Religion Magazine

Welcoming the Refugee – Choosing to Walk Away from Fear

By Marilyngardner5 @marilyngard

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The road may be long and full of our blood but we will go back waving olive branches. Love is stronger than hate

There is little that I feel more passionately about than refugees. The refugee problem has my heart and my mind all the time, and my body when possible. I write about refugees, my husband and I speak about refugees whenever we can, and I work with refugees whenever possible.

I have found a glaring disconnect between reality and rhetoric when it comes to the refugee crisis. Politicians and non politicians use current events to back their arguments against receiving refugees in the Western world. And much of what they say has no basis in truth. Here are a few things that I want to say about current events and the refugee crisis:

  1. I am not naïve. I start with this purposely. I am fully aware that among the millions of refugees pouring across borders there are those who would be prone toward violent extremism. But if we think that the Islamic State’s reach and activities are carried out primarily by refugees than we are seriously misled. ISIS has been recruiting online for a long time. “Even though the Islamic State’s ideology is explicitly at odds with the West, the group is making a relentless effort to recruit Westerners into its ranks, eager to exploit them for their outsize propaganda value. Through January this year, at least 100 Americans were thought to have traveled to join jihadists in Syria and Iraq, among nearly 4,000 Westerners who had done so.”* Recruiting online from within the borders of the United States is a bigger threat than any refugee threats. I stand by that.
  2. The main message of the Islamic State is that they are creating a Caliphate, a refuge for Muslims. In a video titled “Would You Exchange What Is Better For What Is Less? – Wilāyat Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn,” the speaker explains that Muslims should not leave Muslim countries for the West, but rather seek to live in countries where shari’ah law is enforced. “Speakers warn that the ‘Jews and Christians’ do not have their interests at heart, and will force them to convert in order to remain in their countries. They cite issues such as the restrictions against hijab and niqab in European countries such as France. They assert that the Islamic State will remain strong despite those leaving. They will find happiness only in the land of the caliphate.”
  3. A reaction to the recent violence that promotes Islamophobia helps ISIS.  Most of the millions of people fleeing Syria and Iraq are doing so to flee ISIS. We must not forget that. The attacks were thought to have originated in Syria and those who allegedly carried out the Paris attacks were French nationals, Belgian nationals, and only one confirmed to have entered through Greece. “Most acts of terrorism are performances of power by groups that often have very little power. As with all performances, the critical question is who is the intended audience? In the case of the Paris attacks it appears to be ISIS’ own demoralized supporters and the French public who could easily be whipped up into enthusiasm for a military attack on ISIS, which is what ISIS wants.”
  4. The refugee crisis is more important than the terrorist threat. I believe this with all my heart. Of the 11 million displaced people, the United States has pledged to take in 10,000. That is .09% of the total of the number of displaced people from Syria and Iraq. There are millions that need help, millions that are fleeing terrorism, war, and all that goes along with that. “But one fact is simple: millions of Syrians need our help. And the more aware people are of the situation, the more we can build a global response to reach them. Our lifesaving work — to connect people to the resources they need to survive and help their communities thrive — is only possible with your knowledge and support.” If you live in the United States, then the chance of you being struck by lightning is far more than you being killed by a terrorist attack.The March, 2011, Harper‘s Index noted:*Number of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year: 8 — Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning:“Indeed, the leading cause of deaths for Americans traveling abroad is not terrorism, or murder … or even crime of any type. It’s car crashesIn fact:With the exception of the Philippines, more Americans died from road crashes in all of the 160 countries surveyed than from homicides.”
  5. And now I speak to fellow Christians. As a Christian, I am called to trust, not fear. When my husband and I were in Iraq this August, we were struck by the lack of fear in those most affected by ISIS. The testimony of faith, trust, and courage by those who have had to flee their homes and lives was powerful. Indeed, there is much to fear. But they have chosen to walk away from fear. Think about that for a minute. They choose to walk away from fear. Every day, I choose to live in faith not fear.  “When fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth.When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play. Safety is about knowing where our security lies, what we’re called to do, and who we’re called to be.”
  6. We have a deep need for safety and security, but we have an illusion of what that is.Rachel Pieh Jones in a beautiful piece called “The Proper Weight of Fear” says this about her move to Somalia: “Safety is a Western illusion crafted into an idol and we refused to bow.”  So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed. Thus the famous story of Achilles heel

As I think about this and the fear I hear, read, and see all around me, a memory comes to mind of my son Joel. We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when he slipped on the sharp edge of a bed and cut open an area right above his eye. He was two years old, screaming and bleeding profusely. Somehow we made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile, and a kind doctor took care of the wound, with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.”I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough.

And so I ask you, those of you who are Christians, is God’s presence enough? Does God’s presence lead us to open our hearts and walk in faith?  It’s not about comfort, it’s not about safety, it’s not about freedom from suffering – it’s about faith. 

Sources: 

  1. ISIS and the Lonely Young American
  2. The Islamic State on Refugees Leaving Syria
  3. Why ISIS attacked Paris
  4. Quick Facts: What You Need to Know about the Syrian Crisis and The Terrorism Statistics Every American Needs to Hear. 
  5. When Fear is Your Currency – AKA “But is it Safe?” 
  6. The Proper Weight of Fear

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