Responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

adapted from piece published in The Tidings on September 15, 2015

Right now, one of the prevailing news stories is the intense humanitarian crisis of Syrians risking life and limb to flee their war-torn homeland.  Most countries have designated numbers for the amount of refugees they will accept within their borders.  In Iceland that number is 50.  

Icelandic author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir felt this was not enough.  She began a facebook group to reach out to her fellow countrymen and make more than 50 places for Syrian refugees.  What happened was that 10,000 people responded, saying they would open their homes to house refugees.  I find their response convicting. 

There are times when we must do more than sigh and wish someone well through the trials of their lives: we are called to comfort the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and house the homeless.  For many in Europe that means doing more than donating to humanitarian causes to relieve needs of Syrian camps, but to make a place for those displaced. 

However, I’m not convicted because Icelanders are willing to make a space for refugees.  In a sense, that is what we are doing this week with Family Promise.  Since Sunday we have been hosting families who need a place to sleep safely and together.  Our facilities, which are usually used for teaching and worship, are providing a safe place for mothers to feed and bath their children. 

No, I’m more convicted by how far Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir is willing to go to be open to refugees.Bjorgvinsdottir is a proponent of not just making a space these foreign refugees in Iceland, but a home; and an identity as fellow Icelanders.  She wrote:

“They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children’s band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman and television host…People of whom we'll never be able to say in the future: ‘Your life is worth less than my life.’”

This is a difficult kind of love.  It’s one thing to invite someone in to say hello and have some ice tea, and help them temporarily but another thing entirely to reimagine your future with this person as a part of your life.  These Icelanders looked at the state of things and said, “something must be done,” and have decided to make the sacrifice to not just bring strangers into their homes as guests, but to bring them into their futures as future fellow countrymen. 

That is what is convicts me: my desire is to be a helper, and I can look at a humanitarian catastrophe, not as lives in peril, but as a problem to be fixed.  These Icelanders are not looking at the Syrian exodus as problem-solvers, but as human beings seeing fellow human beings who need a home, and ultimately as future brothers and sisters. 

- Marty Pike
Minister to Children and Youth, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock