Tag Archives: refugees

Our Brothers and Sisters Are Wandering, What Will We Do?

By Barbie Fischer

“Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love…”

Psalm 107: 4-8 (ESV)

Over the last several weeks the news has been overwhelmed with stories of people dying as they wander the land looking for a city to dwell in, a city of hope, free from fear of war, persecution and death. These stories can often be overwhelming and easily dismissed. I have even found myself avoiding the news in the last two weeks, especially after three year old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore. His parents had tried to join relatives in Canada, but were denied. Their boat capsized as they fled the war in Syria and Aylan, his five year old brother, and 35 year old mother lost their lives. His father had been coping with the loss of their home and possessions to the war in Syria, now he has lost his wife and children as well. It reminded me of the story of Job.

What is being called the “European Migrant Crisis” has brought to mind many Bible Stories of people forced from their homes because of conflict, persecution, or natural disaster. Even Jesus as a child was forced from his home with his Mother and Father, taking refuge in Egypt from political persecution.

The news stories of refugees dying in a quest for a place of peace and my own mixed reactions to them have lead me to a time of contemplation and two questions keep coming to mind: How are we as Christians responding to this crisis? What do we see when we look at the faces of those fleeing?

In August it seemed most of the people entering Europe were fleeing from Libya, Nigeria, and other conflict ridden countries in Africa. More recently reports are saying the majority of those fleeing are doing so from Syria. The crisis in Syria has been raging for almost five years now and it is one that hits close to home.

syria6As the “Arab Spring” began in the fall of 2010, I had just begun classes at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. One of my classmates is my brother Mohammed, who had left his family, the comforts of home and his job as a professor at the University of Damascus to study peacebuilding in a foreign land.  Mohammed towers over me, with his height, yet has one of the kindest spirits I have ever encountered. We came to find we share many of the same values, including family, faith and peace. Over the past five years I have watched Mohammed put his own life at risk to help bring attention to the plight of the Syrian people, his brothers and sisters. He has gone days without sleep, and has given close to everything to seek peace for his home land. We do not share a native tongue or home country, yet I count Mohammed as my brother.

Scripture is clear that we are all created by God (Colossians 1:16), and whether we recognize that or not that makes us all brothers and sisters. Mohammed is my brother and in the people I see on the television or my computer screen climbing through barbed wire barricades on the Hungarian border, crying and clutching their loved ones as they climb the shores of Greece, and those detained in “migrant camps” which function as prisons, they too are my brothers and sisters.

I have one biological sister, she is older than me, and very protective of me. I can remember getting hurt as a child and she would run to my aid. Is that our response to the current crisis we see in Europe? Do we see our brothers and sisters in the people fleeing the violence in their homelands? Do we see Christ in them?

Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus speaks of those who will enter the Kingdom of God as those who have fed him when he was hungry, gave him drink when he was thirsty, invited him in when he was a stranger, clothed him, looked after him as he was sick, and visited him in prison. He says in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.”

There are stories of people clothing and feeding the refugees, thousands left shoes at a Hungarian train station for refugees; those reaching Munich are being greeted with food and teddy bears; a family has used their own money and time to operate the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, patrolling the waters helping migrants make it to land safely; people around the world are taking a stand saying refugees are welcome here. Yet, I still wonder, how many refugees would our churches take in? How many would you take in? After all they are our brothers and sisters.

While I hope we will do anything and everything we can for our family, one thing we can do is pray for their safety, for God’s guidance in how we can respond, pray for peace. Beyond that may we also act on their behalf, advocating for peace in their countries and giving as we can to agencies working on the ground offering support such as Mennonite Central Committee’s Syria and Iraq Crisis Response.

Romans 15:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” No matter what I do, how I respond, right now I mourn. I mourn with the refugees, my brothers and sisters.

Finding hope at the border

by Steve Kriss, reposted by permission from Mennonite World Review

Steve KrissThere are never enough winter jackets in the stacks of sorted clothes in the salon de fiestas (fellowship hall) at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas. The stream of Central American refugees who arrive there after detention by the Department of Homeland Security rarely come with warm enough clothes to head further north. The 100 or so parents and children who stream through this makeshift refugee center daily leave behind the well-worn clothing they came in — and bundle up for the journey by Greyhound to new homes on this side of the Rio Grande’s America.

Though the tide has slowed a bit, the same issues that pushed refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador persist, and when warmer weather returns there will likely be a resurgence.

Current policy at the border is to remove adults, sending them back whence they came. But parents with children, and minors under 18, are allowed to remain. As a result, the “unaccompanied minor” crisis is largely one of our own government’s making. According to those on the front lines in South Texas, very few under 18 are actually unaccompanied when they arrive on the U.S. border. Most of them traveled with someone who was turned away — a family member, a friend or, sometimes, disturbingly, a trafficker.

Some refugees immediately seek asylum. Others travel within the U.S. to join family and friends as they move through a legal process. The morning I visited, several 20-something women had arrived from Honduras with a 7- or 8-year-old child in tow.

I spoke with a representative at the center from McAllen who said the city is committed to being hospitable but orderly. Everyone is offered soup designed for nutrient-deprived people, new clothes, a shower and a chance to see one of the medical volunteers. The showers were in trailers from the Salvation Army. Refu­gees can rest in an army tent on long-term loan until a bus is ready to take them north — but not for more than 24 hours.

Catholic Charities staffs the center with a combination of Catholic religious workers, professionals and local volunteers. Alma, a Tejana who teaches prayer in the Brownsville diocese, explained the operation of the refugee center. She said the Franciscans in charge of the parish facilities have said it can remain as long as needed. Alma described her charge and interacted with the volunteers and refugees with sincerity, grace and deep love. She said, “I treat everyone who comes in here as if they were the living Christ. Sometimes when we pick out clothes for the children, we give them clothes that they don’t really like. I invite them to come back to the pile to pick clothes they want, because with each boy or girl it’s like I’m dressing Jesus.”

I expected to come back from my border excursion with frustration and sadness. Instead, I returned with hope, having witnessed great love. The border responses aren’t perfect. The political and economic realities are complicated. Recent refugees are being equipped with ankle monitors to track their movements once inside the U.S. The refugees call the detention centers “freezers.”

But at the same time I was glad the U.S. government was admitting some of the most vulnerable arriving at our southern doorstep, escaping violence, feeling more pushed to leave their home than pulled by the possibility that is the U.S. I’m grateful that they’re given opportunity to state their case, to be reunited with family or friends while the process moves forward. I hope we’ll find a humane way through this situation.

The solution is a long haul of U.S. policies that might strengthen Central American economies and governments and help build healthy civil societies. But until then, the Franciscans will keep the doors open. And Tejanos like Alma will keep receiving newcomers as if they were Jesus, with open arms, clean shirts, new shoes, warm showers and instructions written in English to give to anyone who might help them land at their new, though possibly temporary, home.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor, student and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.