I didn’t intend to travel this road. I read the many articles about Syrian refugees and thought to myself “what a mess” and “send them back.” I didn’t have much of an attitude toward helping them. Then I read a Facebook post by Keli Wright:
Remember all those history lessons about the holocaust, the relocation of Japanese during WWII and the American Indians long before that, retributions against Germans, etc., during the WWs, the long and deadly emigrations in Africa with innocents driven back and forth between rival armies, African Americans right here at home during slavery and Jim Crow (just to name a few)? Remember how you said that YOU would have helped the Jews, the Japanese, the Germans, the Amerindians, the Africans, the African Americans? Do you remember thinking YOU would have stood up for them and not passed judgement or withheld help because of their race or religion? Now’s your chance. We’re living history right now. (posted 17 Nov 15)
This started me thinking about the situation. Here is what I’ve come to. I’ll begin by sharing some history of my own.
In 2000, my family moved to Germany. We lived right near the tri-borders of Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium. This meant that we attended Church in Heerlan, The Netherlands. It was an international congregation consisting of primarily Americans, Dutch, and British, although there were multiple other nationalities represented.
While serving in that Ward, I had the opportunity to walk the halls of a refugee camp. I saw first-hand the poverty, filth, and desperation of those refugees. I heard the cries of the children and watched them play in the dirt, seemingly oblivious to their situation. I saw the look in the eyes of parents desperate to help themselves, yet (literally) locked in a place with no option to do so. It was much like visiting a prison.
I knew people who one week came to church, then the next week didn’t come because they had lost their refugee status and were returned to their home country…and killed.
I worshipped the Lord sitting beside people who were members of US State Department defined terrorist organizations…and took the sacrament with them. These people wanted freedom. These people wanted safety. They just had no place to go to find it.
I counseled people who were forced to leave their wife and children behind and flee their country for their lives. And these weren’t all war-torn countries, some of these people fled from “free, democratic” countries that I had previously visited myself.
I was personally approached by the Russian Mafia seeking information about Ukrainian refugees so they could extort the refugees and send funds to the Chechen Rebels allowing them to continue their heinous terrorist campaign in Georgia.
I have driven the roads of Afghanistan and looked into the faces of people who certainly had reason to leave their country. I’ve seen children and mothers trying to survive when everything around them tried to squash that survival. I’ve listened to the story of an LDS Afghan who wanted nothing more than to leave his country…and he couldn’t. He even worked for the US Government as a translator and was unable to navigate the legal system. His story is known by General Authorities in the Church, and he is unable to get to America. He finally had approval to travel to a European country, but, during the medical exam, discovered he had throat cancer…so he was forced to remain in Afghanistan.
I’ve also seen the dead bodies of both good people and bad. I’ve lived through rockets launched by men who wanted to not only see that I die, but wanted to desecrate my dead body.
I’ve walked along the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea and looked at the face of the enemy. I’ve sat in classified briefings in South Korea only to discover that the briefing I just listened to was now broadcast throughout the North meaning that someone in the room with me was a traitor.
I have some experience with refugees. It doesn’t make me an expert. I don’t claim to understand everything about their situation. But I have worshipped with them, visited their camps, listened to their stories, and, at times, tried to forget that I ever heard their story.
With that setting as a background, let me share some scriptures that have helped shape my response to the current Syrian refugee crisis.
In the New Testament, Christ is teaching the people on the Mount of Beatitudes and tells them this: “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:40-44) In these simple 5 sentences, Christ changed essentially everything the world knew about interpersonal relationships. Allow me to interpret these verses.
“If any man will sue thee…and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” This is fairly straightforward. We are to give more than we are asked to give—even when that person takes legal recourse to take from us. Even if we don’t want to give it away. Even if we are forced to give it away.
“Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” This was a tough pill for the Jewish people to swallow. At the time, Roman soldiers could, at any time, grab a civilian and make him carry his gear for 1 mile. People hated that law. Christ taught that if you were compelled to march a mile with the Army, go two miles instead of just one.
“Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away.” Again, I think this is fairly clear—if someone asks for something from us, we are to give it to them. This is both things that they intend to return (that’s the borrow of thee part) and things they don’t necessarily intend to return (that’s the first part). Notice this sentence doesn’t say “but only if you want to” or “only if you don’t need whatever they ask for.”
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” And here is the kicker. No longer are we supposed to hate our enemies, but rather, we are to love them! Even more so, we are to do good things to those people who hate us. We are to pray for those people who use us. We are to pray for those people who persecute us!
How often have I prayed for the Muslim world? Or more specifically, how often have I prayed for the Radical Islamists hell-bent on killing me, my family, and my country? As of this morning—never.
Maybe that is the problem. Maybe that is why the Radical Islamists continue to spread like a cancerous sore—because not enough people are doing the right thing to stop them.
Now I turn to the Book of Mormon. The Nephites “did cast their prisoners into prison, and did cause the word of God to be preached unto them; and as many as would repent of their sins and enter into a covenant that they would murder no more were set at liberty. But as many as there were who did not enter into a covenant, and who did still continue to have those secret murders in their hearts, yea, as many as were found breathing out threatenings against their brethren were condemned and punished according to the law.” (3 Nephi 5:4-5). The Nephites wanted to end their wars, so they caused the Gospel to be preached to their enemy. I wonder what would happen if we stood up and proclaimed ourselves as Christians? What would happen if we, like Captain Moroni, would boldly announce to the world our values? Would the whole world suddenly realized that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to Eternal Life? Probably not. Would violence and hostility end? Probably not. But it is the right thing to do. I’m not suggesting that we imprison all Muslims in order to convert them. I am, however, suggesting that the power of example may have more influence than we realize.
Jesus once taught that we should love our neighbor as ourself, to which a heckler asked “and who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29). The reply came in the form of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
“And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luke 10:30-34).
What is amazing about this parable is that the first two men to pass by the nearly dead man was a priest and a Levite. They both had a sacred, religious charge to help the wounded, sick, and afflicted. The man who choose to help though, was a Samaritan. Samaritans were the lowest of people—the Jews would walk for days just avoid stepping on Syrian territory. No one respected the Samaritans and no one thought they had any good in them. Jesus taught that it wasn’t the priests and Levites, who showed the world by their position that they were men of God, that were doing right; it was the Samaritan, who showed the world by his actions, that he was choosing the right. Therefore, if we are to be called neighbor by our Savior, we must show the world by our actions that we are doing right.
Now, with all this said, the words and actions of Captain Moroni come to my mind. Captain Moroni “was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood. Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives” (Alma 48:13-14, emphasis added). So what does this teach me? It teaches me that while on the one hand I am to pray for my enemy, on the other hand, I am to defend my family against my enemy…even to the loss of blood. Theirs or mine. I think that is important. I must be willing to not only kill my enemy, but to be killed by my enemy in defending Truth.
And let’s not forget the example of the Savior himself. So many people talk about the love and compassion the Savior showed…and that is all true. Many of those same people don’t remember the Savior in the Temple. “And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.” (John 2:13-16)
When Christ found the moneychangers in the Temple, he left the Temple and he made a scourge. In other words, he braided a small whip. Then he went back to the Temple and drove the money changers out. He flipped the tables they were working at. He was angry. He was not out of control—he was completely in control as he demonstrated righteous anger.
So where does that leave me now?
The Syrian refugees are my neighbor. I have an obligation to help them—to share of my abundance with them. The Prophet has asked me to help these refugees.
I do not know for sure what the next step is for me, but I do believe I have an obligation and duty to assist. Today I took the first step and contacted Catholic Charities in St Louis to see if they were working with the Syrian refugees and offer my assistance.
To those who say I am blind, I refer you back to my experiences I outlined in the beginning of this writing. I’m not ignorant of what I’ve seen or experienced. I’m also not ignorant of the love the Savior showed for the people of the earth. There is a balance that must be found. My journey now is to find that balance and show charity and compassion as often as possible while protecting and defending my family, my community, my country, and my religion at all times. If I am to be “called His people,” then I must be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light…and…mourn with those that mourn…and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death” (Mosiah 18:8-9 emphasis added). It is only after I internalize these principles that I “may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, [and] may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:9).