If you have any connection to the outside world you know that the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe is undergoing a refugee crisis of massive proportions. Syrian and Iraqi refugees are finding their way to Europe to try to escape the violence, hunger, and lack of basic resources resulting from ongoing conflicts in both countries. For years, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey have borne most of the brunt of the burdan from the crisis, but now refugees are risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. What was a regional conflict is now a wider political and economic challenge.
If you are like me you read the stories, see the pictures, dig into the complexities of the problem and end up feeling helpless or hopeless. Someone has to do something. But what? Is there anything you and I can do to help? We know we can pray and we know we can give money to aid organizations. However, I suspect we often fail to do either of these things because will my prayers or fifty dollars do anything, realluy?
Can we do anything else? Here are a few things I think merit consideration as doing our part. They may not do anything at all in the big picture, but then again, they may help you take one more step, even if only helping you to pray more pointedly and persistently.
- Choose to be continuously educated. It is easy to make sweeping generalizations about those who are fleeing violence, about those in host countries, about the various armed militias. Sometimes we are right but far too often we develop simplistic formulas for the problem and solutions. Read outside of your normal news sources. If you are in the U.S., check out the stories by BBC and Al Jazeera news corps. Especially look for news stories about the refugees, who they are and what they are looking for. Many journalists in this area tweet out their stories/blogs. Find them and read them. Don’t allow hopeless feelings keep you from bearing witness to the tragedies nor from calling on God to intervene.
- Study the Scriptures regarding the God who loves refugees, hears their cries (think Exodus) and his son who was himself a refugee (check out Matthew 2). What is God’s mind on caring for those who have nothing and who will cost us something if we do care for them? Too often we can become consumed with political and economic realities and forget that God’s word calls us to love immigrant and outsider among us. In doing so, challenge your common assumptions about how we should relate to Muslim outsiders.
- Learn a lay-counselor trauma training model. The American Bible Society has a program, Healing Wounds of Trauma. This program is Scripture-engaged, dialogical, lay-oriented, and cascade oriented. You can get trained by attending a low-cost equipping session (4-5 days) and then train others (hence the cascade effect). You do not need to be a counselor but plenty of counselors love this model because it is so easily transferrable. Translated and contextualized into many languages, you can teach in English and the participants can teach in their own communities in their own language. Wait, you migh think, I don’t know any refugees in my community. While there may not be any Syrian refugees (then again, there many well be!), immigrants and refugees are all around us. Find out who is serving them (e.g., Lutheran Social Services, World Relief, etc.) and see if you can use this materials with them. This particular program isn’t the only one out there but it is effective and budget friendly.
- Of course, give and pray. Once you get connected to local refugee serving organizations, you will have a better sense of who is serving in your community and how your time, talent, and treasure could be used.