Monday, October 19, 2015

A Crisis Becomes Personal

Some of you know that the refugee crisis has been going strong here in Europe. Thousands of people have been streaming in from Syria and many middle eastern countries trying to reach western Europe. The response here has been mixed. Many fear terrorism or the importation of these conflicts. Others have pushed back against this with things like the #refugeeswelcome hashtag, demonstrations, and volunteers at the main train station here. We have seen really cool uses of social media with Facebook groups, set up to provide real time information about what is needed and what they already have enough of.

This whole issue is incredibly complicated, and I am no politician or a person with an answer to every question. We knew that there were people suffering and needing immediate help. We donated a few things like medicine and clothes based on the needs that were communicated. We also had some friends here that talked about an opportunity to give refugees a warm place to stay for a night or two as they are in transit or waiting for more permanent housing. We jumped at the idea to practically show the love of Christ like in Matthew 25. We put our names on a list while we were donating and and then didn't hear anything for a while.

Two weeks ago, we got a call asking if we would be available for two young guys. We picked them up on Tuesday and they were with us until Friday. It was an intense few days, but fun as well. We were able to use google translate to communicate (though it did not always work). They had also met another guy that had been here longer that could speak English and a bit of German, as well, and he met up with us sometimes to translate (he also met the guys during the day to help them get around). We were able to offer a warm place to sleep and do laundry. It took up some time, but we didn't have to put our lives completely on hold while they were with us.

One of the hardest things about this whole process, was recognizing how small our impact was in all of this. We can offer a few nights in a warm room, but that is far less than most of these people need. They need short term or long term housing. They need help learning German and navigating in this new culture and the massive bureaucracy through which they may be able to get asylum. On top of this, many people have come out of war situations and are dealing with real trauma. Spending time with these two guys and seeing how massive their needs are made me see how big this whole issue is. By no means should we give up or stop helping, but my vision of the need has exploded. There is a real feeling of helplessness when faced with challenges of this magnitude.

Spending time with these guys has also humanized the issue for me. It is important to talk about laws, systems and policies when dealing with issues like this, but we need to remember that these are real people. People for whom it was so bad where they lived, that they risked everything to escape and start over. I can't imagine that kind of personal calculus. Our reasons for coming here were so different, I can't imagine a war raging so bad or a government so oppressive that I decide to leave and create a better life. But millions have made or were forced to make that decision. Most sources are saying that 50% of the population of Syria is currently displaced. Many have said this is the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

Numbers are important to understand issues, but for me it is the people behind the numbers. The individuals that are affected. Meeting these two guys made this crisis not just about numbers of people displaced or the magnitude of the need, but people, image bearers of God, that are hurting and hungry. People that God desperately loves are in need. We can debate politics and legality, and we should. But let us not forget that the love of God compels us to help others not based on their passport, but based on their worth before a holy and loving God.

I want to write more about this in the future, but these are my thoughts for now. Throw me a comment below if you have experience with this crisis and others.