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Refugee Crisis

RESPONDING TO THE

A GUIDE TO REFLECTING AND DISCUSSING A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE.

Mark Galli | Jeremy Weber | Tim Stafford | O. Alan Noble | Bruce Wydick
STEVE JETER / WORLD VISION

CONTENTS
3 Introduction
CT Editors

5 Hope on the Refugee Highway: A Special Re-


port on Christians in Iraq and Greece
Jeremy Weber

16 Cities of Refuge
Tim Stafford

36 A Sane Approach to the Refugee Crisis


O. Alan Noble

41 Border Crisis = Church Opportunity


Bruce Wydick

COVER PHOTOGRAPHY BY GARY GNIDOVIC

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CT Edtiors

A GUIDE TO REFLECTING AND DISCUSSING A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

Introduction

I
t goes without saying that Christians are commanded by God to
welcome and minister to refugees. This is part and parcel of loving
the neighbor, and many biblical verses are clear about this. Here are
five of many:

Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV / “When a stranger sojourns with you in your


land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who
sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as
yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD
your God.”

Matthew 25:35 ESV / “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was
thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Exodus 22:21 ESV / “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him,
for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

Malachi 3:5 ESV / “ ‘Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be
a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against
those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in
his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside
the sojourner, and do not fear me,’ says the LORD of hosts.”

Deuteronomy 27:19 ESV / “ ‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice


due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people
shall say, ‘Amen.’ “

What the Bible does not address is how we apply this concern to public
policy. Or what values take priority at any given time. The Bible teaches
that governing authorities are responsible for social order (Rom. 13:1-
7). It also teaches us to welcome the stranger. But it doesn’t tell us how
far we should go to ensure national security, or how many refugees to let

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into a nation any given year, and so forth. Christians disagree about such
prudential questions, and can do so with respect. What we agree on is our
duty to love the “sojourner” in our midst, and those who find themselves
between their old homeland and their future homeland.

If you’re using this resource as a group discussion, you might begin by


asking group members:

1. What do you think is the greatest refugee challenge facing our nation
and other nations?

2. What is your personal experience of meeting/working with refugees
(including your own family history), if any?

3. What about the biblical teaching on “the sojourner” is most
challenging? Most exciting?

Each of the articles in this download showcase various ways Christians are
responding to the refugee crisis. Read them together to ponder ways you
and your congregation can do their part to love the “stranger sojourns with
you in your land.”

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Jeremy Weber

A GUIDE TO REFLECTING AND DISCUSSING A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

Hope on the
Refugee Highway
A Special Report on Christians in Iraq and Greece

J
ust beyond the still-under-construction ring road on the outer edge
of Erbil, a group interview turns into a mutiny.

“You already understand why we are here,” says one of the 15


displaced Christians and Muslims who have gathered at a World Vision
food distribution site in the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
“Everyone in America should know about our crisis by now: ISIS.”

This group is weary of telling NGOs and journalists why they fled their
homes, and how hard and fragile life is among Erbil’s abandoned buildings.

They are especially weary because this will be their second winter of
displacement. Meanwhile, food aid has decreased from $25 to $16 to now
$10 per month. Most refuse to give interviews, despite the fact that their
stories could spur Westerners to send more aid. If their current visitors
are not there to increase food vouchers, then, they say, everyone is wasting
their time.

Some in the group fidget with 11 oz. bottles of water bearing blue caps and
the word life spelled in red. The i is an upside-down exclamation point, a
marketer’s attempt at fun in a sad setting.

But such a mark fittingly punctuates the refugee crisis. The numbers—1
million refugees entering Europe by the end of 2015—surpassed
comprehension long ago. The question is whether they have now also
surpassed compassion.

The world now has more displaced people than during World War II.
Beyond Europe, another 2.5 million refugees are in Jordan, Lebanon, and
Turkey, while 4.5 million people remain displaced within Syria and Iraq,
where ISIS is most active.

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As winter approached, Christianity Today traveled to Iraq and Greece to
witness how Christian leaders are working along the “refugee highway”
that now stretches from the Middle East to Europe and North America.
The situation is so complicated, and the risks so high, that leaders are
torn between two aid strategies: should they help Christians and other
minorities stay in their historic homelands, or should they help them
journey to safer Western democracies?

But Kurdish and Greek evangelical leaders agree on one thing: hope
remains, because they see God at work all along the highway.

‘Thank You, ISIS’


From his front steps, Hadi Ali has a great view of the winding ravine where
many flock during Nowruz (a New Year celebration) to vacation and picnic
alongside the river that descends from Lake Dukan, one of the largest
lakes in Kurdistan. But Ali wishes he still lived 300 miles from here. He is
one of hundreds of internally displaced persons now living in a jumble of
unfinished homes on the slopes of the rugged red mountains that tower
above the river.

In the shadow of a pale yellow mosque that sits atop the hillside
community, Ali, 43, skirts pomegranate skins as he climbs the steps of an
unfinished, concrete building. He has lived here with his family of 9 for the
past 15 months. His wife and children, ranging from ages 5 to 18, fled from
south of Baghdad after they were threatened at gunpoint.

“They took our homes and our money,” he tells CT. “Everything is gone.
We don’t know when we will go back.”

Ali, once a school bus driver, sold his bus to relocate his family. Now he’s
a day laborer, working on the three-story building next door that is even
more unfinished than his own temporary dwelling. “I always think of going
back home once peace comes. I wish it were tomorrow. But we don’t know
the future. I am waiting for God.”

The crisis has gone on for longer than anybody anticipated—nearly five
years now for many families. Almost all of the displaced women whom CT
interviewed across eight refugee camps have given birth to children since
fleeing.

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“We support each other,” says the chief of Garmawa, a 250-year-old
Christian town only 40 minutes from Mosul. Ever since ISIS seized Iraq’s
second-largest city in June 2014, the nearby town of 70 families has shared
its land with about 500 mostly Muslim families. “It is part of our faith that
we host them,” says the chief. However, Garmawa residents expected to
play host for two months. “This is the second winter,” he says. “We did not
dream of this.”

Christians have faced significant and well-publicized persecution (notably


in Mosul and other Nineveh Plains cities). Christian leaders told CT that
other minorities such as the Yazidis, an ancient religious group, have
suffered even worse. Thus, many churches are aiding more non-Christians
than fellow believers.

In a UN camp in Khanke, seven Yazidi children tussle over the UNICEF-


issued teal backpack found in almost every refugee dwelling and arrange
its contents on the floor. It holds not school supplies but photos of their
deceased older sister, Almas, killed when ISIS came to their hometown of
Sinjar.

Their four-month-old sister, born in this room of concrete walls and a


tarp roof, is named in her honor. Their mother, Wadkha, says the memory
makes it too painful to return to Sinjar, which was liberated from ISIS
while CT was in Iraq. “When I make bread, I think of my daughter and
weep.”

Many refugees no longer hope to return home. “The Christians are


tired here,” says Ashty Alisha, chairman of the Evangelical Alliance in
Kurdistan. At his most recent church service, a member explained how he
plans to leave with his family because they have no money for rent or food;
all they have is the memory of their son killed by ISIS. Alisha says, “I am
not encouraging people to go. But I can’t tell people to stay.”

Father Daniel is more blunt. “The Middle East is lost for Christians,” says
the 25-year-old priest at Mar Elia Church, which hosts 570 displaced
believers on its triangular compound in Ankawa, Erbil’s Christian district.
He just finished leading a service in Aramaic; Mar Elia is one of the few
churches that preserve the language Jesus spoke. But Daniel says he would
be fine if one day he had no flock to shepherd because they had all left for
Europe or the United States.

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“We should consider the lives and souls of these people,” he says. “It’s
not just about the Christian history here. We don’t want them to live as
victims.” A newlywed resident of the camp concurs: “This is truly a holy
land here for us. But it is no longer a heartland.”

By contrast, Abu Karam is likely one of the only displaced Iraqi Christians
to ever turn down a visa to the West. The 66-year-old Mosul pastor
became a UN refugee in Jordan and obtained a visa to Canada. But then,
he says, God told him in a vision to go back to Iraq and serve the church. He
declined the visa and returned to Mosul until ISIS arrived.

At the Christian and Missionary Alliance church in Ankawa, Karam


now serves displaced Christians from a range of historic and newer
denominations. He encourages them all to stay in Iraq. “Jesus tells us
it won’t be easy to continue our religion. But he says, ‘No matter what
happens to you, I win, so you will win,’ ” says Karam. “Ever since the third
century, this has been our Christianity: one of suffering. If we live an easy
life, what is our message?”

Notable efforts to help Christians stay include an evangelical church that


rents a five-story building in Erbil for 170 people displaced from Qaraqosh.
The Chaldean archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, is trying to build a new
Catholic university. (He explains: “How will they stay unless we show
them that we are going to stay?”) On the “go” side, a group from Slovakia—
visiting Mar Elia at the same time as CT—brokered a deal to relocate 149
Christians to their Eastern European nation by Christmas.

“It is not a zero-sum game of stay or go. We can help people stay safer and
go safer,” says Jeremy Courtney, director of the Iraq-based Preemptive
Love Coalition. “But if we are serious about helping Christians stay, we
have to love Muslims more than we hate and fear Islam. We do bad for
Christians if we don’t do good for their neighbors.”

