I'm sympathetic. I'm compassionate towards the millions of displaced families, the fathers hoping to build a better life, the women and children fleeing the violence, the young adults running for their lives.. I get it. I hold no resentment, and I fully support those who are able to help to do so.
My problem is this: why does it always take a horrific photo op and tragic stories to make people stand up and do something? This crisis has been around for more than a few years. The Syrian civil war was news in 2013. Libya and Sudan have had civil wars for decades, and there are millions more refugees crossing the Mediterranean.
However, the refugee crisis overseas and our lack of response to it is not my complaint. It is shameful and appalling and yes, we, as privileged members of developed nations, called by Christ to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless, with more than enough to go around, should be doing whatever we can to alleviate the suffering. But the refugees overseas, with their heartbreaking pictures plastered on our newspapers, television screens and Facebook newsfeeds, are not the only refugees in our midst.
Look around you. Look around your communities. Do you see the refugees? The mothers and children fleeing violence in their homes, the young men fleeing the violence in their neighbourhoods, the fathers fleeing the poverty and hopelessness in their communities.. do you see them? Do you see the homeless lying in the streets, trapped by an illness that clouds their minds, fogged by addictions and barred by our society to anything resembling a normal life... do you see the young women lining the street corners, held hostage by others, forced to sell their bodies and their very souls for profit.. do you see the small child who's father is unknown, and who's mother works 2 or 3 jobs just to hold body and soul together, who's world is held by a series of babysitters and teachers who come and go.. do you see the special needs of the child who through no fault of their own is hidden behind a genetic disorder that makes them unable to comprehend the world around them... do you see the family down the street or next door, who's skin is a different color than yours, who's mother tongue sounds like gibberish to you.. Do you see the refugees in our midst?
Why is it that as a church we are so quick to help the "other" over "there"... but we can't see past our noses at the "other" that is right here, needing our help, crying for our support, desperate for the hope only we can give?
Why is it that the "other" over "there", in the camp, in the boat, in the train station or airplane terminal, is worthy of our respect and treated like human beings in need of a hand up.. but the ones on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, in our schools and shopping malls and churches, those ones get a shake of the head, a blind eye, a turning away..
Did you know that there may be families sitting one pew over from you who are refugees? A man who's barely holding it together long enough to smile and shake a few hands, dressed in his suit and tie, putting hundreds in the offering plate, but as soon as he can escape, he's headed home to get another drink. A woman who hides her pained expression behind platitudes and excuses, who quietly stands in the background so as not to attract notice, who hurries out, home to the man who will berate her again for saying hello to the pastor on her way out, accusing her of flirting and carrying on, who's praying that she can appease him so he won't hit her, or worse, hit the children. A child who's shy demeanor and soft smile hides the fact that she barely understands the words spoken to her, because her parents are immigrants and don't speak the language themselves. A sullen teen sitting in the corner, hair dyed bright colors, who's long sleeves hide the cuts he makes every night to dull the pain of rejection by his own parents..who's face says "no" but secretly hopes that someone will see that he just needs someone to tell him he matters. And so many more...
What about them?
Do we need pictures of broken bodies in our inner cities before we create eye-catching phrases to rais awareness? Do we have to hear of millions of broken families before we issue call to action emails and blogs? How do we come face-to-face with the refugee crisis we have right here at home? How do we open our eyes to see?
Yes, there's a crisis overseas. It's urgent and devastating and tugs at your heartstrings. And I'm not saying no, don't look, don't listen, don't help. Do. See it, hear it, help! But not *only* there. Help here too. See here also. Listen to the cries around you.
We have our own refugee crisis. And as much as we need to open our hearts and homes to those fleeing warfare overseas.. we need to recognize the warfare that is in our own backyards. And we need to help.