The weight

Sometimes it weighs me down. There is so much confusion and turbulence in the public square when it comes to forced migration. I’ve been serving refugees for 38 years and I have never experienced anything like it.

Whether social media, the news, TV comedians, or church – there are a lot of strong feelings going around concerning these people.

From 1980 – 2015, the most common responses to the word “refugee” was a disinterested yawn or well-meaning pity. But in 2015, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack, I heard the media and politicians do it for the first time. They used the word “refugee” and “terrorist” in the same sentence.

I vividly remember when it happened. I was sitting in the Istanbul airport, beginning my journey home after speaking at a conference that brought together a diverse group of Christians serving refugees in the country. That’s the first time I felt the weight. I remember tearing up.

Nearly 3 years later, refugees and asylum seekers continue to carry the stigma of being a threat. Some countries have built walls to prevent them from finding safety. Some have militarized their borders to stop them. Some speak of them as if they were criminals and invaders.

Some of the more disturbing things that happened this month included 1) Hungary has criminalized the act of assisting asylum seekers; 2) the US President has expressed a personal desire to immediately send undocumented migrants and asylum seekers back to where they came from without due process; 3) ships rescuing migrant boats in the Mediterranean Sea are facing difficulty finding a country in which they can dock and offload their human cargo for processing.

I understand that to most people, these things seem far away. But I know many of their names. They’ve told me of the losses, suffering and trauma suffered. I’ve listened as they spoke of the uncertainties and struggles they endure as refugees. We’ve sat around tables as they shared their food with me. We pray together.

Perhaps because I know these people, I feel the weight differently than most? And although it isn’t easy, it is a privilege. My hope is not at stake. For I know the Almighty Creator himself cares more deeply that I will ever fathom. So to him I call out…

Oh, God. You are the defender of the outcast, the alien, the orphan and the widow. Hear their cries and bare your mighty arm. Lead them to a place that they can call home. And if according to your will, I ask that I might have the privilege of participating with you in the answer to this prayer.”

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