One of the silver linings of the crisis is that most of Iraq’s evangelical
churches are now overflowing with displaced Christians. They more than
make up for the families that emigrated to the West after the United States
invaded Iraq 12 years ago. “God is using ISIS to shake the church,” says a
leader in Erbil who requested anonymity. “Christians who were nominal
are now saying, ‘We need to be the church.’ ”

Likewise, many pastors told CT the crisis presents an unprecedented

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opportunity for evangelism. “I’ve been here 20 years and shared the gospel
with two people; one accepted, one did not,” said a long-term missionary
from Egypt who also requested anonymity. “These days, we can reach
2,000 people in one day. This is the time to be here, otherwise we’ll lose the
opportunity. I’ve heard many people say, ‘Thank you, ISIS,’ because they
lost everything but have new life in Jesus.”

As many churches have become de facto refugee camps, cramming as many


Christian families onto their properties as possible, the mixing of different
denominations has produced what Pope Francis terms an “ecumenism of
blood.”

“Before ISIS came, we were divided. We thought we were the best


Christians, and we could do everything on our own,” says Daniel. “God
does things for a purpose. He combined the churches together to handle
the situation as one hand.

“Unfortunately, it was ISIS that united us. We can send a message to all the
Christians around the world: Don’t wait for bad things to unite you; unite
now, under the name of Jesus Christ.”

Paralyzed by Paris
On CT’s last day in Iraq, global sentiment toward refugees began shifting
dramatically. Coordinated ISIS attacks killed 130 in Paris. Soon, the main
emblem of the refugee crisis—the small body of a drowned Syrian three-
year-old on a beach—was replaced by the specter of sleeper terrorists.

More than half of US governors announced bans on refugees resettling in


their states (most from Syria are Muslims, while overall almost half are
Christians). Polls suggested that many evangelicals supported the bans;
only one-third of white evangelical Protestants told the Pew Research
Center they favored the United States accepting more refugees—and that
was prior to Paris. After the attacks, LifeWay Research found that 48
percent of self-identified evangelical pastors agreed there was “a sense of
fear” within their congregation about refugees coming to America.

But a month after Paris, one prominent gathering told a different story
about evangelical attitudes. On the campus of Wheaton College, more than
120 leaders representing major denominations and ministries gathered to

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discuss how US churches could best apply the Great Commandment and
the Great Commission to the situation, and not repeat the mistakes of what
speakers labeled a tardy response to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Conference organizers had expected only one-fourth as many people to


come, but the room overflowed. There, leaders took turns addressing the
crowd. Wheaton president Philip Ryken said it was “hard to imagine a
more important topic to be talking about a compassionate, Christ-centered
response to right now.” Southern Baptist International Mission Board
president David Platt used Bible passages to exhort evangelicals to “act
justly, love sacrificially, and hope confidently,” given that God remains
sovereign over the refugee crisis.

World Vision president Richard Stearns explained how, if the crisis were
taking place proportionally in the States, “everyone west of Ohio would
have to flee their homes.” He described feeling “ashamed by the hateful
rhetoric” from politicians, media, and some church leaders. “They’ve taken
this terrible tragedy and somehow made it about us,” he said. “We have
an opportunity on the world stage to show what we stand for: not fear, but
grace.”

World Relief president Stephan Bauman said that while “this is a time of
lament” as refugee resettlement groups receive criticism, his ministry
has seen “more volunteers coming out from churches to help than ever”
in its 35 years. “Not all Americans will be in favor,” he said. “But as they
understand that facts are our friends, and theology is a mandate, more will
see we don’t have to have security and compassion be mutually exclusive.”
(Two-thirds of evangelical pastors told LifeWay they agree.)

Prior to Paris, three-quarters of self-identified “committed Christians”


in America said they were willing to help Syrian refugees, according to
an Ipsos poll sponsored by World Vision. However, only 44 percent had
already done so.

Of the one-quarter of committed Christians who were not willing to help,


34 percent said it was because they feared that refugees were potential
terrorists, while 24 percent felt the problem was too big for them to make a
difference.

Such findings were corroborated at Wheaton, where leaders took a straw


poll to identify the main obstacles to mobilizing American evangelicals

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on refugee care. Only one word received a unanimous vote: fear. Church
leaders agreed that they needed better information to circulate in better
ways.

Few evangelical churches are currently caring for refugees internationally


(18%) or locally (8%). Another 8 percent desire to get involved. But more
than two-thirds of churches have not discussed it.

LifeWay also found that only 1 in 3 evangelical pastors have addressed the
refugee crisis from the pulpit. A prior survey found that only 2 percent of
evangelicals get their information on international migration to America
from their local church, while 12 percent cited the Bible. The two combined
were fewer than those who rely on the media. “Most evangelical Christians
are not thinking as Christians on the issue,” said Matthew Soerens, World
Relief’s church training specialist. “Most see newcomers as a threat or a
burden. Only 4 in 10 see a gospel opportunity.”

“We are being countercultural,” said co-convener Ed Stetzer, director


of LifeWay Research. “The mood of many of our constituents is against
refugees. But when we respond in an environment of fear with faith, we
win an audience for the gospel.”

Giving as Much as They Can


More than 80 percent of refugees enter Europe by crossing the Aegean Sea
from Turkey into Greece, due to its many islands (like Lesbos) and thus
pourous border. Most pass through Athens en route to Germany, Sweden,
and other popular refuges.

Greek evangelicals were actually leading refugee ministries decades


before little Alan Kurdi—dressed in a red T-shirt, blue shorts, and Velcro
sneakers—washed up on a Turkish beach and galvanized the world’s
attention on Syria and Iraq. And they remain at the forefront, even as their
own nation weathers a 25 percent unemployment rate and a debt crisis that
nearly brought down the Eurozone.

At a coffee shop in Athens, a family clasps their cups at a high street-side


table while their three-year-old son plays with a yellow toy crane among a
pile of backpacks. He is bundled up for the cold, but he also wears a blue life
jacket. His younger sister wears a red one.

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Here on the blocks around Piraeus, the main port of Athens, refugees
who survived the dangerous crossing from Turkey to Lesbos (more than
800 drowned in 2015) outnumber Greeks 4 to 1. Dozens walk past closed
shops to board a white double-decker bus bearing a Greek Islands ad of
two smiling children lounging on a sunny beach. A blue bus soon pulls up,
followed by a yellow one as the white bus prepares to depart.

It is likely headed to Victoria Square, a plaza lined with restaurant patios


and trees decked with strands of gold Christmas lights. As the sun sets on
Saturday night, almost 50 people wait in line at a food truck. But this is
no gourmet hipster meal. They are all refugees, waiting here for the buses
that will take them to Greece’s northern border with Macedonia, then on
through the Balkans to Germany. The truck belongs to Plision, a ministry
where Greek evangelicals unite with other groups to offer aid. Tonight it
is passing out 500 black bowls filled with beef, rice, and beans made by
church volunteers.

Shortly after, Plision’s leader, Christos Nakis, sits at the plastic-covered


Communion table of his charismatic church, fittingly located next to
Athens’s central market where rows of vendors sell produce and meat. He
explains how 10 teams from evangelical churches help feed about 1,700
migrants a day across Athens’s three refugee camps.

One month ago, leaders of all of Greece’s evangelical churches gathered


with Nakis to agree to help non-Christians and Christians alike. “We think
our mission as people of God is to help everybody the same. After all, God
sends rain the same on the good and the bad,” says Nakis, referring to
Matthew 5:45.

“The refugee crisis is both new and not new,” says Giotis Kantartzis, senior
pastor of one of Greece’s largest evangelical churches. “Greece has been
receiving refugees for a long time. What is different is the intensity of it.”

What was once 3,000 migrants per week has become 3,000 per day. So the
Greek Evangelical Alliance gathered all the churches and ministries that
represent the officially Orthodox nation’s 40,000 evangelicals.

“For the very first time in our history, we were able to sit down and
coordinate our efforts,” says Kantartzis. “Some wanted to do evangelism
and give out Bibles. Others said, ‘No, let’s just have a Christian aroma.’
[This collaboration] is a new thing. And it is a good thing.”

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CT rides along as a church volunteer transports dinner to Galatsi Hall,
once the Olympic stadium where Greece hosted the Summer Games in
2004. It lay in modern ruins until the government made it the largest
refugee camp in late 2015.

Most Galatsi refugees are from Afghanistan. They spend a few days waiting
for money from relatives in the West to arrive before continuing on. Most
Syrians and Iraqis, including the Christians, have enough money to pass
through Athens the same day, leaders explain.

Moinos Eleftheriou, 53, is tall with a mop of wiry hair and the energy to
match in his role as camp leader. Galatsi provides food, bedding, clothing,
medical supplies, English lessons, art therapy—even a “goodbye goodie
bag” for those going farther up and farther into Europe once they obtain a
bus ticket out of Athens. “We have to help them,” says Eleftheriou. “They
are our neighbors. They are not animals; they are human beings.” The
cavernous rooms that hosted the world’s best gymnasts and table tennis
players now house mostly Afghan women and children clustered on
blankets. A lucky few have camping tents for privacy.

“We give them as much as we can,” explains Eleftheriou. The parting


gift is a grocery bag full of “things they like”: juice, milk, biscuits, honey,
tuna fish, toilet paper. The facility even has an elderly woman pushing a
shopping cart around giving out sweets. “We do the small things to make
them smile.”

Just 45 days old, the camp has already hosted 10,000 refugees. One main
wall showcases the drawings of the 3,000 Afghan children who have
passed through Galatsi. “Some of them are very sad. We don’t put those
here,” says Eleftheriou.

Back in his office, he pulls out a drawing of a girl’s family in a boat.


Overhead, the sun is shedding tears. Earlier, walking through the middle
of the gymnastics hall turned dormitory, a woman in a black robe and pink
headscarf stood up from her family’s three blankets and half bowed as he
passed. Her two-year-old daughter, as well as her sister and seven-year-old
niece, drowned when her family crossed the sea. When he first asked what
the family needed, the mother replied tearfully, “The only thing I need is
a stone with my daughter’s name on it for the graveyard.” Eleftheriou told
her, “I will do this for you.”

