Yellow dinghies packed to overflowing with men, women, and children. Young men straddling the sides, paddling with broken oars. Children with tear-stained cheeks clinging to their mothers. Beaches covered in orange life jackets as far as the eye could see. Rescuers plunging into the water with arms outstretched to catch crying babies. Survivors wrapped in tinfoil blankets, shivering on the beach.
These were the images on our TV screens three years ago when the Syrian refugee crisis was at its peak. And then the border was closed between Greece and the rest of Europe. The forty to fifty boats coming in daily, laden with the scared and tired and hopeful, slowed to maybe one a day. Our attention turned to other things closer to home and, if we are honest, the refugee crisis became mundane.
But for the refugees, the world stood still. They couldn’t move on to the next thing. This crisis marked the turning point on which their lives will revolve. I’d like to introduce you to a few people I had the privilege of meeting in the past year, many who were just like us in many ways before they were forced to flee.
Six Refugees, Six Stories
Ryan* is a young doctor from Iraq who escaped the war with his life but has no proof of finishing medical school. He worked in Europe as an orderly while he struggled to learn the local language well enough to pass the medical exams in his new country. But even when he aced the test, the color of his skin kept him from being accepted as an intern, the next step to becoming a fully licensed doctor. The country in which he landed is wary of outsiders and treats them like second-class citizens, so Ryan’s struggle to thrive continues.
Sami* and Kamar* are Muslims who left Syria and now live in a tiny two-room apartment in Germany with their two children. They have a sofa and a table. But on his smartphone, he showed me pictures of his former life. His beautiful home, his new SUV, his family celebrating a wedding.
Before fleeing Iraq due to threats from ISIS, Reem* had a good paying job, a house, and a family. She knew she had to leave when five times a day the muezzin called for the eradication of Christians and a missile landed in her kitchen. Although she is now safe in western Europe, she suffers from PTSD and has developed type 1 diabetes. She no longer fears dying, but she’s not so excited about living either.
Arman* is a Rohingya refugee living in a camp in Bangladesh. His father became one of the first Christians among the Rohingya, and they have both endured physical persecution for their faith. Arman, now eighteen, was able to get an education and Bangladeshi citizenship. He hopes this will allow him to support his family as he works and shares the gospel.
Eduard Dima, a pastor, left his home in South Sudan after opposition forces came in shooting, burning, and raping people in his community. He and his family traveled to Uganda for refuge and spent months sleeping in the open with little food and water. Eduard worked hard to find and encourage other refugees who were pastors and Christians. He has helped establish more than one hundred small congregations, and he started a Bible college to train church leaders.
Tahib* fled Afghanistan after a bomb from the Taliban killed six of his friends and blew him into the air. He had been on the Taliban hit list for months and barely escaped through traffickers into Europe. He became a Christian during his journey and now works as a translator. He shares the gospel with others from Iran and Afghanistan.
So What Can We Do?
As God reminds us of the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters, and of those who haven’t yet heard of his love for them, may we be inspired by ways we can pray, give, and go. Here are some ideas to get started.
Resist the temptation to fear, and seize this God-given moment in history
God doesn’t do anything in a vacuum. There is purpose in this mass migration of people. Many refugees are from places that were previously unreachable with the gospel. Now they are on our doorstep. The church has a responsibility to reach out and boldly embrace these hurting people. We must seize this moment.
Volunteer to help refugees in your city. Give through Baptist Global Response to provide food, shelter, or microloans to refugees overseas. Educate your family and small group with WMU’s 2018 International Mission Study about refugees. Participate in this year’s World Refugee Sunday on June 24.
- Pray for their emotional healing.
They are traumatized, long to feel safe again, and often struggle with PTSD for years.
- Pray for their spiritual journey.
They have lost their positions in society, their reputations, and their communities, and they are looking for hope.
- Pray for their resettlement.
They are often disappointed when they finally reach their destination because it is not what they expected. They have been told the West offers riches and plenty, but what they often experience is sparse and wrought with obstacles.
- Pray for their relationships.
They often struggle with loneliness and depression. Most refugees have been separated from loved ones and live in camps next to people from other nations with different languages. They need friendship and community.
- Pray for the children.
They have lost years of normal life, which means many have lost years of education. It is not unusual for young refugees to have missed six years of school due to living in a turbulent pre-war society, lacking proper identification papers, not being fluent in their host country’s language, or having to overcome the scars of trauma.
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him” (Acts 17:26–27 NIV).
Pray that many will reach out and find him.
Karen Pearce is a writer for IMB living in Prague. She has dedicated much of the past three years researching and writing about the global refugee situation. She is the writer for the International Mission Study, from which this article was sourced and repurposed for imb.org. You can follow Karen on Instagram @Karpea4.