Reflections from the GC2 Summit—Cynthia Thompson
On a recent blustery day in Chicago, Christian leaders, pastors, educators and college students convened at the GC2 Summit to grapple with the seismic refugee crisis emanating from a region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea known as the Levant. Ironically, on the same day, the United States Senate was voting on closing our borders to refugees of Middle Eastern descent. These two convocations illustrate the dualities for followers of Jesus Christ, as we contemplate the devastating losses that Middle Eastern people have experienced and the invasive fear and apathy that the West has adopted toward the crisis.
People of the Levant have lost so much as a result of the wars: family members, homes, businesses, status, security, culture, access to education, healthcare, community, even the ability to feed, clothe and shelter their families. Most have been living in sub-poverty situations in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and the Kurdish territory of northern Iraq. As displaced people, they have lost hope that they might eventually return to their homeland or survive in their present condition. They are fleeing toward the West, where they hope to reboot their lives though all of them would prefer to return to the life they had before the unsettling wars.
At the Summit, speakers from various relief agencies and denominations, and a refugee who told his personal story instructed, informed, and educated Christian leaders and the Church concerning the refugee crisis. A recurring theme of the Summit was, "Compassion and security do not have to be mutually exclusive." Participants were challenged to let the government do its work on national security and to awaken the Church to care for the needs of the marginalized, suffering and dying.
Christians have prayed and worked for decades to plant seeds of the Gospel among the very people groups that are displaced. With the disruption of their homelands by wars and the terror of ISIS, they are now fleeing toward us. Unprecedented opportunities are available for sharing the gospel with people we could not previously reach. The missional opportunities and an "open door" for the gospel exist as we have not seen for centuries, perhaps millennia.
The GC2 Summit raised a lot of critical questions. Are we, the followers of Jesus, the Church, willing to be the loving face, caring hands and feet of Jesus to those who are fleeing atrocities? Are we committed to being obedient to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission of Jesus or are we cowering in fear while ignoring the Bible's most frequent command, "Do not fear!"? Are we teaching, informing and mobilizing local congregations to make an impact in this crisis? Have we led our churches to pray, give, advocate, partner with organizations and welcome refugees? Are we sharing the gospel, in this epic shift of access to Middle Eastern people groups, by helping Middle Eastern and European churches who serve on the front lines among refugees?
I often think about the Holocaust and wonder how the Christians of those years did so little to oppose the Nazis, or rescue the Jews and people groups who were annihilated. I have spent hours contemplating if I would have responded any differently had I been alive in that time and place. Today, we face a similar crisis, and the Church must rise to the opportunity.
We Welcome Refugees reminds us “We cannot sit blindly by as people die, flee for their lives, search for homes, or live in an existence many of us cannot even comprehend. We cannot let the generations to come, look back at this time in history and wonder how we sat back and did nothing." The Western church is the most resourced in history, yet we often celebrate our blessings on Sundays while we ignore bleeding Samaritans in the ditches.
I am grateful for Ed Stetzer, who organized the GC2 Summit, and the wealth of information and resources provided to Christian leaders who want to become involved in serving refugees, including videos of the Summit sessions, links, and resources to assist you, your family, small group or church.
Bill Hybels instructed pastors to begin with small projects and allow the church's heart expand and grow toward deeper engagement. Pastors can cast vision that "we are not adding burdens to our shoulders, but enlarging our hearts to wrap around these needs. Our heart capacity to love increases as we deepen our Christian heart".
I leave you with this challenge from Christine Caine, one of the GC2 Summit speakers whose parents were refugees, “Jesus’ last commandment is to be our priority. The Church runs to the darkness. If there is not light in the darkness, then more dark will come into the darkness. The Church should be God’s search and rescue team for these people. We have the opportunity to show the world that Jesus cares, the Church cares.
God is bringing unreached people groups to us through this great tragedy. This is our moment, our opportunity to shine for Jesus. We should be all about feeding, clothing, sitting with them, praying with them, giving them coats. Will they remember that the Christians were at the border, that 'they gave me something to eat and drink'? Will that be their testimony ten years from now, that the Christians cared for them?"
Now is the Church's moment! May we be compelled to support or serve on the front lines of the refugee crisis with the unconditional love of Jesus, living out His great commandment and His great commission.