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Greek evangelicals recognize that, living in one of the world’s most
“Christian” countries (legally and culturally), they are the first believers
many refugees from Afghanistan and other Muslim-majority nations
encounter. “I can’t show them a film of Jesus’ life,” one leader told CT. “But
bit by bit, it will all happen.” (As a Plision driver puts it, “If they see Jesus
in our face, it is enough.”) A child’s poem on the Galatsi wall of drawings
suggests success: “I was in Iran. I saw a lot of Muslims but I didn’t see
[godly people]. When I came to Greece, I saw a lot of non-Muslims. But I
saw [godly people].”

On the question of whether Christian refugees should remain in the Middle


East or leave for the West, Kantartzis quickly shoots down the question
as not worth pondering. (This is noteworthy, given an Athens tourism
campaign coins the term “philosofa” for “the Athenian habit of lounging
around and philosophizing.”) “It’s the wrong question. These people came;
they left already,” he said. “The question is a kind of avoidance; an alibi to
dodge the responsibility in front of us.

“It is a wakeup call,” he says. “Are we ready as the church to show who we
are and what we believe?”

Arab Spring from Above


Surveying Athens from its tallest peak, Fotis Romeos, general secretary
of the Greek Evangelical Alliance, gestures to the New Testament sites
nestled among the modern below. He believes American evangelicals can
learn from their brothers and sisters at one of the world’s major crossroads.

“Refugee ministry is not new for us. What is new is the pace.” Previously,
most refugees would stay in Greece for six months to one year to acquire
their legal papers. Now they stay two or three days before moving on.

“We once had a chance to get to know them and share the gospel,” says
Romeos. No longer. So churches now focus on “helping them feel human”
by offering showers, children’s games, cell phone recharging—even free
wifi. “Refugees are people, not a caste. We can serve them in what they
need right now,” he says. “We have the first opportunity to engage them
with the best elements of our faith and our culture.

“We trust that the Lord will complete his work in other countries through

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the evangelicals there,” says Romeos. “We look at these people as long-
term residents of Europe, and we try to focus on being the best hosts at the
entrance.”

Given that Greek evangelicals are few in number, with their resources
already stretched thin by their country’s financial crisis, Romeos wants
strategic, long-term partnerships with evangelicals in America and other
nations. “It is a dilemma of short-term fireworks or long-term fire,” he says.
“We don’t want to light the fireworks show; we want to fuel the long-term
kingdom of God.”

Since the Syrian and Iraqi families slowly reaching Western shores
represent only 5 percent of the refugee crisis, church leaders in Iraq and
Greece encourage US evangelicals to take their cues from those closer to
the action.

“Why are you Christian brothers in the West afraid? We are here on the
front lines and are not afraid,” said an Iraqi pastor appearing via video at
the Wheaton leader summit. “We believe in an Arabic spring, but not this
Arab Spring. We believe in one that comes from above. And we know that
spring comes after winter.”

Jeremy Weber is senior news editor of Christianity Today. To get involved with the refugee
crisis, visit wewelcomerefugees.com and refugeehighway.net.

Reflect and Discuss:


What is the most disturbing thing you learned from this article?

The most hopeful?

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Tim Stafford

A GUIDE TO REFLECTING AND DISCUSSING A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

Cities of Refuge

C
onsumers of mainstream news can be forgiven for believing that
Germany is awash in refugees. The truth is that they are seldom
seen on German streets, and that most Germans go about their
lives without ever meeting a refugee.

The refugees are there—1.2 million entered Germany last year—but they
are out of sight, in what Germans infelicitously call “camps.” On my first
day in Germany I stand in lightly falling snow with Ricarda Wallmeyer, a
passionate refugee advocate, at the Tempelhof refugee camp. Tempelhof
was Berlin’s airport through the Nazi era, and it retains a movie-set
ambiance of massive stone buildings decorated with carved war eagles.
One almost expects Joseph Goebbels to drive by in an open Mercedes.
Wallmeyer, who escaped from East Germany as a child, tells me that her
most dreadful moment volunteering with the refugees was when she was
told to lead a queue of about a hundred to the showers. They obediently
followed but she was in tears, thinking of other processions in another era.

The government has commandeered Tempelhof to house refugees.


Thousands are put up in its massive airplane hangars, partitioned into
living spaces. I cannot get to them, however, for the complex is tightly
guarded and no one can enter except on official business. Refugees are
free to come and go, but they are invisible in the cold and snow of a quiet
neighborhood.

Camps are everywhere in Germany—in gymnasiums, converted office


buildings, apartment complexes, warehouses and army bases, or in new-
made complexes of adapted shipping containers or army tents. Every city
has multiple sites, closely guarded. The security is intended to protect
refugees (and perhaps, also, government officials) but its impact is to cut off
the refugees from ordinary Germans.

Take, for example, the Pakistani I will call Hassan Goraya, whom I
interview in the lobby of a converted office building still adorned with
bright signs from a Swedish firm. Hassan has dark, tight skin molded to
the contours of his face; he is bone-thin, with a worried expression and a
charming smile. We go through a lengthy wrangle with the security guards

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over whether we can sit in the building’s shabby lobby to talk. They have to
call a superior officer before they will grant Goraya such freedom.

Goraya, who worked in quality assurance for a medical instrument


company in Pakistan, tells a harrowing tale of escape from a mafia-like
clan running a protection racket. He says they kidnapped him, demanded
ransom in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and (when the money
wasn’t forthcoming) threw him from a moving car. (He shows me scars
on his face and wrist.) To escape from escalating death threats, he paid
smugglers $2,000 to get him to Turkey. He was shot at on the border of
Turkey and Iran, ran through the mountains in the dead of night, and
reached Istanbul in May of 2015, just before the height of the migration
surge. Goraya paid another $800 to get across the Aegean Sea to Greece,
and arrived in Berlin at midnight, September 8, near the height of the
extraordinary summer crush.

Goraya smiles gratefully when he thinks of the generosity he’s encountered


in Germany—he remembers the welcome banners at the Munich train
station—yet he seems utterly isolated. When I ask him his reaction to the
New Year’s Eve assaults in Cologne, when gangs of young male immigrants
assaulted German women, he has no idea what I am talking about. He sees
no news, speaks no German, and appears to have no friends. For almost six
months he has tried to get the government interview that would begin his
process of seeking asylum. He regularly lines up in an overnight queue, like
someone seeking tickets for a rock concert. Those first in line can get in to
see an official in the morning. But so far, all Goraya gets is an appointment
to come again; and he must again stand in line all night, sometimes in a
rainstorm. He has no idea whether he will ever get refugee status. He may
well be expelled back to Pakistan. In the meantime all he can do is sleep all
day, and wait.

One can only guess—the German bureaucracy is “less than perfectly


transparent,” as one pastor puts it to me—but Goraya’s case is probably
borderline. By law Germany is obliged to offer asylum to all those
experiencing “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account
of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or
political opinion.” Goraya has been persecuted by a criminal gang. Most
probably that criminal gang has ties to powerful political figures. But is
that the basis of a claim to asylum?

The next night I visit the all-night queue. In Berlin a single government

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office known as LaGeso handles all official refugee business. Already at
6:00 in the evening I see people converging on the office: dark-skinned
men wrapped in warm winter coats; women with heavy garments and
headscarves, sometimes carrying children. The night is cold with flurries
of rain. In a muddy space in front of the main office are large white tents,
like those used as temporary buildings for county fairs. Outside the tents
a tense line, almost entirely men, snakes through steel crowd-control
barriers, squeezing each other forward. Occasionally I hear a disruption,
with loud shouts of protest from the waiting men, and equally vociferous
cries from the security guards who keep control. Slowly, a few at a time, the
men are allowed into the tents, which are heated. They have a long night of
waiting ahead.

Indeed, refugees in Germany do a great deal of waiting. Somebody gives


me a diagram, “How to Become a German,” that shows the bureaucratic
process, as complicated as an electrical schematic. The system has its own
sense of order, which at the moment is overwhelmed by huge numbers and
the extraordinary task of making sense of a case like Goraya’s.

It is late January, and I am traveling with photographer Gary Gnidovic,


following the route of the refugees through Europe, but backwards—from
Germany, where nearly all refugees aim to arrive, back through Austria,
Croatia, Serbia, and finally Greece. Our goal is not to ponder political
solutions but to witness what is happening on the ground. We want to talk
with refugees and hear their stories; we want to see what their conditions
are like, meet those who are helping them, and take the temperature of the
countries along the route. Of course this can change very quickly, as it did
after New Year’s Eve.

Refugees come from many countries—not just Syria, the epicenter of


war, but also Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia.
Tarek, whom I meet in a pizza restaurant on our second day in Berlin, is as
different from Goraya as can be. He comes from Aleppo, Syria, and wears a
customized t-shirt that he got that day from six German friends who share
his birthday. The shirt says “Peace” in Arabic. With his light skin, his short
beard, and his stocking cap, Tarek could pass for a German. He is writing
a play to be performed by refugees; he is a singer who shows me a video on
his phone of his most recent performance singing Coldplay in a church, in
front of a huge cross. Having won his refugee status two months before,
after eight months of waiting, he has a job cleaning apartments and looks
forward to starting school. (He finished high school in Syria.) “I really

18
respect this country,” he says. “They are not treating us like criminals. I
feel safe here. Many people want to help.”

