In our “Europe Refugee Crisis – Part 1” post, we shared an update from the Lesondaks in Slovakia. Shortly after, we heard from Bo and Brynne who also work in Slovakia on the Lesondak’s church planting team.
Context is an important thing. It’s important because it allows us to fully understand the facts and events of a situation with clarity and forthrightness. Without context, it’s easy to ascribe a narrative to a situation that we don’t understand simply because it’s the narrative we know the best.
A few months ago, I watched a video online of the interior of a delivery truck showing what the driver was seeing. I was watching with the sound off, because the girls had gone to sleep, but I could see that this video was filmed in Europe. The driver began driving faster and faster, running red lights, driving down the wrong side of the road, driving on the embankment on the side of the road, and cutting people off in traffic. I was incensed. I consider myself a careful driver, and it really bothers me when people flout the laws of the road. ‘This is what is wrong with society,’ I said to myself, as if all societal ills could be fixed if people didn’t run red lights.
But then I turned the sound on to hear what language was being spoken. Instead of hearing words, I heard a siren and radio chatter. The delivery truck was actually an ambulance. Context is an important thing.
I say this because I’m certain many of you have been seeing and hearing about what is going on in Serbia near the Hungarian border with all of the migrants and refugees (there is a difference). I’m certain many of you have seen the video recently released of police officers tossing food to a group of men in a warehouse. From the point of view of the warehouse, it looks like the police had rounded them all up and forced them into the building. Nothing could be further from the truth. Outside of that building there are perhaps 50 tents filled with beds. There are bathroom facilities.
If you look carefully at the video, you will see that nobody is pushing the people forward except themselves. Now I will say that throwing food at people is not an acceptable way to distribute it. It is dehumanizing. However, distributing food at a refugee camp is very hard. It is very difficult to achieve with any measure of order. We managed to get people to line up and receive one plate of food at a time, but only because we had a translator with us, which I doubt the Hungarian police in the video had. People were continually cutting in line, and men were stepping in front of the women and children waiting there for food. It is very frustrating.
I also mention context because we were at the Serbian border last week when the refugees pushed the gates open a little and then were fired upon with water cannons and tear gas. Before they pushed the gate open, they had begun chanting, ‘Open the borders, our children have no food, our children have no water.’ This is certainly false. We had just finished distributing food to around 250 people (we were not the only ones distributing food) and had made special provisions to ensure that any women and children could have their own separate line. Of course not everybody was fed, but to say their children had no food or water was untrue. Also, a hose with running water had been attached to a pipe with three spigots for water distribution. (In fact, you can see that hose with running water in the BBC coverage after the tear gas was fired; people are shown using it to wash the tear gas off.) Essentially, the crowd had worked itself up into a frenzy and pushed the gates too hard, and when they saw a crack in the gate, things got worse.
One of the problems is that for each group (refugees/migrants and border police) the behavior they exhibit only deepens the stereotypes they have of each other: that the refugees are wild and unwilling to obey the law, and the police are brutal despots who hate all foreigners. Neither view is accurate, and only serves to distort the true picture of what is going on. I can both imagine myself as a father of young children, desperate for a better life for them, having sold all I have, and all I need to do is get through those gates. I can also imagine being trained to keep peace and order, and to respond to disruptions of peace and order through the actions taken by the police.
I don’t have many answers. And it seems that few are forthcoming. I will say that for us Christians, it is imperative that we reach out to these people as best we can. We need to keep our eyes open and try our best to understand the context through the lens of the Gospel. America has agreed to receive thousands of these refugees. Wouldn’t it be something if American Christians were at the forefront of embracing these war-battered people and showing them what Christian hospitality really means? Many people have expressed interest in helping, and I truly believe that this is the best way. Find out where refugees are living in your community and reach out to them. Teach them English, befriend them, employ them, invite them to church, show them Christ.
Europe, of course, will have many tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of refugees and migrants moving here in the next few years. Wouldn’t it be something if European Christians saw what an amazing opportunity it is to have such an unprecedented opportunity for the Kingdom of God?
Will our response be of worldly derision or one of, as Russell Moore puts it, a response with a distinctly Galilean accent? The difference lies in how we understand the Gospel and our true citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
Bo & Brynne Lancaster
To read how Cedar Springs is responding to the Europe Refugee Crisis, click here.