“Refugees are not terrorists. They are often the first victims of terrorism.” – Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2005-2015)
“For Christians, godly compassion is not optional. Since the beginning, God has called His followers to be like him, to ‘do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God'” (Micah 6:8). – Ted N.C. Wilson, “Complete Compassion,” Adventist World, June 2016
I‘m proud of my church. On Saturday, June 18, 2016, the Seventh-day Adventist Church will be observing World Refugee Day. In honor of this event, the church has dedicated the June 2016 edition of Adventist World magazine to the refugee crisis.
The refugee crisis has reached epidemic proportions with people being displaced because of war, genocide, severe economic shortages, and many other reasons.
While it is easy for those of us who live lives of relative peace in “safe countries” to get caught up in nationalist politics, especially in an election year, the worldwide Adventist Church has traditionally supported a global vision of reaching people in need regardless of their homeland.
In the special June 2016 edition Adventist World, tells some stories of how Adventists around the world are responding to the refugee crises. There is the story of Swedish Adventists who have reached out to welcome 100 refugees, offering Swedish-language lessons, clothing, even opening a preschool for refugee children among other services. In Britain, Adventists have been greeting refugees with food and “emotional first aid.” The British Adventists have found that even though they may not share the faith of the majority of the refugees, their efforts are appreciative. One 15-year-old whose parents were killed by ISIS militants called the church’s assistance a “lifeline.”
One of the most moving articles is by L. Ann Hamel, Ph.D., DMin, a psychologist who analyzes the needs of refugee children who have been forced to flee their homes. “[M]ost have witnessed a great deal of trauma and violence,” and research shows that severe and chronic stress leads to bodily systems producing an inflammatory response that leads to disease.”
Hamel describes the unforgettable image of the three-year-old little boy who had drowned as his family crossed the Mediterranean from Turkey on their way to Greece, whose body lay facedown in the sand wearing a little red t-shirt and blue shorts. Those who survive, “need to be connected with people who love and care for them and who understand their experience.”
German Adventist theology professor Stefan Hoschele, Ph.D. describes how the message of caring for refugees may run contrary to the nationalistic urges that have led his many fellow citizens to call for refugees to be sent back home or to burn asylum centers. Hosechele writes, “It’s good to remember that the Ten Commandments were given to people who migrated from one country to another. What’s more, Jesus Himself was a refugee in Egypt, and in His famous judgment speeches He said, “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Matt. 25:35).
Maybe it’s time for the people who claim to follow Christ to put politics aside and take the hard step of directly reaching out to refugees with humanitarian concern.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is actively involved in responding to the refugee crisis and is accepting donations at http://adra.org/refugees
Photo: A Syrian refugee and her newborn baby at a clinic in Ramtha, Jordan – Flickr / DFID – UK Department for International Development – Creative Commons