Yet stress recently made him drop out of school. He thinks constantly of
his family. He has a wife and a son (whom he has never seen) in Turkey, and
he is not altogether confident that he will ever get permission for them to
join him in Germany. Three married sisters remain in Aleppo, their lives
at risk. Tarek comes from an educated, middle-class family. One brother
is a dentist, another graduated with a degree in electrical engineering,
both parents worked for the Syrian government. He is proud of his Syrian
culture, which he sees as creative and welcoming. But “there is no Syria
any more.”

Tarek says that many friends died or disappeared in the anti-government


protests that kicked off the civil war. He was working in Qatar, so isolated
and anxious he was unable to function. He flew to Turkey, where his
parents, his fiancée, and several siblings joined him. For a time Tarek
produced and sold olive-oil soap in Istanbul. He married his fiancée, who
was soon pregnant. Ironically, this was the impetus for him to try to reach
Europe. He saw no future for his family in Turkey, where he could not
legally work.

The journey he describes to me began with a smuggler leading him and


four others across the Turkish border into Bulgarian forests. A series of
cheating smugglers led to repeated arrests and mistreatments by border
guards. He was beaten by Bulgarian police and shackled to a wall, standing,
for 24 hours. He paid smugglers thousands of dollars to reach Germany.

Tarek comes across as articulate, forthright, and capable. Culturally, he


seems likely to fit well into German society. Still, his anxiety leaks out at
times, especially when he talks about his future (as yet unknown) and his
family.

(Since our trip, I have heard from Wallmeyer that Tarek returned to
Turkey to try to bring his wife and son to Germany. Failing to get the
proper papers, some of which must come from Syria, he is considering
using smugglers to get his family to Greece. Wallmeyer is urging against
that; he might be arrested for trafficking.)

In Hamburg, a short train ride from Berlin, I meet Glen Ganz, a German
who grew up in Latin America and now works with refugees on behalf of

19
the German Evangelical Free Church. Ganz presides over the Why Not?
Café, a gathering place where refugees come for German classes and a wide
variety of other volunteer-led events. Here they meet German society; here
they can learn about Jesus. Ganz hopes to start 100 Why Not? Cafes in
churches throughout Germany.
For Ganz, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. “This is the biggest migration in
human history,” he tells me. “If you believe that God made the world, and
rules the world, you have to pay attention to what goes on. This is a sign of
the time.”

Ganz is often frustrated by unimaginative church leadership, and believes


that immigration is God’s response. “It’s not a gift, it’s a challenge. We
decide if it is a gift. We need to open ourselves to other people. Society in
Germany needs to learn to believe again.”

I encounter a similar entrepreneurial spirit in Jochen Weise, who is


working on a project to take over an abandoned Lutheran church and
convert it into a multi-functional community center, complete with
start-up companies offering job training, a museum of religious freedom,
stores, a fitness center, a church and a school. Weise believes that Germany
has entered a third phase of reaction—beyond astonishment and then
welcome—in which people are asking how they can integrate refugees into
German society. “This is where the church starts,” he says.

That sentiment is echoed by pastor Uwe Kloter, whose small Hamburg


church has launched a weekly coffee hour welcoming refugees from nearby
camps. “I’ve learned a lot about my church,” he says. “I see a lot of fear.”
But in the house of God, where God reigns, there should be no fear: “The
challenge of the refugees is to help us to come back to the love of Christ
again.” Kloter notes that Chancellor Angela Merkel “is not very popular
with the slogan, ‘Yes, we can.’” (Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor,
chose to embrace the flood of refugees.) “But I think we can.”

Others are less confident. I visit Steffan Schumann, whose third child Noah
was born with severe handicaps ten years ago. Schumann quit his job as an
economist and launched a remarkable facility, Kupferhof, offering respite
to the parents of disabled children. In other words, he is a man with a deep
commitment to caring for the weak, and a willingness to take risks to do so.
Yet he is offended by the black-and-white presentation of the immigration
issue: “Either you welcome them, or you’re a Nazi.” He thinks a quiet
resentment is building that will show itself in the next elections. “Merkel is

20
finished,” he predicts.

I expected to find a widespread immigration backlash after the New Year’s


Eve assaults in Cologne. What I find instead are people like Schumann who
worry that Germany has taken on more than it can handle. “It’s a world
problem,” he says. “Why is it just us Germans?”

Schumann takes me to see a camp in his neighborhood, an affluent suburb


with horse stables and beautiful older homes. Army tents encircled with
wire fencing were plunked down on a playing field in August. “People say
they went on holiday and when they came back it was there.” There was
no notice or consultation. Germans seem to trust their government to an
extent unimaginable in America, but the widespread intrusion of refugee
camps does raise an alarm.

It seems to me that the tight security around refugee camps works


against the larger goal of integrating refugees into German society. This
is reinforced when we visit a camp near Klotter’s church where security is
inexplicably lax. As we stroll through rows of metal containers repurposed
for housing, we strike up conversations with friendly Syrians living there.
Mohammed immediately invites me into his 20’x8’ container for a cup of
coffee. While his wife struggles to heat water and his two children stare,
Mohammed talks about his decision to leave Damascus. He and his wife
were both school teachers until war drove them to Turkey, then on to
Greece and finally to Germany.

Their living quarters contain two single beds and a dorm-size refrigerator.
Yet it is obvious that, having nothing, they are proud to welcome me into
their home. I saw much the same with Hassan Goraya, who brought out
nuts and dried fruits to share with his visitors as we sat in the dingy lobby
of his camp. To share hospitality, not just to receive it, is part of integration
into society.
Munich is a different world from the north-German cities: brash,
comfortable, and—judging by skin-tone on the street—far more affected by
immigration.
In the late summer and early fall of 2015, Munich’s train station was
overrun by immigrants. Today the station is back to normal, though
numerous kebab joints on nearby streets tell the tale of earlier waves of
immigration. In one such establishment I sit with four young Syrian men,
joking and laughing through a long afternoon of telling stories.

21
Ahmad Abbas, with glossy black hair flowing over his collar, claims to be
the first Syrian to arrive in Germany as a result of the civil war. Asleep in his
family home when it was blown up by a tank shell, he was taken to a Free
Syrian Army clinic and then to Beirut. Horribly burned, he was photographed
by a German journalist, whose extraordinary pictures attracted attention.
Charitable organizations flew Abbas to Munich, where he was kept in an
induced coma for six weeks. He finally awoke like a character in a fairy tale,
having gone to sleep in Syria and awakened in Germany.

The day we meet is his 21st birthday; he will celebrate by visiting the
doctors and nurses who saved his life. At the hospital, his friends
and supporters crowd around him. Abbas is entering a three-year
apprenticeship to become a nurse.

His friend Khaled Alhussein has a Duck-Dynasty black beard and a


mischievous smile. When I ask why he left Syria he says his parents
insisted on it, because they knew if he stayed in Syria he would have to fight
for one army or another. His father somehow got him a passport and put
him on a plane to Algeria; from there smugglers carried him by car to Libya
and put him on a 60-foot wooden boat carrying 404 people. They were
on the Mediterranean for five days before the overloaded engine stopped.
Having no engineer on board, they drifted until rescued by the Italian
navy. Alhussein made his way to Germany where, after living nine months
in various camps, he was accepted as a refugee. Before leaving Syria he had
done three semesters of university training in mechanical design; he is now
doing an apprenticeship with a hydraulic company.

Mohammed Nasir, 24, studied English literature at Ebla University. He


participated in protest marches against an increasingly violent government
response. “Many of my friends were killed”—over 100 whose names he
recognized, including several first cousins.

When the opposition began to fight back against Assad’s army, Mohammed
and his entire extended family fled their home in Deir ez-Zur for a small
town controlled by the Free Syrian Army. There he and his younger
brother Ameen began to work for Global Communities, a humanitarian
organization run from over the Turkish border. Once a month the
brothers traveled into Turkey to file reports on their research into refugee
conditions. It was while they were on such a trip that ISIS forces took
control of the town where they were living. ISIS caught and killed two of
their friends, one by beheading.

22
Unable to return to Syria, Mohammed and Ameen stayed eight months
in Turkey unsuccessfully seeking legal immigration. Mohammed found
work doing IT; Ameen worked temporarily for a Syrian radio station. There
were a quarter million refugees in Urfa, the Turkish city where they found
refuge.

For months they argued about fleeing to Europe. Mohammed was


reluctant; Ameen pushed him to go, and so did their mother. Fearful her
sons would be murdered by ISIS, she came over the border carrying her
gold jewelry and sold it to fund the journey. When Mohammed received a
death threat from ISIS through his Facebook account, he decided that the
time had come.

For 2,000 euros each, a small boat carried them in the dead of night to the
Greek island of Symi. Swimmers on the beach welcomed them and gave
them water to drink. “People were very kind.”

The brothers reached Athens by ferry—an astonishingly beautiful trip,


says Mohammed, who had never been on the sea—and began to search
for another smuggler. This one wanted $5,600 to get them to Belgrade in
Serbia.

Rather than pay a smuggler directly, they deposited money with a money
handler who gave them a secret password. Only after they had safely
arrived at their destination would they telephone to release the money to
the smuggler.

In this case, the smuggler proved a cheat. From the Macedonian border he
took a group of about 30 refugees wandering through the forest for three
days in the rain. Ameen got sick. Wet, cold, and hungry, he said he couldn’t
stand any more. With eight others from the group the brothers slipped
away and found a remote village. Mohammed, who speaks some Russian,
was able to communicate that they needed the police. “There are no police
here,” the villagers said, but they offered food and a place to sleep. In the
morning, a knock came at the door. Someone offered to drive the refugees
to Scopje, the Macedonian capital, for pay.

Their troubles had only begun. They found another smuggler to take them
on to Belgrade. After a long walk over the border into Serbia, he left them,
saying he was going to get a car. Instead, the police arrived, and treated
them roughly. When Mohammed told them not to put their hands on the

23
children, and to stop waving guns in their faces, the police threatened him.
In a moment’s confusion he switched jackets with Ameen. The police, to
whom perhaps all refugees look alike, took Ameen instead and sent the
rest of the party back to the Macedonian border. But all Mohammed’s and
Ameen’s documents, along with the password for their money, were in the
jacket.

Ameen was thrown into prison. He found 30 Syrian refugees already there:
four doctors, one PhD, one MA, and all the rest university students. “It was
amazing to be like that, mixed in with a group of criminals.” To occupy
themselves, they took turns telling the story of their first love.

They didn’t get to finish all the stories, however; after ten days they were
taken to the Macedonian border and released. When Ameen telephoned his
brother, Mohammed did not even ask how he was. His first question was,
“What is our password?” With it, they had access to money to hire another
smuggler.

Three times, Ameen followed a smuggler into Serbia. Each time, after three
days of walking, the police caught him.

After three times failing with the same smuggler, his brother Mohammed—
who had reached Belgrade—advised him by phone to go off alone on
a different route. With five new-made friends Ameen reached a small
Serbian city near the border. They purchased new clothes, and then one
by one went to the bus station. Ameen was the first: he bought two tickets
to Belgrade, then telephoned the others to come do the same. Thus they
finally reached the capital.

Once again the brothers searched for a trustworthy smuggler, and this time
found one. He took them by car over the border and on to Vienna, where
they caught a taxi to Munich. “The police caught us just over the border
in Germany. They dealt with us as human beings. Since it was night, we
asked them if we could sleep in the prison. And in the morning, we went to
register.”

“So,” I say, “the story ended there.”

“No,” Mohammed answers. “The story starts there. Now we can


reconstruct a future.”

24
They are learning German, and making plans. “German,” Mohammed
confides in me, “is the most difficult language in the world.” He has twice
been in the hospital for stress. “We are always thinking of our families,” he
says, those in Turkey and especially those left behind in Syria, under the
eye of ISIS and vulnerable to Russian bombs.

One night in Munich I join a group from the YMCA that regularly visits
a refugee camp. In a small park a block from a hastily converted office
building, eleven Germans old and young bow in the dark to pray together.
In Germany, the YMCA has retained its Christian heritage.

In the camp they have been given access to a preschool room, hung with
hand-made paper decorations. As soon as Joachim Schmutz starts playing
his guitar, refugees begin arriving: grandmothers in headscarves, little
children and babies, teenagers, young men. Very shortly the room is full,
and raucous with singing. “Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah, Praise ye
the Lord,” we sing with hilarious enthusiasm. Most of the refugees are from
Afghanistan, and have been in Germany only a short time. A few speak
some English; none seems to speak any German. One of the volunteers,
Simone Breischaft, learned Dari imperfectly during time in Tajikistan; she
keeps asking for help with words and is eagerly assisted. She gives a little
talk about God, and has volunteers read aloud verses from the Bible in their
own languages. Each one is applauded.

I manage to ask a group of teenagers how they reached Germany from


Afghanistan. They look at me as though I am an idiot. “We walked.”

A young man who was a translator for NATO forces in Afghanistan tells
me that these teenage boys have never been to school; they can’t read or
write. Breischaft has taught underage refugees for the last three years. She
says those who have never been to school may be unable to learn to read
and write German. She is doubtful how such teenagers will fare in modern
Germany.

Nevertheless, she adds: “Most of the discussion about refugees is what they
will do for the economy. I think as a Christian that is the wrong question.
How can we say to them, I must live in comfort, so you can’t?”

Beyond a doubt, Germany is crucial to the refugee crisis. So long as


Germans follow Angela Merkel’s lead, and so long as refugees don’t become
alienated and hostile, a difficult situation can be managed. Germans have

25
great faith in their bureaucracy, that it can digest anything if given time.
There has been no repeat of Cologne. No one has seen roving bands of Arab
youths looking to assault German women. As to terrorist threats, with or
without refugees these remain serious problems.

But what happens if Germany closes its borders to refugees? Already


passports are being checked between Munich and Salzburg, Austria, much
to the annoyance of locals who have grown used to whizzing across the
border.

In Austria I meet Gordy Beck, an American fluent in Farsi. For the past
eight years Beck has worked with refugees through the Salzburg Baptist
Church. He tells me that before last summer’s surge, Austria saw 15,000
refugees a year. In 2015, 90,000 came and stayed; another 690,000 passed
through on their way to Germany or Sweden. For its population size,
Austria took in more refugees than Germany. Nevertheless, the huge
number of refugees passing through took on a much larger prominence.
The Salzburg train station became a refugee camp.

I attend a meeting of 19 Salzburg church leaders, in which they share what


they are doing with refugees. A common theme is offering German lessons
and sharing food and clothing. A number of churches offered Christmas
parties—an opportunity to share Austrian culture while also introducing
a gospel message. Churches offer help negotiating practical concerns like
visits to officials.

They all want to help, and many are anxious to share their faith. Some
churches report a significant interest among refugees in Bible studies. They
mention that refugees openly ask questions about Christianity, and that
some actively seek a new faith. Consistently, the church leaders express
the belief that the situation demands a Christian response. “We can’t do
business as usual,” says one pastor, Martin Heidenreich. “God is doing
amazing things.”

Bernd Wustl pastors a church of 500 in the German border town of


Freilassing. He is a Teddy bear with a full white beard, who worked as an
engineer for a local manufacturer before he joined fulltime pastoring at the
age of 47. He says that ten years ago his church sensed God directing them
to pray on the bridge that links Germany to Austria—the same crossing
that Napoleon took to conquer Austria, and that Hitler followed in the
Austrian Anschluss. The church held several open-air Sunday services at

26
the bridge over the course of two years, but they never understood why
they were praying.

Then in April of 2015 the refugees began to cross that bridge by the tens
of thousands. Wustl’s church decided to call a conference for all the local
churches. “There was an unreal fear. What’s happened with Germany? [At
the conference] we taught people how to handle fear, so they could be freed
for ministry.”

The German church has two choices, Wustl tells me. “Either we wake up,
open our doors and speak the gospel. Or we close doors, and forget about
the German church.”

The refugee crisis is a big challenge for Germany, he acknowledges.

“It will cost a lot of money. We need to find a lot of teachers. We are getting
a lot of single males. I don’t know how it is going to go in the future.

“If you ask me if I have a vision for the future, I say no. But I have a vision
for what we should do now.”

No refugee wants to get stuck in Eastern Europe or Greece. Their


economies are weak; jobs are scare. Since the initial chaos of summer
and early fall of 2015, these countries have either closed their borders or
become refugee pipelines, adept at moving refugees through to Germany as
quickly and painlessly as possible.

Croatians emphasize that they have a natural sense of empathy for the
refugees, since they themselves were refugees in the 1990s, when war
engulfed their country. It is a theme I hear often, from Germans who
remember World War II, from Croatians and Serbians who remember the
1990s conflict, from Greeks who grew up hearing stories about hundreds of
thousands of refugees from Turkey in 1922.

When Melody Wachsmuth, an American doing PhD research in Croatia,


called Djena Nikolic asking him to pick up refugees and take them to a
temporary camp in Osijek, he responded eagerly. Not only did he have the
war in his past, he explains that he and his wife Biljana “went through
the same thing in life as Roma.” Uneducated, treated like trash in most of
Europe, the Roma might not be your first source of volunteers. But Djena
and Biljana had become Christians, and they say that turned them from

27
bitterness toward compassion.

On the roads around Vukovar and Osijek, refugees were everywhere,


walking toward Germany. Djena began helping them find food and medical
care. “When they were wet and cold, we would take off their wet clothes,
and hold their babies. If they were dirty, I felt compassion. As Roma people,
nobody wanted to touch us, either.” Adds Biljana, “I felt compassion
because I am a mother of four children, and they too are sometimes
unwanted.”

Djena and Biljana helped refugees every day all day from September
through December, sometimes to the surprise of police who remembered
them when they were beggars or scrap-collectors. Meanwhile a
combination of humanitarian and church organizations, with
governmental and EU oversight, gradually gained control. Elvis Dzafic,
who was doing an MA in theology at the Evangelical Theological Seminary
in Osijek, became a key organizer of over 200 volunteers from 22 countries
working at a temporary camp in Optovac. The operation later moved to a
semi-permanent camp at an army base in Slavonski Brod. The buildings
are mostly containers and tents, clustered around a railroad track that
carries the refugees from Sid, Serbia. Even in the dead of winter, as many as
4,000 to 5,000 refugees come each day. When Dzafic thinks of the spring,
he says, “Prepare for chaos.”

For now, however, there is a tense order in play. When I visit, the camp is
temporarily deserted, cold and windblown. In the morning a convoy of
buses left filled with refugees going west; another train is due tonight from
Sid, in Serbia. Refugees usually stay in Croatia just one night. At each stop
they must have their papers checked. Socks and underwear are distributed;
baby food, diapers and medical aid are offered. So is an Arabic New
Testament. Samaritan’s Purse, Jesuit Aid, and the Red Cross are present,
as is a Spanish group known as Remar. Dzafic heads Croatian Baptist Aid,
an umbrella group created to coordinate the work of making refugees
welcome. Whereas volunteers in Germany and Austria are mainly natives,
he has volunteers from many countries, including the US. Few will stay
long. Dzafic is exhausted. He wonders whether there will be enough help
when the numbers go up again in the spring.

Across the border in Sid I meet Goran Stupac, a Serbian working for World
Vision. “When I first saw the refugees, there was a kid my own son’s age
riding on his father’s shoulders, dirty, with a runny nose, his clothes falling

28
off him. I started crying. I couldn’t cope with it.”

In September of last year, Stupac says, World Vision helped 100,000


refugees as they went through Serbia. Since Hungary closed its borders and
the stream of refugees narrowed to Croatia, they’ve seen 600,000.

The Sid stop is located at an abandoned hotel beside the freeway, behind
which army tents have been erected for emergency shelter. World Vision
has a refurbished room where mothers with small children can come and
find relief. Children’s drawings are tacked on the wall. A girl who signs
herself Mariam pictures herself leaving home (absurdly small, on a field of
bright green), clutching a small sack in her hand, the size of a purse. Many
pictures include flags, symbols of a surrendered identity: Kurdish, Afghani,
Syrian, Iraqi. What children draw flags? One shows the Afghan flag and an
EU flag with a heart between them; over the heart is a Greek flag.

In the early afternoon, buses arrive packed with refugees, including many
families with small children. They are dressed in warm clothes for the
bleak, gray weather. Their eyes are tired. They get off the buses to walk
about aimlessly in the mud.

I greet a tall, good-looking young man from Afghanistan, Mohammed Rafi.


He says he is a university-trained computer science engineer from Herat.
His father owns a construction company—he says they did projects for
World Vision—but with the Taliban surrounding the city there is no way to
make a living. He left alone, with his father’s blessing.

Like others, he came through Turkey. And how, I ask, was his trip to
Greece? Mohammed falters. “The boat I was on, 24 people drowned.” For
a time, he cannot speak, and neither can I. Later he takes a paper out of an
inside pocket of his jacket, with the printed names of the 24 who died. He
says it happened just eight days before.

I talk with a cluster of young men, two Syrians and two Iraqis. “I am
willing to do any job,” one of them volunteers. One is a high school
graduate, another is in his first year of college, a third is in his second year
studying electronics. They too look exhausted; they say they don’t sleep
well on the bus. One of the Iraqis takes out his phone to show me a picture
of his home, leveled by artillery on October 15.

One of the Syrians turns angry as he reflects on their trip across the water.

29
He has unusually luminous hazel-colored eyes that turn on me fiercely.
“Why doesn’t the Turkish government help us cross?” he asks. “The boat
just before mine, 40 people were killed. It’s very dangerous. Turkey doesn’t
let us live there, but they don’t want us to leave. What do they want? To kill
us? It’s so dangerous!”

From the abandoned freeway hotel, the refugees will be bused to a deserted
train siding on the outskirts of Sid itself. There are only a few refugees
present when we arrive there, but we find three Moroccans who have been
detained: Mohammed Zein, 21, Khaled Buzianai, 24, and Ahmed Khalil,
24. They flew to Turkey from Morocco and found a smuggler’s boat to
Greece. They say they have felt no fear at any point on the way. “We got
papers here and they said we have to wait.”

I ask why they left Morocco. They say they are looking for jobs.

“There are no jobs in Morocco?” I ask.

“There are jobs in Morocco, but they don’t pay well.”

Overwhelmed by those fleeing war or persecution, Europe has no interest


in accepting such economic migrants. I expect they will be sent back, as
will hundreds of thousands of others whose applications for asylum are
turned down. How exactly that will be done, and when, remains a mystery.

Finally, Greece. Our first day in Athens we join a group of Syrian and
Yemeni refugees hosted by a group of Texans from WoodsEdge Community
Church, volunteers with Operation Mobilization. The gathering takes place
at Bethel, a retreat center and hostel run by the Greek Scripture Union.
There is food, volleyball, ping pong. It is an extraordinary and happy mix of
Greeks, Americans, Syrians and Yemenis.

One of the Syrians is Mahmoud Khalifa, an electrical engineer, who left


Aleppo three months earlier with his wife and three severely retarded
children, ages 20 to 17. They can’t walk, can’t hear, and can’t control their
bowels. In Aleppo, Khalifa couldn’t get medical care for the children; he
couldn’t even leave the house without fearing for his life. So finally he set
off for Turkey; he says he walked many, many miles with painfully arthritic
joints, pushing or carrying his children. After two weeks in Turkey, they
boarded a small fishing boat. He was terrified that his children, who
sometimes flail about in alarm, would be refused passage or thrown out

30
of the boat. But the passengers, though packed tightly onto the badly
overloaded boat, remained kind even when the overburdened engine quit
and water started coming into the boat. Rescued by the Greek military,
they came to Athens, registered for asylum, and—after a two-month wait—
have been accepted by the Netherlands. Khalifa is a very happy man. “I’m
living for my children,” he tells me.

Next day I go to the Elliniko refugee camp, located in some abandoned


facilities from the 2004 Olympics. These buildings—a small stadium and
a basketball arena—were sited on miles of runway and tarmac from the
old Athens airport. Many of the refugees at Elliniko are those who aren’t
going to be granted asylum. In an improvised dormitory I meet a Libyan, a
Western Saharan, and three Somalis. All five come from war-torn regions.
But word has it that Germany is currently welcoming only those from Iraq,
Syria, and Afghanistan.

Ali, a Somali, tells me that he is a certified school teacher in Somalia. He


has been to Egypt, Sudan, and Turkey looking for a place to live. “I have no
hope,” he says.

From Elliniko I go to the port, where newly arrived refugees fill a large
hall ordinarily intended for passengers on massive ferries to the Greek
islands. Blankets and sleeping bags are spread on the concrete floor; people
rest or talk; young men cluster around outlets where they can recharge
their phones; children play games with a ball. I fall into conversation with
a group of seven young Hazara men from Afghanistan. They come from
different cities but found each other in transit; they say they are the only
Hazara out of the hundreds in this hall.

Ahmad Atib shows me an identity card from his job at the Afghanistan
International Bank in Kabul. He has photographs of himself and bank
colleagues posed in dark suits. He left, with his younger brother, because
of death threats from the Taliban. “At first we didn’t take it too seriously.
Then my father received an official email from the American embassy,
warning that his organization (International Assistance Mission) was
targeted.” His father, disabled with polio, sent his two sons on a route that
led through Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Greece. Atib says that he has
worn out one pair of running shoes; fortunately, his smuggler told him to
bring two.

Atib left with his wife of eight months, but they lost each other while

31
crossing the Iraq border. He and his brother had gone ahead in the dark; a
group of women and children, moving more slowly, were caught by border
guards. Atib has been unable to contact his wife; he has no idea where she
is, nor do his relatives in Afghanistan. He has posted a message on the
internet, hoping that she will eventually read it and respond.

Crossing mountains in the snow, sometimes wading through chest-deep,


icy water, he reached a point where he felt he should just give up. On his
long journey he had multiple encounters with border police. “I feel allergic
to police,” he tells me. “For 20 days I lived with fear.” Greece is another
world. “Now I am safe and secure. Now I can sleep.”

The last day of our journey we reach the Greek island of Lesbos, where
many refugees first encounter Europe. The wind is blowing hard and cold;
not a thousand feet above us the hills are stained with snow. Along the
northern shore, closest to Turkey, the sea is a deep luminous green, and
farther out are whitecaps. There should be no boats on the water today; I
pray there are none. Turkey is astonishingly close across the wind-whipped
sea . We can see buildings clearly. It is only a few miles. A speedboat towing
water skiers could cross shore to shore in 10 minutes.

A rough dirt road follows the narrow, rocky beach. To my eye it looks like
there are shiny black rocks at the surf line, but when I get out of the car and
walk down to the water I see that they are the torn and twisted remains of
inflatable rubber boats.

Lesbos is a big island—it takes us an hour’s drive to get from its capital of
Mytilene (where the apostle Paul stopped by) to the beaches where most
of the refugees arrive. The island is undeveloped and uncrowded: terraces
of olive trees, red-tiled stone villages, the soft shadows of dun hills and
mountains. In the summer, vacationers flood here. Just now Lesbos is
crowded with volunteers from many nations; they are doing much of
the actual work helping the refugees. Whereas in Germany volunteers
offer only what is above and beyond the essentials, here volunteers man
practically everything.

The first stage is beach-side rescue: volunteers on the water, scanning the
horizon for boats, ready to rescue any that founder. A doctor tells me that
the primary problems she sees are hypothermia and panic.

Stage 2 consists of relatively small camps set near the beach: a cluster

32
of white tents offering a warm place, dry clothes, food and water. Here
refugees are given a quick assessment, and a ticket for the bus to Stage
3. Ben Cook, a fit young African American in a Peterbilt watch cap
and a fireman’s jacket, oversees the volunteers at one Stage 2 camp; he
came as part of Youth with a Mission and has stayed on with Operation
Mobilization. “We’re all believers in this camp,” he says. “We can’t preach.
Our goal is to make them feel like human beings.” The work is overseen by
the UNHCR and the Greek government, but much of the manpower comes
from volunteer groups, a lot of whom are Christians.

There are two Stage 3 camps, bigger operations that can handle thousands
of people, offering very simple (and crowded) sleeping rooms, meals,
showers, and the government registration that enables refugees to
move forward. Refugees who choose to apply for asylum in Greece will
be supported while they wait for an answer and then—if the answer is
favorable—an assignment to a receiving country. Most refugees simply
want to go on to Germany, and Greek documents enable them to do that—
to Belgrade, to Sid, to Croatia, and all the way to Austria and Germany.

Mytilene, a city of 30,000, was overwhelmed last summer by 35,000


refugees, who blocked roads with their sleeping bags and blankets and
tents. Some residents could not even reach their homes.

