Pondering the Syrian Refugee Crisis

EDU 324 Learning Community 

While learning something, an opportunity arises to think about personal perceptions: where they came from, how true they are, and how they could be framed differently to align with the worldview you profess. Such was the thinking in our EDU 324: Education in the Developing World class this semester. While considering what the government and media is not saying about Syrian Refugees, our community decided to address certain points of relevance. In endeavouring to condense over 2000 words of input into a 900 word editorial, this article attempts to accurately summarize some key reflections and the reasons for its inclusion.

We now are in a ‘glocal’ world. What has formerly been termed as a missional opportunity is now breaking down our doors. We do not need to seek out specific lands in which to assist the others in our midst — although that may be desirable and worthy to many — because the ‘other’ arrives on our shores in increasing waves.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’... (ESV, Acts 17:22-28)

Our first point of reflection considered who the other is in our midst, and whose land is this anyway? Is this a crisis or an opportunity? Our ancestors found significance in supporting their families and becoming a meaningful part of Canadian society. Shouldn’t we help others do the same?

Since aspects of accommodation and assistance are essential to any refugee community as a basic need, it is sensible to begin there.  But then what? How do we embody a hospitality of care for strangers that we meet?  Is temporal intervention the best we can do? How can we assist fellow humans to flourish in a new land with a new language, a new landscape, an unfamiliar seasonal rhythm and a new neighbourhood orientation? What do we understand about them in their homeland?  Language classes, schooling for children and medical care will involve years, not months; long term support systems will need to be designed for safety, stability and psychological well being.

No system or program can meet the needs of a new immigrant. Only people can do that. Government intervention may transport people here — friendship and love will keep them here. It is not about numbers (over 10,000 people so far), but a welcome in hospitable grace that endures the test of time.

Our second point of reflection embraced media and what it represents government to be and do. It is very easy for people to observe what the government is doing and then pronounce judgment, both positive and negative, on what is being seen with our eyes but not reflected upon in a meaningful way. It is simultaneously easy to put all of the pressure and responsibility on the government to deal with the situation adequately.  

More is required of us than watching and waiting on the government. How can we expect government to handle the transitions into day-to-day life for every Syrian refugee? Learning to live in another country is not done only through a sponsored government program. We need to volunteer to help newcomers re-acclimatize by being a friend to them. This is a commitment, not a program.

Moving to a new country can be an isolating and overwhelming experience.  Instead of pointing out missing elements, maybe our energy would be better spent asking ourselves how we can act to fill in what is missing and then follow through. Volunteering with church based communities who sponsor new families; offering a What life is like in Canada course on how to use language, currency, local transportation in large cities like Toronto, and assisting someone with grocery shopping is not part of a government mandate. It is part of being human. It is what Christians do. It is what we are fully equipped without training to do.

This is not something that has to be done by oneself. Education does not only occur in a room of desks and chairs. Groups of people can step up to sponsor one or two refugees, thereby sharing the responsibility and pressure. It is what we would want others to do in a country in which we were new. We can do it as students, as professors, as church members and as neighbours. We can begin outreach groups, start entrepreneurial programs, hold fundraisers and begin to establish mentor/mentee projects. We can care. Because Jesus does.