My initial reaction to many major news stories is, “I want to say something about ______.” And inevitably, before I have even processed the ideas spinning in my head, someone smarter, more articulate than I writes a nuanced, intelligent piece, and so I leave the conversation to someone else. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed with blog posts on a certain issue, it feels like the kindest thing I can do is not throw more noise out onto the interwebs.
I say this to assert, my purpose is not to seek social media attention on a subject that is easily gathering attention. I may have a greater length of time reading on the subject than many, but not true expertise. What I offer is my own, mostly anecdotal support for the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the United States.
Photo by John Englart (Takver)
This is nothing new
When I first heard the outcry, I thought surely they meant 100,000. Bhutanese refugees, one of the most recent refugee populations to see a surge in the U.S., has seen the admittance of close to 50,000 refugees.
From more “troubled” regions, we have accepted more than 10,000 refugees from countries, such as Syria, in the recent past. Those numbers pale in comparison the the figures seen in the 1980’s in regards to refugee status granting. We may not feel ready today, but their arrival won’t be sudden nor swift. The arduous process will continue as it has been.
It’s worth the risk
As a Christian, I believe in redemption. I believe in reconcilation. I believe in restoration. I believe in a Gospel of hope and love. Maybe one of the 10,000 refugees sneaks through the vetting process, and in hate, destroys us all. But if I don’t believe God can handle that, if I think I can choose disobedience because the task before me is too risky, why bother following at all? If not this, then what? Maybe it’s a disingenuous stance because,
I’ve already seen why it’s worth it
The elephant in the room? I married a refugee. The man that tucks my son in and kisses me goodnight made it out of 2 refugee camps to find a home in the U.S. Was there a guarantee that his family was going to bring good to this country over evil? Nope. Did his family and many others bring an extraordinary burden of care with them? Certainly. When not everyone you love makes it out, when you don’t speak English well, when you come with the baggage of suffering, violence, and lament, there’s a lot of care needed. There’s not a huge contribution to be made to society. Not at first. Yet, the Biblical welcoming of the stranger does not stipulate, “if the stranger is good for your economy”, “if the stranger can make a confession of faith on the spot”, “if the stranger is easy to get along with and can make a seamless, burden-less transition”.
Christian hospitality puts the burden on us, which is why the response of many to the contrary is troubling and confusing. Refugees place a strain on social services, require additional resources from our already strained school districts, and most of all need extra help adjusting to cultural norms. But I can also tell you the boy that arrived a financial burden in need of social services, ESL classes, and extra summer curriculum now holds a masters degree, now teaches in a Title 1 school, and, I would say, contributes much to society and to the church. He has taught me things I couldn’t have learned from anyone else. He makes me better. He makes this country better, not simpler, but better.
For several years I found myself in a place in life that kept leading me to encountering refugee and former refugee families. I was involved with youth ministry at the time, and so I became aware of the commonality of gang activity, food insecurity and other issues that plagued the community. In hindsight, I would now say many of those situations came from the placement of people into systems that were broken long before they arrived, but that’s another story.
One day I was driving a bus, and the kids had been particularly difficult that night when I overheard a nine year old boy turn to the teenager beside him and say, “Why are you here?” The teenager was looking to blow him off, but the young boy pressed, “No, I mean your family. How did they get here? Was it because of war too?” The teenager stiffened, nodded his head and patted the boy on the shoulder. That was all the two needed. The knowing of sorrow I can only imagine. The idea that someone would wish these two boys had been turned away is unfathomable. One of the two would serve in the U.S. military, the other finds himself in trouble more often than I’d like to admit. But I could say that about the American born youth I worked with too. They all make choices you can’t control, but they deserve a chance to live in a place that has choices at all.
I will be the first to admit it’s a messy, complicated road ahead. But my hope, is that you will find room in your heart for their stories. My hope is that this Advent season you will remember the plight of Mary and Joseph as they fled to Egypt, carrying a refugee that would change the world. My hope is that we see people, not policies.