Hannah Gaganis, a Canadian who moved to the island with her university-
professor husband, went to their 30-member evangelical church praying,
“God help us!” At first, she admits, she felt overwhelmed: “I had a fear of
rape. I felt threatened, even though I understood the refugees’ anger. They
were making it difficult for us to live. There were fights, riots, there was a
terrible stench.”

Yet “the reaction was surprisingly good,” lay pastor and communications
professor Philemon Bantimaroudis says. “I would have expected hostility.
This is an island society. After living here 15 years I’m still a foreigner.”
Perhaps because so many had memories of being refugees themselves, local
people reacted compassionately. They offered food and water, especially
to refugees who were walking 30 or more miles in terrible heat from the
beaches to the port to get a ferry for the all-night voyage to Athens. By late
August, a huge number of NGOs had begun to arrive, and the situation
normalized. Now refugees spend only one or two days on Lesbos before
they catch the ferry to Athens.

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Gaganis says that the church had been involved with refugees for years,
even if the numbers were laughably small compared to now. “One hundred
and fifty people! What are we going to do!”

When the flood began, a woman from Doctors Without Borders asked the
church to pack 5,000 food bags. They began distributing them without any
experience in how to do so, and nearly caused a riot. “We were mobbed.”

Soon, though, they learned how to distribute food and water more
practically. The church would pack lunches, and the church kids—on
summer vacation—loved to pitch in. “It was just so much fun.”

“What is phenomenal,” she adds, “Is that tomorrow at our Sunday service
there will be 30 Greeks and 50 Americans. We have been an isolated
church. Apparently God has an unusual way of working with us.”

When the weather turned cold, Gaganis began to think of mothers with
small children. The church rented a space where they could come to rest
and get warm. Now Gaganis spends much of every day there, offering
shelter.

“It was so blazingly obvious to do this for refugees,” she says. “It’s easy.”

Bantimaroudis adds, “You can’t ignore it. Any church would have done it.”

“The next step,” says Gaganis, “the harder step, would be to do this for
Greek society.”

Now that I have reached the end of our journey, I find I don’t know how to
summarize it. It is like witnessing an earthquake or a tornado: there is not
much analysis to be done, just description. These are the people. These are
their stories. These are the responses, however feeble. I don’t know what
comes next. Nobody does. In our 2½ weeks, Gary and I talked to many,
many people, but not one ventured to describe a comprehensive solution.

(On March 18, several weeks after we returned to the US, Turkey and the
EU announced an agreement under which refugees and migrants arriving
on the Greek islands or the mainland will be quickly sent back to Turkey
unless they qualify for asylum. There is a great deal of uncertainty about
how the agreement will be implemented, and whether it will stand up to
challenges under international law.)

34
We drive up to the dumping ground for life vests. I have seen pictures of it
on YouTube, but I am not really prepared. High on a barren hill is a huge
swale of shocking orange. It is a lumpy mountain fifty yards across, ten to
twenty feet deep. The vests’ fluorescent orange blazes from the duns and
sages of the Mediterranean brush.

What hits me hard is the individuality of these vests. They are like the piles
of shoes or the costume jewelry preserved from Holocaust death camps,
only in this case they are mementos of survival, not death. Somebody wore
each of these like a second skin. They left their scent, and perhaps a little
blood. They counted on these vests to preserve their life as they crossed
deep water.
Now they have left them behind, cast off like misshapen and bulky clothes.
The immediate danger has passed. Some didn’t survive the journey, but
most of the people who wore these vests are somewhere in Germany,
beginning a new life.

Tim Stafford is general editor for God’s Justice: the Holy Bible (Zondervan). He is
currently at work on a novel set in a gospel mission.

Reflect and Discuss:


What have been the practical consequences of Germany welcoming
so many refugees?

Do you think Germany was justified in opening its borders?


Why or why not?

35
O. Alan Noble

A GUIDE TO REFLECTING AND DISCUSSING A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

A Sane Approach to
the Refugee Crisis
Islamophobia is not the answer—and neither is mass immigration

I
mmigration, particularly from Muslim countries, has dominated
headlines and presidential debates recently, and not without cause.
Civil wars in the Middle East, mass migration, declining birth
rates among ethnic Europeans, and radical Islamic terrorism have
contributed to deep tensions globally and within our country between
those who believe our obligation is to protect our country, culture, and
families from the cancerous force of radical Islam, and those who believe
our obligation is to aid those fleeing persecution from radical Islamic
groups, like ISIS. The US church has a unique opportunity to offer a
different way forward, to advocate for compassionate and wise aid for
refugees in a way that blesses both them and their new community.

The debate over resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States was
made more complex and distressing by the mass sexual assault of German
women by what appears to have been North African and Middle Eastern
asylum seekers in Cologne, Germany on New Years Eve. Details about
exactly what happened and who was responsible are still sketchy, likely to
remain so because of the intense debate over refugees in Germany right
now. Over the past few years, far-right nationalism has gained momentum
across Europe, and in Germany there have been mass protests against
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of accepting asylum seekers. On the
other side, there has been an effort to minimize crimes committed by
refugees so as to protect the asylum program.

This tension between the political left who support the refugees and the
far right who see them as a threat is simply not conducive to accurate and
unbiased reporting. On the contrary, both sides have reasons to silence
parts of this event and broadcast others. Much to their shame, it appears
that the local government in Cologne tried to ignore or downplay the
sexual assaults. Meanwhile some American pundits have jumped on the
event as evidence for why we can’t possibly allow more Muslims into the

36
United States.

Take, for example, The National Review, which ran a story claiming
that Muslims are “unassimilable” into western society and that the
immigration is really just part of a larger plan of conquest with “rape
jihad” as a major strategy to overtake the West. Countless other, smaller
online publications have likewise promoted this angle, arguing that
fundamentally, Muslims cannot coexist with civilized western culture.
According to them, Muslims will outbreed us, use political correctness to
silence critics, use terrorist attacks to kill infidels, institute Sharia law in
our court system, rape our women until they submit to Sharia law, mooch
off of our entitlement programs, lie about Islam or anything else in order
to seduce us into accepting them, insist that they are entitled to special
treatment because of their religion, infiltrate and undermine every level of
our government and military, and in general cause the destruction of the
western civilization as we know it.

If you think I’m exaggerating, let me encourage you to read more widely.
Find someone who supports Donald Trump. Read those articles your uncle
keeps forwarding to you. These views are not held by fringe extremists
in the US; rather, these are relatively common beliefs shared by many
Americans, even evangelical Americans, about our neighbors.

Although these views are as vile as they are ignorant, one extreme does
not justify the other, and denouncing Islamophobia of our neighbors does
not excuse us from thinking wisely about what good immigration policies
should look like—policies that bless both the refugees and the communities
they move to. And this is really our task. Despite efforts to reduce what
happened in Cologne to one explanation (e.g. “Muslims are savages
who can never assimilate in the West”) and apply it to our debate over
allowing refugees in America, the reality is that the number, screening,
and resettlement of refugees in Europe is quite different from what Obama
proposed for the US.

For one, Europe is experiencing “mass immigration,” rather than allowing,


as the US is, the highly selective immigration of the neediest refugees.
Germany has allowed in around one million asylum seekers, and many
had little vetting before they entered. In addition, many of these refugees
are placed in temporary housing together, which motivates them to rely on
each other rather than become part of the larger community. Add to this
situation a growing popular German resentment and even hatred towards

37
refugees, and it is not hard to understand why Europe is so volatile right
now. Both native Germans and refugees have an interest in remaining with
their own people, fostering fear, distrust, violence, and resentment.
With mass immigration, it is difficult to provide sufficient infrastructure
to allow refugees to flourish. Instead, you get ghettos, high poverty,
disenfranchisement, and a lack of civil services to cope with a suddenly
increased population (this undoubtedly played a role in the Cologne
attacks, where there was not nearly enough police to handle the unruly
crowd). Migrants are less likely to learn the native language or integrate
into their new society because they don’t reallyneed to venture out of
their neighborhoods. If part of the purpose of resettlement is to actually
resettle, to integrate traumatized and hurt people into a community and
enable them to flourish, we need effective resettlement strategies, not mass
immigration. Notably, the 10,000 Syrian refugees that President Obama
has sought to bring to the US do not constitute “mass immigration.” More
importantly, the church has a tremendous opportunity to see that those
who do resettle here have the opportunity to flourish as citizen by aiding in
their transition.

There are only a few organizations in the United States that have the
permission and funding to resettle refugees to the US. One of these
organizations, World Relief, is an explicitly Christian group that partners
with local churches to aid in the resettlement process. Church volunteers
do everything from welcoming the immigrants when they land to hosting
them in their homes for a few days while their new apartment is set up.
They then visit these new neighbors weekly to teach them English and
about American culture. The volunteers also provide transportation, help
them fill out paperwork and job applications, and invite them into their
homes for meals. In other words, Christians are given the opportunity
to welcome their neighbors, help them become productive members of
society, and break down barriers of fear and hostility.

Instead of cowering in fear over the imagined threat of an Islamic


immigration invasion, the church can play the critical role in loving
Muslim immigrants and helping them integrate into a very strange
culture. This is a role that the federal government fundamentally cannot
play. Federal funding for a refugee family ends after eight months, but for
churches who have intentionally built close relationships with refugees,
there can still be a support system to help care for them and walk with
them through their transition.

