I guess like me, many of you saw this photo this week and were stopped in your tracks. Like someone hitting the pause button, followed by the internal dialogue: “is that what I think it is?”
Yes, it is, his name was Aylan, and that fact makes the horror harder to ignore. He’s no longer one of a ‘swarm’ (not my term) – he is a three-year-old boy. A boy fleeing war, literally running for his life, except this time he didn’t make it, he drowned and his body was washed ashore on a Greek island.
As one commentator observed this week: “No one puts their family in a boat unless it’s safer than the land.” If they’re right, then the land must be scary as hell.
The conversation in our house this week quickly threw up a whole lot of questions, among them – how should we respond? What is a Christian response?
Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister has offered one “Christian” response. He insists this is not a refugee crisis but one of migration, therefore, the criteria used to decide a response need not be humanitarian alone, but political – even religious.
“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture,” Mr Orban said this week. “Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims.” This is relevant, apparently, because “Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”
Please God no! How is it possible for someone to get Christianity so wrong? It is difficult to know how Mr Orban understands Christianity but it doesn’t appear to be the way Jesus does.
Hear this from Deuteronomy 10 (The Message translation).
14-18 Look around you: Everything you see is God’s—the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it. But it was your ancestors who God fell in love with; he picked their children—that’s you!—out of all the other peoples. That’s where we are right now. So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.
19-21 You must treat foreigners with the same loving care—
remember, you were once foreigners in Egypt.
Or from Jesus (Matthew 25):
“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”
45 ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
These are a million miles away from Mr Oban’s defensive and nationalistic interpretation of Christianity.
So what should a Christian response be?
My favourite response so far has come from Giles Fraser in the Guardian – you can read it here.
But in short, an unconditional, generous, warm hearted, welcome; one that is extended to both Muslims and Christians; to all refugees of any faith or none. #RefugeesWelcome.
So how can I be a part of it?
Our Harvest offering on the 20th of September will be going to support the work of Tearfund including their work with refugees – please come prepared to give and give generously.
It’s a massively complex issue and we aren’t able to solve this ourselves, so let’s keep praying, seeking and trusting in a God who can turn even the darkest of situations around and use them for good.
- Please pray for a swift, compassionate and more effective response to the refugee crisis in Europe.
- Pray that those fleeing war and persecution will find safe havens where they can begin to put the traumas they have experienced behind them and lead lives free from fear.
- Continue to pray for solutions to the root causes driving people to flee – the conflicts, poverty and inequality.
Aylan’s life may have been short, and we extend our deepest sympathy to his family, but it is starting to look as though his death has been a catalyst for change. It already looks as though the huge public outcry this week partly response to his image on the cover of every paper and Facebook wall, has begun to shift hearts and minds in Europe, in the UK, in Westminster, but also in me, how about you?