These children are not politics. They are casualties, and their stories are tragic. Their world is the definition of a living nightmare, and images of thousands of Syrian children just like them assail us daily. My heart breaks for these people in so many ways. Anyone who knows me well could tell you how often I feel a deep burden to help. I pray for these people so often, and plead with God to show them mercy and deliver them from evil with haste.
After the most recent images of Aya (below), and her heart-wrenching story, I feel an even deeper burden. She looks like my daughter. She could be my daughter. How dare I imagine that Aya’s father loves her any less than I love my own children. It does not matter to me one bit whether her father is Christian, Muslim, atheist, or something else. I want to help him, and I want to help her. I want these atrocities to stop. If there is anything we can do to protect or aid people like Aya’s family, I am all for it. I am not afraid.
I understand that security threats are very real, abroad and at home. Everyone understands that. Sadly, there are those who take advantage of instability and volatility. They blame the wrong people. They create paranoia and foster fear solely for the purpose of their own personal agendas and gains.
Just in case it seems like I am getting political here, I am not. If it seems like I am suggesting we open our doors to thousands and potentially tens of thousands of people without any boundaries, I am not.
MY REFUGEE STORY
I am all too familiar with the problems that exist in our immigration and refugee systems. For the last 5 years, I have had the privilege and challenge of working with one particular refugee just about as closely as one can. He has been in the United States for more than 30 years, after having safely escaped a country ruled by a brutal dictator. There was and is no going back.
His arrival in the U.S. provided him with safety from the evils of the regime in his country of origin, but new challenges soon arose. The system has failed this man greatly. After more than 30 years, he does not read or speak English well. He has lived on the streets, in homeless shelters, immigration facilities, and even spent time in prison. When I met him he had no job, no identification, no resources, and nowhere to go after his immigration-provided transitional facility was closed. I was told the only person who could help him was an immigration attorney. I took him to a few consultations, and they went nowhere. So I began learning immigration law and process for refugees like him.
For 5 years, I have helped him navigate this convoluted system. It often involves long drives, long waits, ill-trained or unkind system workers, and lots and lots of paperwork. Without an advocate, my friend would be on the streets or in a shelter permanently. There is no way he could have done this alone. He is only one case among hundreds of thousands. So, yes, I understand our system is ill-equipped to handle hundreds of thousands more. And, yes, I also realize these problems will worsen as more people seek refuge in our nation.
Do Syrian families desperately need to be rescued from the horrendous circumstances around them? Absolutely.
Do those who have already escaped Syria need better than the surrounding countries have to offer? My goodness, yes.
Is our system or are boundaries set up to receive them and provide for them well? Definitely not. My refugee friend is an example in both cases. And neither are his fault.
But again I say, we should not blame the wrong people. These families are not politics. These children are not radicalized. Their children are not terror. These children are daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, and best friends. Sadly, they are the picture of what terror does, and how children pay the worst price of all.
ARE WE TRULY IN DANGER FROM SYRIAN REFUGEES?
These children and their families are also not refugees; at least not yet. If they were to become our refugees, would they really be a threat? It is impossible to say no. We can use the word improbable, however. Since 1975, when the word terrorism was not even used, the number of deaths in the United States at the hands of a foreign-born terrorist using a refugee visa is 3. The chances of you or I being killed at the hands of a refugee terrorist is 1 in more than 3 billion. 1 in 3 BILLION+. The table below comes from a very thorough risk analysis done by CATO just last month (September 2016). The link to the full article is here.
In reality, however, the statistics don’t matter all that much to me. As a follower of Christ, I have a missionary call. No matter where God calls me to go, whether it begins with Saint or ends with –stan, there is risk and there is danger. I love my children more than life itself, and could not bear to think what life would be like without any of them. I would never intentionally throw them in the way of harm, but my love for and commitment to Christ will always drive our decisions. Thankfully, God gives a peace that surpasses any understanding of mine. Which means that even in the midst of insecurity and instability, I can still trust and obey.
So if I strip away the illusion of control and security, and do not allow myself to be dominated by fear of the unknown, I am left with a question. What is the right thing to do?
The right thing seems clear to me. I choose compassion over suspicion. Love over fear. People over politics.
I am quite sure my feelings and opinions will have no bearing on whether or not we help the people of Syria by giving aid or refuge. I can promise you this, however — I will not do nothing. I will continue to pray for the people of Syria daily, and I will be actively seeking ways that God can use me and my church to help them strategically. Because I know this: the church has resources the state and the government cannot provide.
My yes is on the table when it comes to Syria. If God can use my resources, time, or ministry to help these families, I will give them willingly. I pray God brings them to us, and that we, as followers of Christ, can be good news and give them the Good News they so desperately need.
Here are two other excellent articles on this topic by Evangelicals: