The Syrian refugees have arrived. Some have been here for a few weeks already, and more are expected to reach Canadian soil very soon. With the arrival of these several thousand people come several thousand opinions. People are in an uproar. Most recently, some Canadians are frustrated because the Vancouver Sun released a statement regarding refugee meal allowances. Apparently, the Syrian refugees will receive an allowance per person of $15 for breakfast, $17 for lunch, and $30 for dinner per day. Yes, that’s a lot of money for food. But in the midst of the arguing, could we just take a step back and breathe for a moment?
A few weeks ago there was a meme circulating on social media sites comparing the Syrian refugee crisis to that of the refugee crisis in the 1940s following the second world war. As many know, more than 6 million Jewish people were murdered in the war. During those seven years, many had their homes looted and destroyed. Many were thrown out of their homes and had their possessions confiscated by the Germans. At the end of the war, surviving people could not return to their homes or locate missing family members. There were several million people without homes and with nowhere to go. What happened to them? They were refugees desperately seeking to be relocated. Frightened people. People who had lived through terror and had witnessed despicable things. People who needed a new, fresh start. Where did they find it? Canada.
From 1946 to 1962, Canada accepted nearly a quarter million refugees from Europe. They were sponsored by relatives, accepted to be relocated for certain job contracts, sponsored by different churches and religious organizations AND yes, sponsored by the government. Canadians opened their hearts and homes to help the European refugees as best they could. So why can’t we do that again?
Many people argue that the current government is not handling the refugee crisis well and are overspending on the Syrian people. While a new government does have many adjustments to make and many facets to consider, they still abide to the Refugee Convention that Canada has had in place for 45 years. Most importantly, that the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision in the 80s that refugees are entitled to fundamental justice under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Canada did not stop with the Jewish refugees. Since then it has accepted many more people from many countries, including over 5,000 Kossovars in 1999. We are a country known for freedom, respect for cultural differences, and a commitment to social justice. Canadians are proud to be a peaceful nation. Let’s take a minute to think about that before we lose our minds over the influx of Syrian refugees.
When I think of peace, I think of Jesus. And when I think of Jesus, I wonder what He would say about the Syrian refugees. I don’t need to think too long before I know. Matthew 25: 31-40 says this:
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you a drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”
If you read the rest of this chapter, you will see that the King will tell those who didn’t help the “least of these” that they are cursed and condemned. Verse 45 says, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” Pretty clear, isn’t it? As followers of Jesus we are called to help others. The King EXPECTS us to use what He has given us for good. Not for ourselves. Not only to buy that big screen TV that was on sale during the Boxing Day sales week.
We have just finished up another wonderful Christmas season. There is something special about Christmas that prompts us all to give. There are collection boxes for food for the hungry and toys for children that might not have a gift to open on Christmas morning. The Salvation Army kettles are out, collecting donations allowing them to carry out all their programs and provide resources to the needy all year long. When Christmas comes, people give. But we were not called to be Christmas Christians, giving only when the season prompts us. We are called to give often. To give always. Proverbs 3:27 -28 says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbour now, don’t say ‘Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.'” Similarly, in Acts 20:35, “You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: it is more blessed to give than receive.”
This new year is a great time to become a regular giver, and we Canadians can start with the Syrian refugees. All over our country there are drives for clothing and household items so that these people can build their new homes. I even read recently about an elementary school hosting a drive collecting school supplies for the Syrian children who will need pencils and books for their new school. It doesn’t take much to find a way to give to help the “least of these.”
As for the government and its monetary promises for aiding the Syrians, remember this: it is not the first time this has happened. The Canadian government has been accepting refugees for years. While we might have extra deficits and the budget might seem a little bit off track, remember the One who holds our entire future in His hands. And remember this wonderful passage in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. “Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left to share with others.”
We have been blessed to live in a country full of riches. So much so that during the second world war, the Germans called the storage house at Auschwitz, where they sorted possessions of those in the camp before shipping them off to Germany “Canada.” A sobering thought as you reflect at the beginning of this year on how much you truly do have, and how much your heart has prompted you to give. Think of these Syrian refugees as an opportunity to not only share your wealth and possessions, but also an opportunity to share and spread the love of Christ.
It is time to give.