April 19, 2016

Heartless or Naïve: What's Your Stance on Middle Eastern Immigrants?

Post by Brittany Tedesco

Bill Stockton was chatting it up with friends and family members at the birthday party his wife and son had arranged for him when an ominous radio announcement broke up the revelry: unidentified objects were headed toward the U.S.

 'Survival Under Atomic Attack' U.S. Government booklet

In the minds of Americans in the early 1960s, unidentified objects hurling toward the country could have only meant one thing: a nuclear attack. Responsible as he was, Bill had built a fallout shelter for just such an occasion—complete with provisions just sufficient for himself, his wife, and his son. Knowing this could be the moment for which he'd prepared, he locked the three of them into the shelter.

Overtaken by panic, the rest of the guests demanded they be admitted into the shelter. They pushed and shoved and launched hostile words at one another. The cordiality had evaporated in a single moment.

Would Bill and his family open the door?

No. They weren't going to jeopardize their chances of survival by sharing their provisions. And why should they? It was their stuff!

Fallout shelter sign

The guests didn't see it that way, however. Finally, they managed to break down the door. . . right before a subsequent radio announcement filled the air: false alarm, those unidentified objects were nothing but harmless satellites.

You might remember this particular episode of The Twilight Zone, a television series that always seemed to highlight truths about the human condition in vivid, memorable ways.

Who do you sympathize with in this story? The ones who were prepared and only trying to defend their way of life? Or the ones who weren't prepared, but were desperately trying to survive?

From your answer, I could easily extrapolate which side of the immigration debate you fall on.

Migrants walking in Hungary

Think Middle Eastern immigrants headed to America. Good thing or bad thing?

Americans are pretty divided over this issue. According to Patrick Gladstone, author of Operation World, "Surveys show that evangelicals are more likely than other Americans to view immigrants as a threat."

Interesting. Are evangelicals just heartless bigots?

I consider myself an evangelical, and many would affirm that, no, I am not a heartless bigot. But I don't exactly relish the idea of Islamic immigrants coming to my shores. I know that some of those immigrants won't have our best interests at heart, and some will take advantage of our way of life.

Migrants walking in Hungary

I'll go a step further and admit that it's easy for me to view people who advocate for accepting immigrants as naïve and ill-informed.

Pick your side: heartless and bigoted or naïve and ill-informed.

As believers, we'd be wise not to stereotype those on either side of the issue—especially when we have the ability to go to the Lord for His perspective.

Whenever I seek His perspective, I am reminded that our God reigns. I don't control the political decisions that are made, but God is sovereign over them all. His plans can never be thwarted. And just because His plans might not be very comfortable for me doesn't mean His will isn't being accomplished.

Migrants in Hungary crawling under barbed wire

More people are on the move today than ever before. In fact, every four seconds, someone is forced to flee from their home (UNHCR). One-fifth of the globe is currently being impacted by some kind of violence (World Bank).

How can we join God in the work that He is doing in the midst of this massive migration?

Today, the highest number of refugees originates from Syria. Somewhere around 4 million Syrians—the same number as the entire population of Oregon—have fled from their homes since the civil war started a few years ago. Every day, an average of 6,000 Syrians flee their country. More than 7 million are internally displaced. This means that half of all Syrians have had to flee their homes (World Vision).

A small fraction of these refugees may end up in the United States, but the vast majority of them flee to neighboring countries. In fact, 95 percent of Syrian refugees are hosted in just five countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.

The small country of Lebanon has the highest density of refugees to residents, at 257 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants.

Women praying in the Middle East

Turkey has accepted more Syrian refugees, 2.7 million, and provided more direct aid, upwards of $8.9 billion, than any other country—though thousands aren't able to access official camps to benefit from this assistance.

How must the evangelicals in those countries feel? Do they resent the influx of refugees?

I certainly can't answer that question on behalf of them all, but the ones that Christian Aid Mission has been assisting have rolled up their sleeves to be the Lord's hands and feet among the destitute masses.

What they have found is that even small acts of kindness are making a huge impact in the lives of those who are far from home.

The leader of an indigenous ministry in Lebanon sent several reports about the work his gospel coworkers are doing.

For instance, several of them had invited Asma, a Syrian refugee, to come to church. . . but she never showed up. They soon discovered that she had a disabled daughter and no way to transport her. The $200 per month she earned at her menial job wasn't enough to make ends meet, let alone purchase a stroller. When the native believers pooled their resources and bought her a stroller, Asma began coming to church. The gesture meant so much to her. She soon gave her life to Christ.

Middle Eastern women at a worship service.

"We went to visit another family," wrote the Lebanese ministry leader, "and we were shocked because they literally had nothing. . . no food, no dishes." Of the seven children, ranging in age from 1 to 9 years old, one had asthma. The clinic they'd visited had given the boy a crudely fashioned inhaler made from a plastic water bottle. The gospel workers provided him with proper medication, as well as food, milk, and diapers for the rest of the family. This act of love made an impact, and now the family is attending church.

On another occasion, native believers noticed a young girl at church whose entire hand had been badly burned. They immediately took her to the burn center at the fire department, and her hand is now properly healing. "As this case demonstrates, we don't always need to extend financial help, but sometimes just the simple act of taking someone to the right place when they don't know what to do can go a long way," wrote the ministry leader.

Lebanese gospel workers prayed for and provided financial resources to one Syrian family who had been evicted after several months of being unable to pay their rent. Reported the leader: "They were very touched, telling us that, 'Before this we would never have believed that God exists. . . because of your love and care and giving, we feel like we have a new life.' They have given their lives to the Lord and come to our meetings whenever they can."

If only we could all respond to the strangers and aliens in our midst with the same degree of care and concern. Though refugees have completely overwhelmed their country, these Lebanese believers are reacting in such beautiful, selfless ways.

"It's a tragedy for people to be violently uprooted from lands that were in their families for generations, or for centuries," states Gladstone. "Meanwhile, it's an opportunity for Christians in the more developed world to change the world by practicing the virtue of hospitality. The world has literally come to our doorstep. Will we open the door?"

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