Headlines have been dominated by the recent executive order made by President Trump, and our little corner of the world has definitely been caught up in the fray. We are routinely asked by friends here for an explanation, and it has been challenging trying to try and give them one. The day after Trump’s decision, I was teaching my English class in a nearby neighborhood composed fully of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. I was brought to tears by their questions, fears, and uncertainties regarding the current situation; many tears would follow in secret prayer as I wrestled through my own confusion.
I am always hesitant to add the commentary on this stuff, largely because at some point it all begins to run together as noise. Yet at the same time, I know we currently have a unique vantage point on this particular situation, given the place we live and the work we are giving ourselves to. It’s not that we have any brilliant authority to talk about international immigration or American politics, but we have spent a lot of time listening to and learning about the stories of those most directly affected by Trump’s decision. They are not just headlines or statistics. They are innocent victims of unthinkable atrocities, and everywhere they turn, they are turned away. While we passionately toss out our various arguments or contend with the media’s interpretation of events, these refugees continue to quietly battle their daily realities: Where will I get food? Is my brother still alive? How do I keep my children warm another wintery night in this tent?
In light of all this, I’d like to offer a few points of consideration (everybody loves a good list). Feel free to take them or leave them or – absolutely – to challenge them. If you’re reading this right now, there’s a good chance it is because we ultimately want the same conclusion to this Grand Story.
1) Make Jesus Central
In moments like this, when I see people I respect passionately saying very different things from one another, I find it helpful to remember that no one has a corner on the kingdom of God. In my own journey with Jesus, I aim to always find the sweet spot of growing in knowledge, conviction, and authority while remaining childlike, teachable, and humble. When the opinions fly freely and bury a sense of clarity, I return to the core of Jesus’ life and message, which he said summarizes the whole of the Story: Love God… and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22.40).
2) Don’t contribute to the inhumane categorization of people
This is so hard. We need categories in order to talk about issues on a large scale, but in the process it becomes very easy for those generalizations to minimize actual human lives. Compassion must be core to our conversations, not tossed in as an afterthought. There is nothing that builds more divisive momentum than employing an “us” versus “them” approach. Be very wary of talking about “Muslims” or “Conservatives” or “Evangelicals” or “Liberal Elites” on the whole without spending more time listening – actually listening – to their individual hearts and stories.
3) Embrace tension as a creative force, not something to be afraid of. (Props to Joe Steinke)
You can disagree with someone and still treat them with respect. You don’t have to choose between caring about yourself and caring about others. Protecting borders and protecting oppressed people are not mutually exclusive ideas. Jesus called his disciples to anything but a safe life… this could mean stepping out onto the water, or standing between the accusers and the accused, or laying down your life for your friends. Places of tension are usually uncomfortable, but they are also usually the places where Jesus calls us to be.
4) Get involved in solution-oriented ways
- There are organization all over America and all over the world that serve refugees. Long before we worked primarily with refugees here in Lebanon, we volunteered at centers in Kansas City and Boston (here’s a great description of one in Anchorage too, for you Alaskan folk). It is incredibly easy and unbelievably fulfilling to serve the most vulnerable of people who are living around us, wherever we currently call home.
- If you don’t know a Muslim or someone from an Arab country, now would be a great time to try and get to know one. I promise they will legitimately compete with America’s famous Southern hospitality, although their interpretation of sweet tea is slightly different. Make it personal.
- Pray. Drown out the news you have been reading with the perspective of heaven. Silence your fears by pressing into the love of God. Ask Him to show you how you can represent His heart and be a part of the solution wherever you are.