carries the name of Jesus, helping us to know the meaning of that name and calling.

Phil Reinders, who pastors a church near Toronto, blogs here.

To support The Cradle Fund.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Top image courtesy of the Institute for Global Enagement.

Life Spun Out of Control

refugee tent city [Klaus Reisinger]It’s invigorating, at least it is to me, when different things unexpectedly hit you inspirationally in a short space of time. But it can also be sobering. Recently Chris Seiple tweeted that Oskar Schindler spent all his money saving people of a faith not his own. Are we still capable, Chris mused, of such sacrificial love?

As I was challenging myself with that, aware that Chris was alluding to the severe need faced by countless refugee families in the Middle East, I happened to read a clever take on a summer blockbuster film, Fantastic Four. Written for Sojourners by Lindsay Kuntz, the article turns on the question of leadership. Here is my takeaway: we Americans can end our wistful hunger for Fantastic Four leadership against evil by becoming leaders fighting evil ourselves.

“Many American Christians say they are hungry for leadership,” Lindsay writes, “but what are we actually doing beyond indulging in fictional stories of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and The Thing battling evil, or the barely less fictional ‘leadership’ on display in contemporary politics?

“We need to do more than complain from the comfort of our air-conditioned family rooms. The stakes could hardly be higher for Christians and other religious minorities in the greater Middle East – they are at risk of extinction or permanent exile. The international community has essentially given up, as it has little funding and even less vision and resolve. Hence there is a vacuum of leadership that needs to be filled. We need to identify practical ways of bringing people and resources together to combat evil – indeed to transform it with good. For American Christians one of the best places to start is with proactive engagement of the refugee crisis.”

refugee men and boys shelteed in a community centerI also happened to read Carmen Andres, who was blogging about news stories in the Telegraph and the Guardian, which reported on how 10,000 Icelanders responded to a Facebook campaign by author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir to urge the government to take in more Syrian refugees. “The striking aspect of this story,” Carmen wrote, “is not only the number of Icelanders expressing their support but that they are also volunteering to personally help the refugees by donating services, time, clothes, money, furniture, children’s toys and even their homes.

“It makes me wonder what it might look like if churches, communities and cities around the U.S. started to talk about pooling our resources and offering to support groups of refugees in our own country. Perhaps some members could offer one of their rental homes for free for a year. Maybe others could offer jobs. Doctor offices could offer a list of pro-bono services. Churches and mosques could offer furniture, clothing and food. Teachers could offer language training. Local social agencies and organizations could link together and coordinate to provide services. The possibilities of ways we could come together to embrace refugees into our communities is endless.”

Chris, Lindsay, and Carmen are all friends of mine, but that’s not why I’m blogging about them here. They are engaged in remarkably worthy initiatives that bring urgent aid and relief to the increasing number of families in the Middle East who have fled from the murderous paths of ISIS and the vicious war in Syria. Their heartfelt cries, challenging to many of us, came together in my mind the other day.

They reminded me of just how crucial and vital “outside intervention” is toward people whose lives are suddenly out of control; people whose lives, even when they begin to get back under control, are best described as “life on hold.” There’s little, if anything, they can do end the chaos or get life moving again. As another friend aptly put it: “There is a sense of being frozen in time.” You’re wishing, praying, someone would intervene to make it all go away, or at least make marking time a little easier for you and your family.

3 refugee boys in Lebanon [Carmen Andres] It is difficult for many people to image what life is like for these families. But if your own life has ever suddenly spun out of control (I mean really out of control), or if it has ever shuddered trembling to a halt and got stuck on hold (you didn’t know for how long), then you may have a share in what it is like for these Middle East families (numbering in the millions), who wish for, long for, pray for intervention. And when that leadership arrives, no words can express one’s gratitude. Chris and Lindsay serve the Cradle of Christianity Fund, which I have previously blogged about. Carmen has been engaged in advocacy work for many years and raises awareness for Heart for Lebanon. Both are remarkable initiatives. Exercise some leadership. The Fantastic Four are never going to arrive. The possibilities for reaching out to the families is increasingly clear, limited only by the imagination of individuals, churches, and communities.

To find out more about the Cradle Fund, go here. To support it, go here. To read some short but informative articles of mine about the CF, go here. To read about the Cradle Fund’s three-fold strategy (rescue, restore, return), see this article in CT by Chris Seiple, President of the Institute for Global Engagement:

To find out more about Heart for Lebanon or support it, go here. To read Carmen’s moving blog posts, see For Such a Time Is Now.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Top image, Klaus Reisinger, via Creative Commons. Middle Image, courtesy of the Institute for Global Engagement. Bottom image, courtesy of Carmen Andres.

A personal note from Charles Strohmer: If you want more of the perspectives that wagingwisdom.com seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Simply click here wagingwisdom.com, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I publish a new article. And, hey, if you really like it, tell some friends! Thank you.

The Cradle Fund: A Bridge for Shalom in the Middle East

Stirling bridgeA few months ago in Capital Commentary, I shared some ideas from the biblical wisdom tradition about shalom and the vital work of repairing damaged and broken lives and relationships, socially, economically, and politically, whether domestically or internationally. I want to extend that thinking here. (The following was published in a recent issue of Capital Commentary.)

Many Christian and Jewish circles today talk about shalom as God’s vision for a future of peace and harmony for all of creation, including, of course, collective human life. And to give that vision legs in the here and now, shalom is also advanced as social, economic, and political “flourishing” or “well-being” in this world.

Those of us in the West already blessed with goodly degrees of well-being typically maintain the latter idea . But there seems to be a kind of relativity to shalom. We would see that the near-future goals of a Chinese peasant farmer, for instance, or an Indian woman seeking a micro-loan would most likely entail visions of flourishing that are much more modest than our own. And there are countless others whose lives can only be described as precariously lived – consider the refugee families who have fled ISIL for whom shalom in this world would be different still.

Beyond that, however, lies a blind spot. After a decade or more of Christians like me giving airplay to shalom in America, we haven’t been able to prevent the word from becoming equivalent to “getting ahead,” “succeeding,” or “moving up in the world.”

It seems that shalom is becoming synonymous with pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. If so, the biblical sense of shalom as “gift” has been lost.

The contradiction between shalom as “gift” and “trying to improve one’s lot in life” hit me hard last autumn as I learned about the Cradle of Christianity Fund,  which has been implemented by the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) to supply immediate- and long-term aid and support to thousands of displaced and refugee families who have fled ISIL/ISIS. At the time, I had been talking with friends about the staggering changes of life that have been forced on these families. We wanted to help alleviate their misery, but were got stuck. We were here. They were there. And we knew of no bridge. But with the Cradle Fund we had not only a bridge but an inspiring this-world reminder of biblical shalom.

Policies by Western governments to address the crisis have been slow in developing, and in November, 2014 the UN reported that a huge shortfall in funding meant that winter aid from the UNHCR would reach only 240,000 of the 600,000 displaced Iraqis and Syrians. The Cradle Fund and other NGOs, such as World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and Heart for Lebanon, have stepped into the gap with manna: food and water, insulation kits and boards, heaters and kerosene, and other essentials needed by families to survive the winter while holed up in small tents, abandoned buildings, and other makeshift shelters

In the Exodus narrative, the people of Israel “groaned” under punishing abuse and “cried out” for help. God “heard” their cry, “saw their misery,” and told Moses, I’ve “come down to rescue them.” That rescue was a poignant example of the gift of shalom.

“For the precarious,” writes Walter Brueggemann, “shalom can be understood as the assurance that there is a hearer for our cries, an intervener who comes to transform our lives.”

Today, the cry of despair and the hope of an intervener coming from persecuted Christian, Yazidi, and even Muslim families in Iraq and Syria is analogous to the Exodus narrative, when the only thing that matters is survival and the form that faith takes is one that cries out for deliverance. Brueggemann notes that because the Exodus generation lived their lives amid the acute precariousness of their situation, they “were interested in the question of survival – either actual physical, historical survival or at least the survival of faith and meaning.” Similarly, the crisis among Christians in Iraq evoked this cry last year from Patriarch Louis Sako of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church: “We feel forgotten and isolated” and wonder about the reaction of the world.

Neither the giving of shalom nor its receipt must wait for the bullets to stop flying.

For me, the Cradle of Christianity initiative has brought a necessary corrective in my thinking, bringing me back to the biblical meaning of shalom as gift to the most helpless. This fund enables churches and people of faith here in the United States to join with the indigenous efforts already underway by local churches and organizations in the countries of conflict and the countries that have received the overwhelming numbers of refugees.

The current exodus may not be over. But the vital work of rescuing and repairing damaged and broken lives has begun, but only just.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Neil Howard (permission via Creative Commons)

For more information. Like a growing number of people who are now following and supporting the Cradle Fund, here you can find many more moving stories and pictures about how the people are living in these stopgap conditions (from Chris’s blogs among the displaced families). Also check out IGE’s Facebook page and the above links as well.

Here are some FAQs about the Cradle Fund. Also Chris is providing personal updates from the region, including photos, on the IGE website and Twitter. Coverage of the Fund is also found at Christianity Today, CBN, and MPAC and Fox News.

Other posts and updates on this blog about the Cradle Fund: The Cradle Fund: Helpless No More /// Snapshots: A Day-in-the-Life of Iraq’s Religious Refugees /// This Bad Weather Is No Joke /// The Cradle Fund: Getting Thousands Safely Through a Middle East Winter.

Charles Strohmer is the author of several books, founding director of The Wisdom Project, and a visiting research fellow of the Center for Public Justice.

This Bad Weather Is No Joke

woman refugee caught in snowA personal note from Charles Strohmer:

Severe winter weather has now blown in, adding misery to the already desperate struggle to survive that is being faced by displaced Iraqi and Syrian families who have fled ISIS and are holed up in makeshift refugee camps, small tents, abandoned buildings, and other shelters. Please check out this brilliant piece of photo journalism put together by Alice Speri.

I began blogging about this crisis, here and here, before the winter set in, to help raise awareness and support for the Cradle of Christianity Project, which is providing immediate aid to relieve the misery. Please think about doing more than just looking at these images. Check out the story of how this this remarkable Project arose and see if it’s one you can get behind with a gift, prayers, forwards, shares, tweets, or more.

refugee baby caught in snow stormIt’s been very moving to hear from people who have said they wanted to help these families but did not know how to do that. We are here. They are there. There was no bridge. Now with the Cradle Fund there is. If you want to jump right to ways to support, here’s the page.

Thank you,

Charles

For more information. Like a growing number of people who are now following and supporting the Cradle Fund, here you can find many more moving stories and pictures about how the people are living in these stopgap conditions (from Chris’s blogs among the displaced families). Also check out IGE’s Facebook page and the above links as well.

Here are some FAQs about the Cradle Fund. Also Chris is providing personal updates from the region, including photos, on the IGE website and Twitter. Coverage of the Fund is also found at Christianity Today, CBN, and MPAC and Fox News.

Other posts and updates on this blog about the Cradle Fund: The Cradle Fund: Helpless No More /// The Cradle Fund: A Bridge for Shalom in the Middle East  /// The Cradle Fund: Getting Thousands Safely Through a Middle East Winter.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Images courtesy of Alice Speri and VICE NEWS.