Called to love

December 5th, 2017

Loving humanity

Several weeks ago, as I was preparing to go to bed, I saw a commercial for a refugee relief agency on television. All night long I dreamt about and prayed for the little girl featured in that ad. I didn’t know her. I didn’t know her family. I didn’t even really know her story. She was a complete stranger, but still my heart was drawn to hers.

Is it even possible to love someone you’ve never met? For that matter, is it possible for us to love the millions upon millions of strangers worldwide who live as refugees? According to Jesus, it’s not only possible, but it’s also our highest calling. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart,” said Jesus when asked about the greatest commandment, and “You will love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31).

I found myself researching stories about global migration and came across numerous photos of people in the United States protesting proposed laws that would limit or ban refugees and immigrants from entering the country. The number of signs referencing love were overwhelming — everything from “Love Has No Borders” to “Love Thy Immigrant Neighbors.” There were signs about love trumping hate, loving Muslim neighbors, love winning and how choosing love also meant choosing humanity. It was love all around.

But why that word? Of all the words one could use to speak up for the plight of refugees, why love? Why not peace or freedom? One possibility is that our world is so starved for love right now that we’re sensing the need, as a people, as a country, to elevate its importance. For people of faith, this prompts deeper questions: Are Christians leading the way? Are we fulfilling our call to love?

A hurting world and the global refugee crisis

Last year, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a report titled Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015 that detailed the most recent statistics on forced displacement. UNHCR was created in 1950 to help the millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes in the wake of World War II. The organization’s original goal was to complete this work within three years. However, more than 67 years later, UNHCR is still working to protect and assist refugees around the world.

UNHCR defines refugees as “people forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence.” If the country they enter designates them as refugees, these people then become eligible for many types of government and international aid, and their human rights will be protected by international law. For their report, UNHCR also includes those who live in refugee-like situations but who haven’t been granted official refugee status.

According to UNHCR’s report, 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015, the highest figure since UNHCR started tracking refugee statistics. For comparison, 65.3 million people is greater than the population of the United Kingdom or the combined populations of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In 2015, 24 people were forced to flee from their homes each minute. In 2005, that number was only six people every minute. When compared to the current world population of 7.4 billion people, one in every 113 is an asylum seeker, internally displaced, or a refugee. Children account for more than half of the world’s refugees.

Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia have produced the most refugees in recent years, while Colombia, Iraq and Syria (again) have the largest population of people who have fled their homes but remain within their countries’ borders. The surge in refugee numbers in recent years can be attributed to violent conflicts that are both more frequent and longer lasting. Additionally, many programs that used to help the displaced have decreased in scale.

Active love

God calls each of us to different tasks, and with the Spirit’s help, we can discern where and how we can best be of service in the world. Fortunately, a number of organizations across the world are aligned to focus specifically on the plight of refugees.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) works alongside the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) to make issues of global migration a priority for their programs. Spurred on by the biblical principles of justice and mercy, UMCOR gives preferential treatment to human rights issues to ensure that migrants have access to food, water, shelter, clothing and health care without discrimination. UMCOR also supports the rights of migrants to stay in their home countries, the right to safe passage for those who are forced to leave, the right to a new community where they will be welcomed and the right to return to their country of origin when possible.

World Vision is another Christian organization that helps communities lift themselves out of poverty through emergency relief efforts and through long-term, sustainable development programs. Their support of refugees includes providing them with emergency supplies, clean water, access to basic health care and education and providing refugee children with safe places to play.

World Vision’s website states that Jesus’ love is at the center of their mission, adding, “We’re Christian — as in we follow Jesus’ example to show unconditional love to the poor and oppressed. Serving every child we can — of any faith or none. Believing that no child is lost. No situation is hopeless. Because our hope is in Jesus.”

Stories of love

In 2015, Germany absorbed a large number of refugees as they fled from war-torn areas in northern Africa and the Middle East. Peter Karanja, originally from Kenya, worked with International and Migrant Ministries in Germany, a United Methodist outreach to asylum seekers and other migrants. In an article on UMCOR’s website, Karanja cites the story of the good Samaritan and poses two questions: (1) What will happen to the church if it engages with refugees of different backgrounds? (2) What will happen to these homeless, lonely and fearful refugees if the church refuses to engage with them?

Karanja then relates how the Ruferkirche United Methodist Church in Frankfurt worked to find refugees homes as well as offer German language lessons. Sometimes it’s the small, cultural offerings that can make a difference. For instance, this church offered music lessons to refugees to promote not just existence but the abundance of life. Karanja also reminds the reader that refugees have heartbreaking reasons for fleeing their homeland by quoting Somali poet Warsan Shire, who said, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.”

World Relief, another organization that works with churches to offer aid and development, shares the following on their website: “Love feeds the hungry. Love welcomes the stranger. Love knows no limits.” World Relief shares the story of Odette, a mother who fled violence in the Congo to keep her children safe. A World Relief partner church welcomed her family and provided them with care as Odette recuperated from major medical procedures. Odette has now recovered and become financially independent. Her children are also doing well and looking forward to the future.

Then there’s the story of Tarek, a 12-year-old Syrian boy who remembers hiding from bombs and using his headphones to block out the noise of the explosions. His family fled and made their way to Jordan, where a local church partnering with World Relief offered to help Tarek and his family. Tarek is now attending school and likes all his studies. He also likes going to church and having a chance to play. He frequently asks his family when peace will come to his home in Syria. No one has an answer for him. But in the meantime, his church offers him both encouragement and love.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups.

comments powered by Disqus