It’s never as easy as we think it is. We want things to fit neatly into our system, into our worldview. We want to feel like we have some level of control over the situation. We want to feel like there’s nothing to fear because if we can control something, we don’t have to fear it. If we can figure something out or master something, we can tell it what to do. We can fix it. We can legislate it into order. And so we approach issues with an agenda, hoping to find justification for the beliefs we already hold.
I am writing this from Amman, Jordan, where I’m spending my spring break with a small team from the U.S. trying to see, hear, and experience the Syrian refugee crisis from one of the places where more Syrians have fled than almost any other place in the world. Jordan’s population has grown by 20% over the last five years as Syrians have fled across the border that Jordan and Syria share, to the north of Jordan.
Tuesday morning, our team started the day by introducing ourselves to each other. One of the themes that emerged from all of the introductions was our desire for unfiltered information. We each said we had a desire to hear what’s actually happening here in an unfiltered way. When we finished introducing ourselves, one of the World Relief staff people said that it is actually a very rare thing to have a group who wants to hear unfiltered information – who just want to hear the facts as they are. He said, “Coming to issues like this with a genuine sense of curiosity is rare.”
Typically, people have already formed their opinions when they come in and they’re looking for information to back up their preconceived notions. This is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our world, particularly in the United States, when many people would rather only hear the truth that backs up their worldview rather than allowing their worldview to be shaped by the truth. This is not a “one side” or the other issue, it’s a widespread epidemic of fact-anemia. Don’t give me the truth, only give me my truth that I already agree with. This is a dangerous spot to be in as a person and as a society. It’s dangerous as a follower of Jesus to already have in mind what Jesus should say before we go to him to find out what he actually does say. When we only look for Jesus to back up our opinion, we’re no longer following Jesus, we’re asking Jesus to follow us. That’s not discipleship, that’s idolatry, and we’re all guilty of that in some way, shape, or form.
So, on Tuesday, we huddled together in a small room at the World Relief office and we dug in together as different staff people from this region and from the World Relief headquarters shared with us as much unfiltered information as they could about the current crisis in the Middle East and how World Relief is responding to that crisis.
Then, on Wednesday, we visited in the homes of refugee families, mostly near Zarqa, which is situated between Amman, the capital city of Jordan, and Mafraq, one of the largest refugee camps in the world, with somewhere around 80,000 refugees living in it. One of the things I’ve learned on this trip is that only 10% of refugees live in refugee camps. Ninety percent of them are trying to find their way outside the camp for a variety of reasons, one of them being safety. Many refugees are women and children whose husbands and fathers are still in their country of origin or who have been killed somewhere along the journey. Many of these women do not feel safe inside refugee camps, because the tents are not secure.
Over the past few days, we’ve learned and been exposed to many things, many difficult realities. We’ve learned about the work of World Relief here in the Middle East. We’ve sat in the homes of refugee families who’ve left everything behind because bombs were detonated in their neighborhoods, their family members were killed, their homes were burned to the ground by government officials.
Our assumptions have been challenged, our pre-conceived notions have been confronted all the way around. As much as we’d like to make this a partisan issue in the United States, the reality doesn’t fit neatly into our partisan worldviews. There are things happening in reality here that are challenging to the core convictions of people on every side of this crisis.
We have so much to process from this trip and from this experience, and I’m still trying to get my brain wrapped around all of it. This seems like such a massive problem, how in the world do we begin to shine some light into the darkest of situations?
For Christians, I don’t think this is primarily a security issue. This is not even primarily a humanitarian issue. I think this is primarily a theological issue.
How are we to treat people who are made in the image of God? How do we extend the grace and love of God in the most difficult of times and situations?
I am continuing to pray and process and will look forward to sharing more of what I’ve learned when I return home.
In the meantime, keep praying for the people who are here, the people who are affected most by this crisis, the people who face daily realities that most of us would never dream of facing.