3 year old Alyan Kurdi drowned last week with his 5 year old brother Galip, their mother, and nine other Syrian refugees during an attempted crossing of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece fleeing from the violence and hopelessness of their Civil War torn homeland. More than 2,500 others have been lost at sea in recent months trying to make this same dangerous crossing. The decision to publish the picture Alyan’s lifeless body being tenderly retrieved by a Turkish policeman has been criticized by some on the grounds that it is just too graphic. But Peter Bouckaert, the emergency director of Human Rights Watch, defended the decision to circulate the picture by saying, “What is offensive is dead kids washing up on our beaches when these deaths could have been prevented.”
When I see a picture like this one, my instincts, due in large measure, I suspect, to my temperament and training, is to try to make sense of it theologically. It grabs me by my emotional and spiritual lapels and gives me a good hard shake. Albert Camus, the French Existentialist novelist, reduced the rationale for his atheism down to a single argument given voice by a character in one of his stories – “Until my dying day I shall refuse to love a scheme of things in which children are put to torture.” I hear the challenge in that, and so I feel a certain urgency to try to defend God in the face of such suffering.
I suspect that this was this was the motive of Job’s friends in the Old Testament story. As you know, they rushed to his side in his days of suffering out of their genuine concern for their friend, and then they just couldn’t help themselves to try to explain it. Their answers, not entirely devoid of Biblical insight, nevertheless sounded glib and shallow in the setting. The moment would have been so much better served by the simple solidarity of their silence (see my blog – “First you have to show up…”).
And so I try to be sensitive to the suggestion of Rowan Williams, the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury, that “it actually might be immoral to try to ‘solve’ the problem of evil, because just as soon as you say, ‘There, look, that makes it all right, doesn’t it?’ you have radically belittled the problem, blinding yourself to the real, powerful, radical nature of evil” (N.T. Wright). Earlier this year when a little homeless girl in the Philippines had her audience with Pope Francis she asked him why God allowed children to suffer. In response he hugged her and wept, saying, “There are some realities that you can only see through eyes that have been cleansed by tears.” It is only when we have wept with those who are weeping (Romans 12:15), that I believe that we then have any right to reflect on the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15). We must lead with our hearts and not our minds when they have been shattered by great suffering, either experienced by ourselves or observed in others. The deep emotional response that we make to make to photographs like that of Alyan Kurdi is a good and necessary prelude to action.
Colin Morris explained it like this –
I saw a starving man and there was no gnawing pain in my belly. I saw a hunchback and my own back did not ache. I watched a pathetic procession of refugees, being herded back and forth sleeplessly, and I slept well that night. The theologians call it “Identification” and it is worth fifty pages in a reputable text book. But it is easier to read fifty pages than to feel one pang.
And then Stanley Mooneyham of World Vision added –
Both for your sake and the world’s, I hope you will allow yourself to feel as you read (or look at a picture). For feeling will lead to identification and it is here that creative compassion begins.
And so, if you have been deeply impacted by the picture of that little Syrian refugee boy who drowned last week in the Aegean Sea, then let those feelings push you into creative compassion.
Here is a three step “graduated” approach to making an appropriate response –
- First Steps – A Personal Response
- Pray –
Heavenly Father, you are the source of all goodness, generosity and love. We thank you for opening the hearts of many to those who are fleeing for their lives. Help us now to open our arms in welcome, and reach out our hands in support. That the desperate may find new hope, and lives torn apart be restored. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Your Son, Our Lord, who fled persecution at His birth and at His last triumphed over death. Amen
A Prayer for the Refugee Crisis
100% of your gifts to Week of Compassion designated “Syria Humanitarian Crisis” will directly go to help Syrian refugees and those who are internally displaced in the Middle East and in Europe. (http://www.weekofcompassion.org/syria/)
- Next Steps – A Church-wide Response
- Lead your Church to get involved in a Refugee Ministry
It is the vision of Gateways of Grace here in Dallas to see the practical and spiritual needs of refugees in our communities met through compassionate, meaningful, Christ-centered relationships with the local Church. Check out their web page @ http://gatewayofgrace.org/ and then look for ways that your community of faith might get involved in this ministry or in other ministries like it that would give the global refugee crisis a voice and a face.
- Lead your Church to Consider Sponsoring a Refugee Family as a Congregation
Learn more about what it takes to resettle a Refugee Family as a church by going to the web page of Refugee Ministries @ www.discipleshomemissions.org
- Going Even Further – A Society Response
We are in a Presidential Election season and questions about refugees, immigration and the crisis in the Middle East are some of the hot topics that are being publically debated. This feels like a “Kairos” moment to me – a moment in history pregnant with divine possibilities. “Think Christianly” about the issues, and then vote your conscience and conviction.
Sign the Petition for the United States to increase the resettlement of more Syrian refugees at – https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/authorize-and-resettle-syrian-refugees-us
To feel deeply when you see a picture of the lifeless body of little Alyan Kurdi is good, but it is not enough. Those feelings are supposed to be the trigger to action, to expressions of creative compassion. Grieve — and then act. We can all do something. DBS+