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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Helping Refugees Before It Made News

November 19, 2015

A couple of photos changed the way much of America, and the church, viewed the ongoing refugee crisis spilling into Europe from the Middle East. In one, a drowned three-year-old lay face down on the shoreline after the boat carrying his family and other refugees from Syria capsized. In another, a Turkish police officer carries his little body, feet dangling with Velcro sneakers.

It's hard to imagine something more innocent or more tragic. This young victim galvanized a push to open borders. Ann Voskamp gathered evangelicals around the mantra We Welcome Refugees, urging the church to partner with resettlement agencies. People were even asking, "How can we get more of these refugees out of danger and into our country?"

That was only two months ago. Now, in the wake of the deadliest terrorists attacks in France's history, many Americans no longer think of an innocent little boy when they picture a Syrian refugee. They imagine the suicide bomber believed to have posed as a refugee to enter Europe. There's a stark contrast between the outcry for compassion following the viral photos and the defensive unwelcome following the Paris attacks, but I worry that both are examples of a collective gut reaction, roused by the trending topic of the day.

We form our opinions quickly in the age of social media, even on topics we may not have extensively considered before. As Christians, though, we cannot live as people who quickly search for Bible verses to back up our hot takes on the latest tragedy or controversy. We have to be the ones doing the ongoing work of peace, mercy, and charity—even if it goes overlooked.

I know many evangelicals who have long cared for refugees as a response to their sense of calling and Scripture itself, not a particular incident in the news. The day-to-day of helping refugees, as social worker Heather Evans writes, feels far more mundane and less exciting than the proclamations and stances on social media. Going to doctor's appointments, checking on homework, and "sitting in a bare apartment with people who speak a different language and come from a different culture can be awkward and certainly unglamorous," she said. "But this, my fellow Christians, is our call to practice hospitality."

As Trillia Newbell said in a recent post about pro-life activism, we always hope that our actions will serve as a positive witness for our faith. But we continue to obey God regardless of whether we gain popular attention, acclaim, or approval for it.

Recent news has challenged me to resist the urge to quickly form an opinion and demand action from those around me accordingly. Instead, I hope to reverse it: To notice the ongoing work of the body of Christ in areas that I am not an expert on (in this case, be they refugee resettlement, national security, or foreign affairs).

I hope to listen and learn from those who have served faithfully in these areas. This may be the best way I can begin to help. As a CT piece reminded me this week, "Real listening is an act of servanthood... a practice of presence and an act of humility and surrender. It's an act of hospitality and a way to imitate Christ."

Thanks for reading,

Kate Shellnutt
Kate Shellnutt
Editor, Her.meneutics

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