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An Advent Challenge: What if Aleppo was my Home?

The last couple of weeks I’ve had a pretty trying wake-up call to the refugee crisis. Probably with Advent and U.S. Thanksgiving on the radar, God just wanted to say something to me about my contentment and entitlement or about my apathetic anticipation of Jesus’ slow return.

So I’ve been thinking that I should take more responsibility, make a plan, and spend more on someone other than me, my family, and my friends. I wish I could do it guilt-free, and with Christ’s compassion, but better to try something than do nothing. Hey, if our justice isn’t always about right motives—it is about right actions.

Here’s the thing: I already did do something. I helped host a huge meal—with about 40 guests—and I didn’t take it easy. I went all out: I bought the 2 biggest turkeys money could buy, slaved in the kitchen for more hours than I’ll admit, and made the meanest green-bean casserole local-Middle-Eastern ingredients would allow. And then I ate it…big time. We enjoyed. We feasted. We laughed. We relaxed. We played. We talked. We lounged. And we were grateful…I think.

At what point will I try to let Jesus use me?

But then I thought back over how God had slapped me in the face with my lack of concern for refugees these past couple of weeks. I thought, “If I put that much effort into splurging and entertaining myself, and a bunch of friends, and a few strangers—why not do more for those who really know need?” Am I trying to forget them? Have I tried to distract myself from the Spirit’s reminders of refugees’ trials? At what point will I try to let Jesus use me? My money, my time, my talent…

But God put me into contact with one of those UN-type social-workers who’s directly involved with refugees here in my country—my city—and he spoke at my church. I couldn’t ignore refugees’ trials anymore, whatever entertainments or distractions current American politics might afford.

His name is Chris. He was a lawyer in the UK. He knows more about rights and freedoms, and has more access to real statistics, than I ever will. The things Chris shared with me made me wonder, “How am I trying to help these people who are falling through the cracks?”

See, I’ve managed a safe ignorance for far too long. I’ve soothed my conscience with misconceptions.

For one thing, I’d pictured lots of refugees leaving Syria and being cared for. I’d never looked at real conditions, or actual numbers. I’d also forgotten to think about those who are still in Syria: the millions who will never be given official refugee status, there or elsewhere. And I’d never given a thought to the world’s 62 million refugees wandering without safety or home in 2016: victims of protracted war and grief from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan…

I also never thought through why 3,800 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year.

I intentionally misconceived refugees as travelers to neighboring countries camping in decent weather. I know. I’ve been to Aleppo. And I’ve seen the pictures of the total devastation wrought there—but I’ve never tried to think about what it would be like for me if Aleppo had been my city, or if Syria was the state I’d once called home. Talk about trauma.

I also never thought through why 3,800 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year—making 2016 already deadlier than 2015. I didn’t think about why journalists aren’t as distraught now as they were last year.

Chris explained what’s happening: families who fled the conflict early have run out of resources—and now they need help the United Nations can’t afford. The UN’s broke. Countries promised more than they gave. And now middle-class ‘migrants’ are falling below the mark of abject poverty—scraping by on a measly 83 USD a month—and they’re the ones who had something. The have-nots—children, orphans, dependents who don’t have anyone to depend on—are now living 15-to-a-room in tiny low-rent apartments in the dirtiest parts of my city, Chris says.

To be honest, even though I live in an over-populated city in the Middle East, and I know what pollution and poverty are, and though I’ve sat in homes of garbage-workers myself, I don’t think I can imagine what it would really be like to see dozens of kids living like that—without an adult—willing to be exploited for a buck or a bite to eat, trying to avoid abuse, trying to find a way out, just trying to live.

They’re the ones who deal with smugglers. They’re the last person on the boat that’s already ready to capsize. They’re crossing stormy seas.

I’ve put that money into an envelope. Sealed it. And I’ve written on it: “No more excuses. This money is for refugees.”

So today I decided it’s time I start trying to make small sacrifices—trying to show at least a fraction of the love to those kids and families that I show to myself and people I know. I’m no saint. It’s not much. But tonight I took a step. I went back over the last two weeks. I thought of all the time, talents, and money I’d put into preparing turkeys and beans. I tried to be realistic about what all of it was worth. I gave it a dollar figure. And now I’ve put that money into an envelope. Sealed it. And I’ve written on it: “No more excuses. This money is for refugees.”

It’s a step. Christmas is coming. There’s a New Year around the corner. It’s a start. I’m going to give that money—and the next envelopes—to Chris. Because if this is why God put him on my radar, and if Jesus keeps tarrying, I have to keep trying.

Pray for me. Join me. Who knows? Maybe God put Chris in my life for you, too.

Visit World Renew’s website to join Neil in taking action and learn about work being done all over the world to support refugees.

[Image: Pexels]

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