What kind of conditions would it take for you to put your child's life in danger to escape them? I asked myself this question when the unaccompanied children of Central America and Mexico began flooding across the borders of Texas. I am asking it again this holiday weekend as pictures of drowned toddlers and desperate crowds trying to make it to Europe fill the news.
I cannot, in my comfortable, air-conditioned, and indoor-plumbed home begin to imagine. Even if I were camping this weekend, as so many Americans are, it would be with ample food carried in a motorized vehicle to a campsite with running water and electricity.
At the start of this holiday weekend the UN announced that there were now over 2 million Syrian refugees; half of them are children. What is happening in their cities and villages that makes this migration the better alternative? If I am honest, I will tell you that I do not want to know. I don't want to know how bad it can be. I can hardly bear the pictures from the camps much less know what is worse than that. It makes me feel helpless; it makes me feel guilty; it makes me feel completely, and utterly, overwhelmed.
I don't understand exactly how this came to be but I know it has something to do with 9/11 and oil and ancient in-fighting in the middle east. It really doesn't matter to me any more. I don't care if these people are fleeing from famine or soldiers or devastation caused by natural disasters. Something has to be done. And beyond sending money I am pretty much at a loss. What would I want if I walked with these people?
I wouldn't want to come to a new country and learn a new language and work at a job way below my former pay grade and capabilities. I wouldn't want to be dependent on people I don't know, whose motives are suspect because I don't really understand their language or their religion. I wouldn't want to dress in strange clothing and eat strange food and be separated from everything and everyone that is home to me. But, I would do all these things if it meant my child could live into adulthood. . .
Do these desperate mothers and fathers also have an inkling that in saving a child they will lose her? Because that child will become a member of another culture. She will not want to return to the place of the mother or father's childhood. That is a place she remembers only with feelings of fear and deprivation. I hope not because they are already bearing the unbearable.
It doesn't really matter what your politics tells you about this, or who you think is responsible.
This. Is. A. Crisis. These are people. They are not trying to take advantage of anyone or anything. They are trying to save their children. They are trying to survive. None of us would do any less.
I follow Jesus, who was once a refugee child Himself. Jesus teachings tell me that He expects that I will offer a cup of water to the thirsty, a morsel of food to the hungry, and a coat to the naked: simple, practical, realistic stuff. What am I to offer these people who have lost everything? What can, what should I do in the midst of this enormous problem?
As I wrestled with these questions over the weekend, I heard that Pope Francis asked every parish in Europe to step forward to take in one Syrian family. I like this idea. It brings the crisis down to personal size and it changes the question from "What can I do?" to "What can WE do?"
What CAN we do?