The world is in turmoil, the nations are in an uproar, and many people find themselves in very deep trouble. Over the past several years I have ventured to the front lines of human suffering. In recent years, I have visited hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Regardless of the circumstances or events that drove them from their respective homes, all of these refugees share several things in common.
The one common denominator among the refugee families that I have visited over the years is that they have suffered the worst. Regardless of whether they are Muslim or Christian background, every single family experienced loss on a scale that is hard to comprehend. Their stories are profiles in pain — evidence of the cruelty bestowed on them by other human beings.
Suffering causes all people to reflect deeply about the why of it all. Some refugee families suffered because the battle came to them — to their neighborhood. Others suffered because they were Muslim, the wrong kind of Muslim, or a Christian infidel deserving of death. It isn’t difficult for those who place people in categories to justify their acts of cruelty toward those in the wrong category. Someone always suffers at the hands of those who do not regard human life as sacred.
Without question, every refugee family I have visited over the years wants the best. They know that life will never be what it was before and that they will never recover what they lost. They all long for a new start — one that will enable them to provide for their families. They wonder if they will be able to find work so that they can put food on their table. And, they are concerned about the welfare of their children and about things like education and medical care.
The challenges of being a refugee in a host country are beyond difficult. None of the families I have visited ever expected that they would leave their ancestral homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Imagine yourself in that situation, without access to the people and places and possessions that define your life and make it meaningful for you. Starting over is hard. Refugee families want and need a hand up — an article of clothing, a sleeping mat, shoes for their kids, access to medical care, and the hope of a place to call home.
The writer of Proverbs put it best, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (13:12). Hope is as vital to our survival as the air we breathe. Without it, we wither away. For those refugee families that find themselves caught in the teeth of a storm, any shred of hope becomes something to cling to, something to keep them afloat a little longer. Hope in the form of humanitarian aid, a visit from someone who cares, a word of encouragement, an unexpected act of kindness — these matter to families in pain.
Our world is indeed in turmoil. As Christ-followers we must be present on the front lines of human suffering. We must be the hands and feet of Jesus and show the world the distinctiveness of our biblical worldview — one that regards human life as sacred and cares about the least of these. We must continue to pray, give, and move in the direction of the suffering. And when we reach them, we must love without condition and serve compassionately without expecting anything in return.