I had been trying to avoid articles about the chemical attack since Tuesday. I had seen a few pictures of babies with oxygen masks or children being carried into hospitals; and I read headlines about the death toll, but I didn't want to know more. Darkness feels a bit less real when we aren't being forced to face the ones who didn't survive or the ones that are left behind. But Wednesday night, after the boys were in bed and I had kissed their heads and said goodnight, I sat on my sofa and wept, staring at the beautiful faces of two Syrian babies who never made it to the hospital. They were still and grey, being rocked by a loving father. The unfathomable agony is haunting.
Before I became a parent, I had a tendency to look past violence, allowing myself to maintain a certain distance from pain that was "out there". Not everyone needs to be a parent to feel connected to another person’s grief, but for me, life before kids provided a degree of insulation. Motherhood broke something open.
Children have a way of strapping us to each other, across oceans and languages and religions and time.
I lost the luxury of pretending I couldn't see them, pretending that I wasn't weighed down by the reality of their pain.
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A quick look at the numbers:
- There are 21.3 million refugees in the world today. [source]
- In 2015, only 101,100 were resettled. [source]
- There are currently over 5 million Syrian refugees. [source]
- Of the Syrian refugees referred to the US, over 67% have been women and children under the age of 12. [source]
- There is no more rigorous process to enter the United States than as a refugee. [source]
- Since the refugee resettlement program began in 1980, not a single resettled refugee has committed an act of terrorism in the United States. [source]
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In light of Thursday's military action in Syria, it can be easy to shift our focus away from the families running from violence and instead look solely at questions of politics and diplomacy, or to believe that we've "done our part" as a country.
I would suggest that might even feel better, relieving the tension of having to look at desperate faces, avoiding questions about where they go now and how serious we are when it comes to standing with them.
Honestly, I would rather distract myself with news updates than wrestle with the knowledge that there are currently children being carried across mountains towards the hope of safety or parents desperately holding their babies above water after an overfilled boat capsizes in the sea.
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"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." -Jesus
Peace-keeping can often be a rather passive act - a dulling down or denial of emotions in order to subdue conflict. Peacemaking involves actively seeking solutions. It requires that we face uncomfortable truths and work within dark realities, exposing them to light.
Many of us have been asking what the practice of peacemaking looks like in a time of partisan politics and closed borders. It's an answer that will continue to evolve, but for today, here are a few places we can start...
1. Do not look away.
In response to a question from a reporter regarding the attacks, President Donald Trump said, "The world is a mess. I inherited a mess."
With all due respect to the gravity of his office and the decisions he must make, we all inherited a mess.
Humanity inherited a mess. From the day we came screaming into this world, naked and vulnerable and completely unknowing, we have each carried with us a part of the mess; and as we've grown, we have each contributed to its destructive power. It is ours to own and face; and it's a mess that doesn't care about borders or age or money.
I believe in the message of the gospel, that in his sovereignty, Christ entered the darkness to bring redemption and life, and that we are called and commissioned to be the hands and feet and voices of that redemption. We are called to be ambassadors who look at pain without justifications or platitudes, who roll up our sleeves and get to work.
But if we change the channel or keep scrolling to distract ourselves from the discomfort of it all, we are abandoning our posts. Frederick Douglas wrote that the "conscience cannot stand much violence." We either look away or we do something about it. Before we can take action, we must honestly acknowledge reality.
2. Advocate for refugee resettlement.
When the first immigration order came out suspending travel from seven countries and indefinitely halting the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States, Franklin Graham said, "Why do you lock your doors at night? Not because you hate the people on the outside, but because you love the people on the inside so much."
Meanwhile, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus had a conversation with an expert in the law (read: very religious person). The man asked how he could inherit eternal life, and Jesus asked him what the scriptures said, knowing that this man was well versed in the text.
The man replied, "to love the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus affirmed his answer and then the man pressed harder, because "he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, 'Who is my neighbor?'"
What follows is the story we know as the Good Samaritan - a story of a traveler who was beaten and robbed and left to die on the side of the road, who was passed over by two religious leaders before being cared for by a man that would have been considered an enemy. The Samaritan sacrificed his time, money, convenience and perhaps even his reputation in order to care for the beaten man.
While we can disagree on a number of points along party lines, for the church, the care of refugees simply cannot be one of them. There is nothing about the gospel that would support any justification of locking the door out of a sense of self-protection - even more so when refugees have historically proven to be non-violent, valuable members of society.
If our pro-life ethic doesn't include already born children with skin colors and languages and religions different than our own, then it is shallow political rhetoric.
May we advocate to our representatives for refugee resettlement - with our vote, our phone calls, our letters and our resources; because if we "defend" Syrian children with our military while continuing to deny them the safety of our neighborhoods, we expose a devastating level of insincerity and hypocrisy.
3. Partner with organizations on the ground.
I heard a staff worker from Compassion International speak last year. He grew up as child sponsored through their program, being born into poverty and abandonment. He said that people frequently ask him how he could still believe in God's faithfulness and provision after his experiences as a child.
He tells them that God is always faithful to provide, but that we are not always faithful to share what God has provided.
Our family is choosing to partner with Preemptive Love, an organization led by exceptional leaders with a track record of service. To contribute directly to relief for survivors of the chemical attack in Syria, click here. To read more about the values of Preemptive Love and to consider becoming a partner, click here.
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear." -1 John 4:18
In a time of increasing violence, partisan politics and international tension, may we fearlessly walk as peacemakers, filled with love and unwavering in conviction.