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We Are All Refugees

Not since WW2 has there been such an exodus of people. Nearly half of Syria’s population is either on the move or trying to get to a safe place. How will we respond? In the wake of the incidents in Paris, Beruit, and Mali, fear is rising. Many are saying, “We need to build bigger walls aro…
By Seth Barnes

Not since WW2 has there been such an exodus of people. Nearly half of Syria’s population is either on the move or trying to get to a safe place.

How will we respond? In the wake of the incidents in Paris, Beruit, and Mali, fear is rising. Many are saying, “We need to build bigger walls around our borders.”

Kevin Gray, my partner in Lesvos Greece, wrote me to discuss the refugee situation. He’d been given responsibility for a camp that was being overrun by thousands of new arrivals daily. He said a profound thing.

“At the end of the day, through this journey I’ve realized that we (all humanity) are refugees.  Running from something.  And searching for another…  Some of us have had the opportunity of finding home. Most are still searching.”

Whoa. Yes, it’s true – we are. Adam was banished from the garden, and we, his descendants, continue to search for a safe place where our souls can rest. Peter calls us “Aliens and strangers in this world.” 1 Peter 5:11.

Jesus was a homeless refugee. As his followers, we must consider what holds our heart’s affections. Am I willing to give up my home and to side with the homeless to follow him?

Trace your family history back. Likely you’ll find refugees somewhere along the way. America was built on the backs of refugees finding their way to a new start in our great melting pot.

When you look at your own family, the abstraction of this issue fades away. My Great Great Granddad, Seth Barnes, was a refugee. That’s him in the picture above. He ran away from home at age nine after both parents died.

He hopped a river boat from Cincinnati to Missouri. He got off the boat and was distracted, playing with some local boys. Looking up, he saw the river boat pulled away from the shore.

I don’t know how he responded. I wonder if he ran shouting “Wait for me! Come back!” down the river banks? Did he cry tears of desperation? Like every refugee before or after, he must have felt a sense of terror at being exposed and defenseless in a strange land.

One of the boys took him home to his family.

We in America may be recoiling from the recent terrorist attacks in fear, but if we’ll look back a few years, we’ll see that we have been a big-hearted people before. The Statue of Liberty has a plaque that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

That would be all of us. Here on earth. Struggling to find our way. Here in America. Struggling to find the balance between fear, prudence and compassion.

It’s hard to be human. So much pain and potential for pain in life. But it’s awesome to be human too. So many opportunities to love and to be loved. To show empathy, to engage in surprising acts of mercy.

Yes, there are politics and we need to do the background checks that ensure we’re not admitting terrorists unawares. Yes, we need to assimilate and educate immigrants. We believe in freedom and the confluence of ideas in the public square. Let’s reinforce our values in those we welcome.

But we need to remind ourselves of our heritage. We are a nation that doesn’t give in to fear and isolationism. We are the children of big-hearted ancestors, the flotsam and jetsam of countries run by tyrants who came as refugees seeking safe haven.

We who follow Jesus, the refugee, would especially do well to remember our heritage.

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