Tag Archives: refugees

When The Lion Met The Scarecrow.

Last week I flew over Paris on the way back from Kenya, totally unaware that only a day later over 130 people would be killed in a terrorist attack. There’s been a lot of talk since then about the Syrian refugee crisis, and I have to say, I don’t like what I hear from either side. It’s like listening to a conversation between the Lion and the Scarecrow. One side has no brains and the other has no heart. I try to avoid overt political discussion in this blog, but this is one of those times it can’t be avoided. I will be talking a little bit about the Lion’s point of view, but mostly the Scarecrow’s, since that is supposedly the Christian perspective.

The United States government made a commitment to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Lebanon, there’s been a lot of talk about additional scrutiny and background checks for those refugees we let into this country. This is not an unreasonable request, if nothing else just to put at easy the nerves of the people of this country. President Obama has ignored that request. This follows his pattern of ignoring reasonable requests, which then turn into unreasonable requests out of nothing more than push-back. I believe his presidency would have gone a lot more smoothly if he’d at least made an appearance of listening to people. So the fight has begun. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Now onto the Lion. I have been dismayed by the attitude of people who proclaim, in word anyway, to be Christians. This is especially apparent on Facebook. I see things like, “Would a Muslim country take in Christian refugees? Don’t let Syrian refugees into the US.”  Let’s start with the question, would a Muslim country take in Christian refugees?  The answer is, probably not. This is precisely why we should. We are Christians and this is what we are supposed to do, so let’s start acting like Christians. When Obama said, “whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation”, are we going to prove him wrong or right?

So for those Christians who aren’t tracking with me yet, let me throw some scriptures out there.

Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Leviticus 19:33 When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.

Matthew 25: 34-46    Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45“Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Psalm 146:9 The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Malachi 3:5  “At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

I could go on, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t. Most of the people I’ve seen with the attitude of leaving the Syrians to the wolves say they believe in missions. I’m going to have to take issue with that. I didn’t see any of them rushing over to Syria to preach the word of God. Now God has handed them into their laps. These Syrians have seen the absolute worst that Islam has to offer, and many of them are disillusioned and questioning their faith. God has handed them over to us with an opportunity to show the love of Christ, and we’re telling them to go home. I understand that security is an issue, and people are afraid. The problem is, when we became Christians, security was not something we were promised, at least not the physical kind. We really need to get over feeling as if security is a birthright. We are here to show love to our neighbor, and for those who don’t know who your neighbor is, the parable of the good Samaritan is excellent and has new meaning for today.  It does no good to stand up for the rights of the unborn when we won’t stand up for the refugee, and it’s sad when the lost world has a better perspective on the subject than the church does.

As a last point, I just want to remind people that Jesus was a refugee when he was two years old, and had to flee to Egypt until his oppressor died. Would we tell him to go home as well?

For those who are interested in missions, we need a real heart change. These are the people we deal with. Everyone I have me in South Sudan is or was a refugee at one point, and many of those in Ethiopia were as well. If we have no compassion for them here, why is it different when they’re over there? If you believe it’s a national security issue, fine. Just don’t call it a Christian perspective.

This is the result of civil war, in this case in Ethiopia.
This is the result of civil war, in this case in Ethiopia.
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Trying To Understand Juba

Juba, South Sudan, seen from the air.
Juba, South Sudan, seen from the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There aren’t a lot of places like Juba, at least not that I’ve experienced. If you fly in, generally you either come from Addis Ababa or Nairobi, and the first thing you notice is the shock of the first blast of heat as you step onto the tarmac, especially after the cool temperatures of either of the previous places. Many things in Juba are just like other cities in Africa; the dust, the ubiquitous Toyota Land Cruisers and motorcycle taxis, the smell of diesel and wood smoke. But other things are distinctly different, namely the tangible sense of desperation. It’s hard for me to describe to someone who hasn’t been there, but I’m going to try. After that, I’m going to try to do an even harder task, and that is to explain why.