38
If we don’t want immigrants to flee to ghettos, if we don’t want immigrant
communities to have high crime and low employment, if we don’t want
foreign values that deny basic human rights to harm our communities,
if we don’t want to create a deep divide between immigrants and host
communities that could last for generations, then the best response is to
embrace the stranger in our midst, to love them and help them. It has been
the experience of World Relief that most refugees want to be self-sufficient,
but that they need help acclimating to a new culture and language. The
church has the ability to help. Instead of spreading messages of fear and
damning all Muslim refugees for the evil of a handful of extremists, maybe
we should flood World Relief with offers to help the needy to resettle. What
if the church in America was known as the reason immigrants resettled
easily and became vibrant parts of our communities? That is the power
that the church has. The question is whether we will choose the easy path
of paranoia or if we’ll accept the harder path of loving our neighbor.

Caring for the alien, the orphaned, the widowed, and the needy does
not require that we completely disregard safety or the health of our
communities. Nor does it require us to give up our values, culture, and
traditions (although we should continue evaluating and improving them).
Our options are not either unrestricted resettlement on one hand or bans on
the other. Both extremes carry tremendous rhetorical weight in an election
year, but neither reflects the kind of resettlement we actually do in the US.
Carefully planned, community-based resettlement programs can help those
in need, strengthen communities, offer new opportunities to share the
gospel, and mitigate the major concerns about Muslim immigration.

O. Alan Noble, Ph.D., is editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture and an assistant professor of
English at Oklahoma Baptist University. He received his Ph.D. from Baylor in 2013.

Reflect and Discuss:


What to you is the strongest argument against welcoming refugees
in the U.S.?

What to you is the strongest argument for welcoming refugees?

Is there a middle way that addresses the concerns of each group?

39
Bruce Wydick

A GUIDE TO REFLECTING AND DISCUSSING A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

Border Crisis =
Church Opportunity
The international difference a local congregation can make.

A
feeling of hopelessness and insecurity in Central America has
fueled the exodus of 43,000 unaccompanied Central American
children and teenagers to the US border this year, a ten-fold
increase since 2009. The origin of the crisis lies in the growing
menace of the violent narco-trafficking underworld in three countries:
Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Paradoxically, many of the roots
of the crisis lie in the very country to which the children are fleeing—our
own society’s insatiable demand for narcotics, and the network of gangs
originating in Los Angeles which have extended their talons deep into
Central America.

Our non-profit organization, Mayan Partners, has witnessed the


consequences of this hopelessness and insecurity first-hand. During our
most recent trip to Guatemala this summer, we sensed a growing desire
among those with whom we work to leave their home country and seek
refuge in ours.

Many Christians want to know how we can be part of a solution to this


crisis, how we can genuinely bring grace and peace to the situation, and not
just feel better for our efforts. But first we must understand the origins of
the crisis.

The Cancer of Organized Crime


There are seven countries in Central America. Of these, Honduras,
Guatemala, and El Salvador can be characterized as especially “weak
states,” countries in which there is a historical pattern of government
corruption, lawlessness, and an ineffectual presence in rural areas. Weak
states are fertile soil for organized crime, and organized crime has spread
like a metastasizing cancer cells within all three of these countries.

40
Unlike previous surges in illegal immigration on our southern border,
the primary force that drives people is not civil war or even economic
opportunity in the United States, but fear. People arriving at our borders
fear the ever-increasing presence of organized crime in their rural villages
and urban neighborhoods from which the state offers little protection.

The growth in narco-trafficking in these countries has stemmed from


several factors. First, efforts to eradicate drug cartels in Colombia
and Mexico have been semi-successful (from the perspective of those
countries) in that they have pushed a great deal of the trafficking into other
countries. Where in Mexico and Colombia drug cartels have been at war
with the state, in Central America—with the exception of countries with
stronger states such as Costa Rica and Nicaragua—the local climate has
proved far more hospitable.

Another root of the crisis is related to the first wave of Central American
immigration during the civil wars of the 1980s. When Central American
refugees arrived in cities such as Los Angeles, local gangs resisted
them. To protect themselves, the new arrivals formed gangs of their
own. These gangs evolved into organized criminal organizations with
ties to their home countries. The Illegal Immigration Reform and
Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 precipitously increased US criminal
deportations to Central America. These individuals, with few ties to their
home countries, except through the web of the criminal underworld, have
become kingpins of gang activity and organized crime in Central America.

The level of intimidation and violence inflicted by these criminal gangs


is staggering. At 90 people per 100,000, the homicide rate in Honduras
is the highest in the world. El Salvador and Guatemala rank fourth and
fifth in the world with 41 and 40 per 100,000 respectively. (The US rate is
4.7 per 100,000; Canada is 1.6.) In these three countries, young boys are
routinely threatened with death if they fail to affiliate with local gangs. As
the murder rates suggest, these threats are anything but idle. Members of
churches and community groups opposed to gang activity are often killed,
bodies displayed in public to ward off others who might confront the gang’s
power over the
community.

In the past, the influence of organized crime in Central America was


mainly limited to the primal cities (Tegucigalpa, San Salvador, Guatemala
City), but it now reaches into the rural hinterlands, where the influence of

41
the state is even weaker. This combined with intransigent rural poverty
has created the cocktail that has produced the current crisis.

What We Can Do
Many have called for an increase in border security. I used to think that
this represented a callous and heavy-handed approach the problem. But
I have come to believe otherwise. Failing to regulate the flow across our
borders makes us unable to genuinely act with compassion to those who
have legitimate refugee status, such as seriously threatened children. A
porous border is not compassionate—it is just chaotic, making it difficult
to differentiate between the many different needs and interests of
undocumented persons, a process which can only happen under some
semblance of order. A new immigration bill must substantially increase
funding to create safe, orderly, and fair entry into our country.

One response taken by many churches has been to care for undocumented
immigrants after they enter the United States. The concern displayed by
individuals and churches for undocumented immigrants is admirable-
-in many cases it represents a real sacrifice made by caregivers. Indeed
Scripture calls us to care for the alien in our midst (Lev. 19:34). But we need
to do it wisely. And “in our midst” has a new meaning in the globalized era.

To act wisely in this context, one has to understand that migration to


the United States has had a devastating impact on families in Central
America. I have seen first-hand the negative impacts on families who have
lost mothers and fathers to US migration. Caring for illegal immigrants is
certainly a grace to the individual. But it doesn’t address the underlying
problem. Indeed, when replicated on a large scale, it exacerbates the
crisis. The more the church is viewed as welcoming any undocumented
immigrant with open arms, the more it spurs undocumented immigration:
more Central American families are broken apart, immigrants are forced
into self-protection in our dangerous inner cities, and ties are strengthened
between US gangs and Central American narco-networks. Moreover,
Central American countries become increasingly dependent on foreign
remittances at the cost of their development.

Instead, we should focus our compassion on the problems rather than


symptoms. We can do this by helping to foster shalom in these Central
American cities and villages, helping build healthy lives and families where

42
peaceful prosperity can take root. But what can the North American
church do?

These issues seem intractable, indeed so intractable in human terms, that


the faithful witness of the church may offer one of the most hopeful ways
forward.

We can begin reducing our country’s consumption of illegal drugs. And


the only truly effective way to address the narcotics problem is on the
demand side. Time and again, the supply-side approach has proven self-
defeating. Supply interdiction merely pushes production to new areas, new
dealers, and new narcotics. It increases drug prices, incentivizing further
production and making drug markets worth killing for. Even if every
government in the developing world were to clamp down hard on its narco-
traffickers, it would cause narcotic prices to skyrocket absent a reduction
in demand, incentivizing ever more sinister and brutal ways to meet that
demand.

Here is one place the gospel comes in. Both an increasing—and increasingly
committed—church in our country means fewer drug users in and of itself.
It requires a North American church more effective at wooing our friends
and neighbors who struggle with drug abuse to a better way, better for
them and better for those who suffer from the drug trade. It is a church
fully aware that every time we wean one of our own away from casual or
habitual drug use, it creates a positive ripple effect: making the narcotics
business just a little less lucrative for the local dealer, the smuggler, the
kingpin, rippling back to the Honduran barrio and village. Multiplied a
million times, these little ripples could become a powerful wave across
the hemisphere, relegating the international narcotics trade into a
meaningless economic sideshow.

Other action has to take place in Central America itself, which can be
helped by international church partnership efforts to bring shalom to
troubled villages and neighborhoods. One example: Partnership with a
North American church can help empower Central American churches,
giving them the resources to offer alternatives to narco-gang involvement,
address local needs for youth work, after school programs, mentoring,
education, and economic development.

I help lead a group called Mayan Partners, a small faith-based non-


profit based in Berkeley, California, started by a group of alumni from

43
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Mayan Partners works with local
Christians in a single village in the western Guatemala highlands, where
we sponsor a middle school, financially support a village library, and work
in public health. We have recently initiated the process of importing hand-
crafted Christmas ornaments from the village to help create rural jobs.
We’ve also begun discussing the idea of importing paint brushes made in
the village to boost the local economy. It is hard for organized crime to find
recruits in places where everyone already has a job.

New communication technology provides great advantages in this kind


of international partnership. Email, Skype, and cheap international
calling rates allow for excellent communication between our partners in
the village and us. A group of us visits them annually, sometimes more
often. If 10,000 of the 350,000-plus North American churches, through
their denominations or networks, linked to one sister church in a troubled
region in Central America, the long-term results could be spectacular.
People would witness the power of the gospel in bringing peace and a
measure of prosperity to these areas, as well as addressing a serious
international crisis.

Bruce Wydick is professor of economics and international studies at the University of


San Francisco. He is the author of The Taste of Many Mountains, a novel about the
lives of coffee growers in Guatemala, Thomas Nelson (2014). Follow him on his blog at
AcrossTwoWorlds.net and on Twitter at @BruceWydick.

Reflect and Discuss:


What new dimension to the very complex refugee crisis
was noted in this piece?

What are some practical steps your church can do to help


refugees?

44
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