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The Story of Two Refugee Crises that Break the Mold

Jun 28, 2022Blog, Culture, Theology

For many of us, the modern refugee crisis hit our radar in September 2015 with a viral photo of a little Syrian boy named Alan Kurdi, laying facedown on a beach after trying to escape to Europe with his family. If someone asked me to describe the typical refugee, my mind would immediately go to stories like Alan’s a Middle Eastern family fleeing violence in search of a better life.

But, refugees don’t come in just one shape or size. I want to highlight two refugee crises that don’t fit in our typical boxes, and how we as followers of Christ can respond to these crises. 

SUDAN

Sudan and South Sudan (formed in 2011) are war torn countries in Northeast Africa, engaged in constant civil wars and conflicts since 1955. In the Nuba mountains, a disputed territory in southern Sudan, live the Nuba people, an indigenous ethnic group. The Nuba people fought on behalf of South Sudan during the Second Civil War (1983-2005), but were prevented from joining South Sudan in its secession in 2011. Because of this alliance, alongside the refusal of the Nuba people to reject their customs to join Sudan in sharia law and the Arabic language, the people of the region have endured indiscriminate bombings and forced starvation from the Sudanese government. The New York Times described this conflict as “the worst conflict you’ve never heard of.”

Thousands of Nuba people are seeking refuge in the surrounding countries, including Egypt. But, when they get to Egypt, they often experience discrimination and even violence because of their ethnicity. Legal employment is almost impossible, children are unable to enroll in public Egyptian schools, and finding housing that is affordable places a huge strain on families that often have multiple children. Internationally, achieving refugee status with the United Nations (UNHCR) grants rights to refugees and asylum seekers, but most Sudanese refugees in Egypt are denied this status, so they are essentially forced to live as undocumented immigrants.

So, in contrast to our typical ideas of who refugees are, the Nuba people are an African indigenous ethnic group fleeing to an Arab nation, experiencing great difficulties based on their ethnicity.

UKRAINE

Ukraine has dominated the headlines in recent months with Russia’s invasion. As like in Sudan, when war happens, normal people are caught in the crossfires. It’s estimated that over 13 million Ukranians have fled since February 24th, most heading into the surrounding countries of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Moldova. The United States has pledged to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

This breaks the mold of our typical refugee paradigm in a different way than the Nuba people. Ukrainians are of Eastern European descent, mostly white, and are mostly women and children.

As followers of Christ, how do we respond? 

Remember who we are

As followers of Christ, we are well positioned to empathize with the plight of refugees. There’s a deep sense within all of us that we do not belong in this world. In John 17, Jesus tells us that just as He is not of this world, we are also not of this world. We are strangers in a strange land, so in reality, we are all foreigners living in a place where we don’t belong. But because of what God has done for us in Christ, for all who trust him, He gives a new heart that moves away from the banal tribalism that too easily excludes or ignores others, and then takes this newfound identity and leverages it for good in the world. Therefore, we should be on the front lines of caring for those who are displaced because we are displaced from our true home in Heaven.

Resist Helplessness

With our 24 hour news cycle and a constant bombardment of information and tragedies, it’s easy to turn away. It’s easy to make it someone else’s problem. I get it. But I implore you, turn towards those in need instead of turning away. We cannot solve the problem single-handedly or overnight, but we can all do something. We have to resist the feeling of helplessness.

Reach Out

So, what can we do as American followers of Christ to intervene in these situations that feel so large and so far away?

First, we can pray. If I’m being honest, I’m tempted to skip this part. Sometimes it feels like prayer doesn’t work, like God doesn’t hear us. But do you remember the story of Elijah? In 1 Kings 18, he prays for the end of a three-year drought. He prayed seven times before he saw that a “cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea” (1 Kings 18:44). Pray fervently that we may see a cloud of peace, even as small as a man’s hand, sweep across the land.

Second, we can advocate for just policies. Politics are a sticky cultural issue, but let’s focus on the positive impact we can have on people in need through political advocacy. We have the privilege of living in a political system where the people have a voice. You can call your senators or representative or governor to urge them to accept more refugees, to support budget allocations that impact refugees in Europe and Egypt, and more. 

Third, we can partner. Cross Point has identified strategic partners in Egypt and in Europe that have a direct impact on refugees. In Egypt, Operation Mobilization seeks to serve the most vulnerable Sudanese refugees. In Europe, Convoy of Hope provides emergency relief to refugees. If God has given you the resources in order to do so, consider making a financial contribution to one of these organizations.

Four, do for one what you wish you could do for all. We can’t be the solution to every refugee problem in the world, but we can be the solution to what’s in front of us. Where has God uniquely placed you to make a difference in the life of a refugee or displaced person? What gifts and abilities has he given you where you can make a difference, no matter how small?

Sudan and Ukraine are two crises with an overwhelming amount of need, millions of people needing aid. Crises will come and crises will go as long as we’re living in a broken world. Jesus told us as much when He said “In this world you will have trouble.” But remember His next words, “take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus’ rule and reign in the “now but not yet Kingdom” should give us hope and encouragement in the midst of crisis, that one day “all the sad things will become untrue” and Jesus will usher in the Kingdom of God in fullness, where there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more pain, and no more refugee crises. Until then, we have work to do, and I pray you join me in the work to bring the hope of the Gospel to those in need.