We’re Fighting for the Persecuted with One Hand Behind Our Back
Our preconceptions are limiting our response to the hurting.
Your neighbor is no longer limited to just those whom you break bread with, share a pew with, or swear allegiance to a flag alongside.
It is the Yazidi, who was forced from her home because of regional turmoil perpetrated by our desire for cheaper fuel at the pumps. It is the Uyghur, suffering in a camp whom we overlook as we try to enjoy the latest Disney movie. It is the Central American, fleeing destructive gang violence fueled by our bloated weapons markets and insatiable desire for drugs.
Affluent countries, populations, and congregations who are in the best position to help, often look for ways to pass the buck and say ‘not in my backyard’. Christians donate a portion of our tithe to non-profit groups then pat ourselves on the back as if we have just solved the issue. We call ourselves good Samaritans but in actuality all we have done is look down upon the man bleeding out on the road to Jericho, tossed a couple denarii at his feet, then kept on walking. Yes, it is good; but it is not good enough.
As our globalizing society grows more tight knit, it is increasingly difficult to ignore suffering on the other side of the world and the roles we play in perpetuating that suffering. The Church is groaning under the weight of our consumerist attitudes, apathetic opinions, and desires to stay comfortable which have left us paralyzed to actually help. A radical change in mentality and action is required to truly care for victims of violent conflict. It is a lot to ask, but we should be used to it as Christians. After all, isn’t a radical change in ideology and action a foundation of our very faith?
The first uncomfortable ideological rut we must pull ourselves out of is the idea of Christian aid ought go to Christians alone.
The first uncomfortable ideological rut we must pull ourselves out of is the idea of Christian aid ought go to Christians alone. Christians are not the only persecuted religious group. As the world grows smaller, our communities grow more diverse and sufferings that were once far away are now much closer. We have an increased opportunity to engage with those who are different from us. How powerful would it be for those who do not experience the abundant love of Christ to feel safe and rescued in the Church? How powerful would it be for a man who hates Christ to be known and loved by those who follow Him? The story of the good Samaritan is powerful because the Samaritan cared for someone who should have despised him. All are made in the image of Christ. All carry the potential to be filled by the Holy Spirit. And, all are worthy to experience the love and comfort which Christ offers. Xenophobic attitudes are a plague which have held the Church in America captive for too long. It is hard and uncomfortable to engage with this reality but it is an imperative simply because of the fact that our proverbial ‘man on the road to Jericho’ in this globalizing society we live in is not always going to be, and most likely won’t be, a Christian.
The continent of Africa has been plunged into years of colonial and post-colonial turmoil because of our desire for raw materials which funds global jewelry and electronic markets. Uighurs in China are forced to pick cotton so that we can buy cheap clothes. The Middle East has endured years of instability, much of it perpetuated by our desires for more inexpensive oil imports. The list of these consumer driven conflicts goes on and on. This is hard to confront because, as Americans, we often do not see these conflicts unfolding. Nevertheless, as Christians who desire to care for our neighbors, it is imperative to be aware of the effect our purchases have on groups experiencing violence around the world. This might mean paying more for products, buying less commodities, and holding our government accountable to ensure they respond to human rights violations through a lens of stopping the conflict and not through a lens of ensuring the continued supply of inexpensive consumer goods. This is hard. This is uncomfortable. This is also necessary to ensure that, as Christians, we don’t perpetuate the suffering of others through our desire to live comfortably.
As the world grows smaller, there are peoples of all nations, tribes, and religions at our doorstep. We must reconcile ourselves to becoming comfortable with the idea of living amongst, and loving, those who look and perceive the world differently. Refugees and migrants have for too long been viewed as elements that detract from our wealth, culture, and religion. Instead, these populations are a chance to share wealth, abundance, and the Lord’s love which we have been blessed with. If we are to have a circumcised heart, to walk in all the Lord’s ways, to love Him, and to serve Him; then we are to do as he does: He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing (Deut 10:12,18).
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Cédric Herrou is a French olive farmer who lives in a mountainous region close to the Italian border. In 2015, during the ongoing European migration crisis, he made the simple act of stopping on the side of the road to pick up stranded migrants. This led to him hosting them in his home, to him hosting other migrants in his home, to him turning his humble olive farm into a camp and place of refuge that is supported by the entire community. Ultimately, this landed him under French prosecution, but through this, he was able to forge national policy change through his legal battle. Imagine if more of us acted with this ferver. Imagine if Cédric’s actions were done as a witness to Christ. This is truly an example of a mustard seed moving a mountain. It came at great personal cost and great discomfort. It is uncomfortable to execute justice for the fatherless and the widow, to love the sojourner, and to give them food and clothing. But, as Christians looking to make an effective witness in our increasingly globalized world, it is an imperative that can be ignored no longer.
Michael Kitchen is a graduate of Wheaton College where he majored in International Relations and Spanish. He received further accreditation from La Universidad de Salamanca in Peru where he studied anthropology and culture. In 2017, Michael founded Students for Religious Liberties, which engages students to advocate for federal U.S. legislation which benefits persecuted religious minorities around the globe. He is currently pursuing work with the U.S. Foreign Service.