I made some new friends last week, at an English conversation group here at Kent State University. Our table was a mix of people from China, the United States, and Jordan — and (perhaps inevitably) the conversation fell to current events in Syria and Jordan. Namely: the refugee crisis. The Chinese students couldn’t understand why the rest of the world was nosing around other countries’ business. The Jordanians couldn’t understand why the rest of the world hadn’t concerned themselves with Syria until very recently (considering the fact that they have watched the population of their country double on account of refugees over the past couple of years). We Americans felt emotionally-conflicted.
It’s tricky to know exactly what each of our roles should be in international conflicts. It’s not healthy to dwell in ignorance, apathy, and cynicism — either not knowing or intentionally refusing to believe that there’s anything someone in the United States of America might be able to do in such circumstances. On the other hand, it’s also not healthy to become consumed by whatever crisis happens to be in the news at any given moment — burning oneself out (along with one’s social circles) with overly-idealistic crusades against an unending string of human tragedy. So how do we approach these kinds of situations in a balanced, sustainable way?
Personally, my experience leads me to embrace a three-pronged approach, when it comes to humanitarian issues like what’s currently happening in the Middle East:
First and foremost, I believe we need to recognize the fact that today’s global evils and injustices are — quite frankly — beyond us. That’s not meant to be defeatist or dismissive. I really do believe we can each play a meaningful role. But ultimately, our efforts need to come close on the heels of God’s ongoing mission to right the wrongs and heal the wounds of the world around us. God is all about redemption, and He invites us to partner with Him in prayer. So to me, this really is the best starting point: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven…”
Secondly, we have a unique opportunity to help raise awareness and advocate on behalf of people who may not otherwise have a voice in our society. We can inform others within our circle of influence and urge them to join us in prayer, advocacy, and fundraising. We can petition our government leaders to intervene, leveraging our citizenship to maximum effect. We can increase the global level of empathy and understanding that might ultimately help to prevent some of these humanitarian crises in the first place. “Raising awareness” can sound trite and trivial (at least to me), but it seems that there’s really something to be said for advocacy…
Thirdly, those of us living in the West live in a period of unprecedented prosperity (even considering the economic slump of the last five years). We may not feel like we have a lot of extra money to help in situations like the one in Syria — and even if we did have some money and felt inclined to give, we feel conflicted about how or through whom that money should be directed — but there are some highly-reputable organizations who make it their sole mission to help people in crisis, and they would be greatly benefited by even a small contribution. I would specifically recommend World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, as trustworthy organizations (and both of these organizations are specifically working to help Syrian refugees right now, too).
In addition to my new Jordanian friends, I’ve been helped to further consider this subject by two other friends who deserve mention. Anthony Giambroni lives here in Kent, but he’s been particularly burdened for the Syrian refugees recently — and he would specifically encourage others to join in a coordinated 25-day prayer initiative and to give to World Vision’s relief efforts. In addition, my friends at Arseh Sevom in Amsterdam have recently been drawing attention to the plight of women and children in Iran who lack access to basic necessities as a result of over-enforcement of international sanctions against the regime — and they would encourage you to sign their petition urging European leaders to provide avenues for Iranians to purchase medications and basic supplies (i.e. things that already stand outside of the sanctions). These friends would encourage you. And I encourage you, too. Take this seriously. Consider your role. And as God leads: pray, advocate, and give.