The first thing is to describe the conditions on the ground. Juba went from a town of 115,000 in 1993 to a city of somewhere between 500,000 and a million in the past couple years. Obviously there was no way for infrastructure to keep up with that kind of growth. Since the oil shipments into Sudan stopped a couple years ago, there is no functioning power grid in the entire country, and you only have electricity if you have a generator. There are some paved roads through town, but almost all roads are just rutted dirt tracks that become very hard to travel if it rains. Juba’s dirt turns into a slick mud you could almost skate on, so driving is quite a challenge. Copious amounts of garbage is burned because there is no other way to deal with it, so it occasionally rains black ribbons of ash, and smoke sits on the city. There is no central water supply. All water is trucked to individual water tanks from the Nile, which runs through the city (and is quite beautiful). Consequently waterborne disease is a major problem. None of these things on their own really explain the sense that comes over you in Juba, though. I believe the reason for that sense is the same reason the city has grown so fast in the last fifteen years.

Traditionally, the South Sudanese have lived in villages in the scrub forests and grasslands. They live in traditional thatched huts in family groups, among a larger village. Some villages are extremely large. They raise cattle with enormous horns, and do some farming with very basic methods. They have very tight family and community ties. One of the reasons westerners (especially Americans) have a hard time understanding Africans is because of the way we see time and the way we see our role within a community. We see time as a finite thing to be planned out and quantified, divided and packaged. We have day planners and use phrases like, “time is money” or “how am I going to get that hour back?” Africans largely see time (or don’t see time) more as somewhat of an unlimited resource, and if something doesn’t get done now, that’s ok. The focus is more on relationships and community. Church doesn’t necessarily start at such and such a time It starts when the pastor is ready and the drum beat starts to signal for everyone to come. There are advantages and disadvantages to each way of seeing time. In the first way, time can be used more productively for producing goods or services, but the other way people tend to have closer relationships and a stronger sense of belonging and community. Villages truly raise the children, and the elderly are not abandoned to nursing homes.

So what happened?  Well, in a nutshell, the war happened. South Sudan was at war with northern Sudan almost constantly from the 1950’s through 2011, when independence was finally declared (though some level of war still goes on with north Sudan.) Even when there wasn’t all out war, there was oppression from the Arab, Muslim northern government against the Black Christian and Animist south. Decades of war caused people to flee to wherever they could find safety. One of these places was Juba. The choice was to stay and raise cattle and be killed, or head to the relative safety of a large group of people in Juba. This desperation along with tribal division (which is a subject worthy of a book more than a blog) caused violent cattle raids and the abduction of children. This was another reason to leave the villages and head to the city.

So people left their villages. The lucky ones could take their families with them, the unlucky ones either had lost their families to the war, or had been separated from them in the diaspora. Community was lost.  The cattle were raided, which is currency in South Sudan, so they no longer had assets. From a distance, Juba looked pretty good as the promise of a job and security called. Juba has now become the African version of a gold-rush town in the American west. People come with hope of a new life, security, and a way to take care of their families.

This is where those two different ways of seeing time come in. There are a certain number of South Sudanese and a lot of foreigners that run businesses in Juba. They understand that time is money, They are also more individualistic people who are driven personally to succeed rather than seeing themselves as much as part of the community. They are there to make money, not build a community. It’s a very western way of thinking. It’s good for running a business, but not good for building lives, and it’s not the prevailing way of thinking in South Sudan. These people naturally become successful as business owners, but people coming in from the villages don’t think this way, and are quickly exploited by those that do. Making this situation worse is that in Juba, all the tribes have been thrown together, and there’s always that tension under the surface. Consequently you have a high capacity for violence. You have a large number of people who came looking for a better life and didn’t find it. They’re alone, their community is gone, everything that is familiar is gone, and they have no money. The only thing worse than having no hope is thinking you had hope and then finding out it was false.  All of this together is what creates that tangible desperation I was speaking of. Juba is a place where I always feel like I have to look over my shoulder.

I might try to write later on what might be done about this, but I really don’t know if I’m up to the task. My goal today was really to try to bring some understanding to this subject. There are of course more layers to this, as nothing with people is simple.