Just over a week ago, I saw a video that broke my heart:
A young Syrian boy sits in a hospital sobbing, his face pinched with fear. A nurse tends to him. In between gasps the boy asks if he will die. According to reports, the boy had been exposed to a bomb containing chlorine gas.
Many things about the video upset me, but one thing in particular stood out.
The boy resembled my son when he cries.
With a little imagination, it was easy to see him as my little boy. They are even the same age.
On Friday, December 1, Human Rights Watch released a report stating that the Russian-Syrian coalition committed war crimes during their bombardment of Aleppo. (https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/01/russia/syria-war-crimes-month-bombing-aleppo)
The report states that:
“The Violations Documentation Center, a Syrian civil monitoring organization, documented that the bombing campaign killed more than 440 civilians, including more than 90 children.”
Later that evening, President Elect Donald Trump spoke at a post election victory rally in Ohio, referencing various terror attacks in the United States and linking them all to refugees.
“These are just threats that are STUPIDLY created by our very, very STUPID politicians—refugee programs,” Trump said.
I listened to his words and realized something important:
Christians are being given a choice.
It is a choice between God and Caesar. Between Christ and Empire.
We can work to build Donald Trump’s Kingdom or the Kingdom of God. Not both.
The President Elect’s rhetoric is built around fear. He promises security and safety at the expense of those in desperate need. He asks us to look at refugees, not as human beings and children of God, but through the lens of self interest. He strips refugees of their humanity and reduces them to symbols of terror.
So, what is a Christian to do?
I think we have to be careful. There is a subtle violence that we can do. In our attempt to defend the cause of refugees we can still strip them of their humanity. I fear that I have been guilty of this.
I don’t know the name of the boy in the video. I’ve looked, and haven’t been able to find it anywhere.
The frightened little boy is not just an emblem of suffering. He is not a symbol for the refugee plight. He’s a real boy with a real life that I know nothing about. He has a story.
Over the course of his life, he has experienced joys and sorrow I know nothing about. No doubt he has gotten into trouble and made mistakes, disobeyed his parents or bickered with his siblings. Perhaps he excelled in school, or perhaps he struggled. Like every human, he is more gloriously complex, contradictory, maddening and amazing than we can possibly imagine. He is, as the Psalmist declared, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
As much as he reminded me of my own son, he is not. He has his own story. Our connection began when I saw my child in his eyes, but I can’t leave it there. If I do I’ve stripped him of his unique, God given identity.
I think we have to fight both the overt violence of Donald Trump’s rhetoric and the subtle violence committed by reducing human beings to symbols. We do this through building relationships.
If we want to help refugees, we need to get to know them. We need to learn their joys and struggles and join in both. We must recognize that relationships are messy. By entering into them we risk hurt, disappointment, anger and loss. It will be frustrating and rewarding. There will be mundane, tedious moments and moments of sublime transcendence.
Relationship is difficult. It exposes us to great risk. But then, Jesus never promised us comfort and security did He? He warns us that He walks a narrow road and that we should consider the cost before following Him.
To help the vulnerable, we must become vulnerable.
We are called to open our country to refugees, and then we are called to enter into meaningful relationship with them.