Most days, I try and write with a level head. I take a step back from the heat of a moment, quiet my emotions, and present what I have to say in a calm and rational manner.
Today is not one of those days.
You might remember a post I wrote about a year ago, with just a few of my tangled-up thoughts about the Syrian refugee crisis. Right after that, the horrible attacks in Paris happened, and I'm sorry to say that I stopped speaking out on the matter. The fear in the world was too volatile, and my own fear of backlash if I were to speak out was too great. But faith has to be greater than fear, because as 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, "God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline."
What could happen if people coming to our country out of their own desperation and fear were showered with love?
A local organization called Canopy Northwest Arkansas was founded to help displaced refugees who come to our area receive support as they acclimate to their new homes. As the first group is preparing to move to Northwest Arkansas, the organization and resettlement efforts have gained some publicity, mostly through local news networks. I know this not because I watch the news (since we don't have cable, we survive on Netflix and Hulu), but because of the reactions, comments, and shares from friends on the online soapbox known as Facebook. For every story on my newsfeed saying "so-and-so liked this article," there was another one following up with "so-and-so (whom I still love and respect) reacted to this article." With an angry face.
Curiosity got the better of me, of course, so I clicked through to the comments to see what the local climate was toward these refugees. The dark underbelly of the internet did not disappoint.
"Why are we helping them when there are homeless people here who need help?"
"What about the hundreds of foster kids? Don't they deserve to be placed first?"
"I hope these do-gooders are willing to let these parasites live with them. I bet after a week they'll be changing their tune."
"Why is this our problem? They caused their own war, let them bomb themselves into oblivion."
The truth is, if you want to find out where the scared, xenophobic, petty people are hiding, all you have to do is put an article on Facebook about "scary foreign people" (italics added for sarcasm). I'm fortunate to be surrounded by a group of amazing, loving people, so when I read words steeped in fear and hysteria, it honestly shocks me. I forget how hateful we can sometimes be to each other.
I decided to post here, rather than “feeding the trolls” online. So if you're someone who holds any of those opinions, consider this my open letter in response.
If you genuinely want to help the homeless in our community, volunteer at the 7 Hills Homeless Center.
If you want to help veterans wounded in the line of duty, start with the Wounded Warrior Project.
If you want to find out more about how to welcome foster kids into your home, The Call is an amazing resource.
If you are a Christian who thinks our love should only be extended to people in our community, who share the same beliefs, traditions, and birthplaces, I'm not going to respond with my own words. I'll leave you with these instead:
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." — Matthew 5:43-48
I understand being afraid. I spend all my time with my kids at the park counting to three, just so I know they haven't been abducted in the two seconds when I looked away. I park next to the cart corral at Walmart so I can plunk two of my three kids immediately into a cart to prevent them from wandering off in a dangerous parking lot. I walk to my car after dark with my keys between my knuckles, just in case I'm attacked. (Whether I would actually be able to stab someone if necessary remains to be seen.)
My point is, I understand wanting to be on alert, but at the end of the day, I'm not really in charge of my own or my family's safety. God is. And even if you're worried about living next to someone of a different religion, is it really the gospel if you spend your time and energy hating them? If you say, "Muslims have killed so many Christians, so I hate you by association," are those the words of Christ, or your fear? What if these refugees you’re so afraid of aren’t even Muslim, but from other war-torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Burma?
What if we acknowledged that most people don’t leave their homes and families to travel via unsafe means to a strange culture because they’re fleeing a good situation? If the U.S were to break out in a massive civil war, would we say that American citizens deserve to stay and die because their government caused a war? Would you want to be the one who manages to move your family to safety, only to be greeted by hatred and racist slurs in your new home?
What could happen if these people, coming to our country out of their own desperation and fear, were showered with love? What could happen if a group of people who might have been taught that Westerners were their enemies were instead greeted with respect? In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"
If you want to learn more about Canopy NWA's efforts, and how you can get involved in the refugee resettlement process, be sure to visit their website. I had the privilege of hearing from Emily Linn, director of Canopy NWA, during the Grace Collective Coffeehouse last Sunday evening. She was so great at explaining the refugee application process, as well as how local churches and individuals can participate. If you are interested, be sure to check with the Grace Missions Team, and they can get you more information about how members of our church are hoping to show love to these new neighbors as they arrive and settle in. You might have the opportunity to build some amazing friendships in the process.
Grace Holt is a thirty-something full-time mommy of three, who happens to have a love for fashion and uses any excuse to wear something shiny. She is loved by an amazing God and an amazing man, and blogs about faith and fashion over at www.livingwithaholts.blogspot.com.