What if It Was Me? A Lens on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

There are moments that halt apathy and snap your heart to attention—

I experienced such a moment this past summer in a crowded airport in Munich. Alone and losing the fight against jet lag, I found myself waiting in yet another long line for my departure flight home to the States. After shuffling through the seemingly endless crowd of grumpy passengers, I looked up from my phone to notice a stir in the line in front of me. A Middle Eastern couple stood to the side of the crowd, deciphering questions from a domineering airport official. The woman, completely covered by her onyx burqa, huddled behind her husband in confusion. The immediate thoughts that flooded my mind were full of unjustified fear and anxious alert. My cultural bias blinded me to see the situation apart from judgement, condemnation, and fear. The fear held constant until the woman glanced up and I looked into her eyes through small slits in her hijab. I was not met with a look of hatred or conceit, rather I felt like I was looking in a mirror. The thought instantly entered my mind:

What if that was me?

What if I had been born into a different family, in a different nation, at a different time? There I stood, as a young woman traveling independently to Eastern Europe, free of any stigma or concern. Yet, there she stood, uncertain of whether she would be able to continue onward in her journey without questioning or detainment.

This memory often comes to mind whenever I hear the boisterous arguments swirling around the refugee crisis debate. We seem to hear constant counter narratives: some voices warn that welcoming refugees will destroy our nation, others encourage us to welcome refugees with humility and grace. The media has twisted this humanitarian crisis and sensationalized the issues at hand to the point of utter convolution for most Americans. We are unsure where to turn and where to derive truth in the face of such distortion of facts and emotion.

As Christians consider these questions, I believe it is critical we return to the truth of Scripture in the face of our fears. While processing the current events of the Syrian refugee crisis, I have felt compelled to develop a “theology of refugees” in an effort to confront my anxieties with the source of truth.

First, we should consider the current Syrian refugee crisis for what it truly is—a crisis. The statistics are alarming, with 13.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance and 6.6 million displaced from Syria. The Syrians affected by the disparaging political climate are victims of the tragedy of war, not unlike victims of similar wartime crises like the Holocaust or Stalin’s systematic ethnic cleansing. A compounding factor of this tragedy is that a large majority of Syrians affected by displacement are children.  This means that these children are not receiving the basic human needs of clothing, shelter, and food, much less structure, school, or playdates with friends. When I see videos such as the one describing what life looks like in a year for a Syrian little girl, I cannot help but shift my heart away from fear and towards compassion.

 "My prayer is that with open arms and hearts, we would welcome the sojourner into our lives and homes."

Let us not forget how similar the birth of our Savior parallels with the Syrian refugee crisis. Jesus, the Savior of the universe, humbled Himself to human form and took on our flesh. He was Middle-Eastern too, born in a stable andforced to flee the nation immediately following his birth. Mary and Joseph traveled a perilous journey on foot, through unforgiving terrain and uncertainty of what was to come. They were completely reliant on a stranger’s generosity to take them in so Mary would have a place to deliver the Redeemer of all mankind. If anyone should be compassionate to the call of welcoming refugees, it should be the Christian.

Scripture is adamant concerning Christ’s heart for the hurting and the integral nature of mercy in the walk of the believer. In Matthew 25:40, when Jesus talks about who will enter the kingdom of God, He assures us, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did unto the least of these, you did unto me.” Later in the New Testament, the church in Galatia pleads only that other believers would “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). James even goes so far as to say that the purest religion is defined by ministering to the orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27).

Earlier references to care for the poor reach back to the book of Isaiah, in which Isaiah clearly lays out what the Lord demands of us. Isaiah 58:6-7 outlines true fasting, or obedience for the believer as follows:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:

   to loose the bonds of wickedness,

   to undo the straps of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

   and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry

   and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover him,

   and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

These do not seem like optional suggestions from my vantage point.

Rather, it looks as though welcoming refugees should be the very heartbeat of the believer. My prayer is that with open arms and hearts, we would welcome the sojourner into our lives and homes. I encourage you to look for ways in your community to welcome the refugees that may be entering your state. I encourage you to write to your leaders in government to support policy that welcomes refugees. Instead of xenophobic shunning, I encourage you to continue to inform yourself with true statistics in exchange for bombastic statements made through political bias. I encourage you to pray for the hurting Syrians, and ask the Father to intercede in their war-torn nation.

When I think back to my memory from the airport, I remember that as a believer, this life is a journey. We are all sojourners, waiting for the day that we see our Savior face to face. In this, I am also convicted. I do not know the eternity of the Muslim woman who stood in front of me. But I do know is my thoughts and reactions to the circumstance. Could my heart be more focused on the state of her soul than personal anxieties or bias? My prayer is that through the power of the gospel many of Syrians would become brothers and sisters on this journey with me.

Because at the end of the day, I am simply a pilgrim on a journey Home.  

-Morgan Barney is sophomore Maclellan Scholar at Covenant College, currently studying International Studies. She co-founded Save Our Sisters, an organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking in Moldova, and advocates for women trapped in sex slavery.

Photo courtesy of Ilias Bartolini