Refugees – A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

I enjoy history, historical novels are some of my favorites. Some of the most interesting stories of 21st Century history will be those of the lives of Syrian refugees. Some 20 years from now, a few hours of a vacation will be spent enjoying a novel about their story of triumph and struggle. History has never seen an event like this before. There have been mass migrations and refugee crises but never in history have this many Arab Muslims found themselves in such desperate need. Never have this many sought, with such reckless desperation, help and asylum.

Daniel Etter, Koz, Greece, August 15, 2015 @DanielEtterFoto
Father cries tears of joy on arrival in Koz, Greece, August 15, 2015 Daniel Etter, @DanielEtterFoto

It is estimated that nearly 1 million Syrian Muslim refugees find themselves in Non-Muslim counties. These countries have traditionally been thought of as “Christian” nations, countries like Germany, France, Greece, etc. Some might argue, including myself, that these are post-Christian nations. However, to an Arab Muslim, our post modern definitions don’t matter.

For most Muslims, religion defines society, and a begging plea from these refugees is “Christians, please help us!” What will be our response?

You may be thinking, “here we go back to Matthew 5 again.”

“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matt 5:42

It really is quite simple – we in the Western world are being pleaded with to provide aid and hope, yet our response is often fear. Yet, today, instead of pointing to our fears and saying that they are the hurdle, I want to take a different tack. No matter what we believe of fear and our rights as Americans to defend our freedoms, God has promised things to the children of Ishmael. What is happening now is creating a scenario for the fulfillment of those promises. This call, supersedes our rights as Americans and our fears.

Genesis 17 and 20 speak of these promises. The promises made to Ishmael were without condition: (1) God would bless him greatly (2) he would be fruitful and multiply, (3) he would be the father of 12 princes, and (4) he would become a great nation. Isaiah 42, 60 and Psalm 72 prophecy of their fulfillment as his descendants come to worship the one true God.

Tony Maalouf, in his book Arabs in the Shadow of Israel, contends that the promises to Ishmael’s descendants highlight Arabs as unique recipients of God’s grace. He argues that a special spot is reserved for them between The Church, Israel and the remainder of the nations (pp. 184–86, 220–22). God’s choice of Isaac, his elected path, did not exclude or alienate Ishmael from election… God’s plan of redemption still extends to Arabs.

What better opportunity than to engage the sons and daughters of Ishmael when they are in locations where religious freedoms abound? Could this be similar to the massive movement of the Gospel to Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain? As someone who has worked in the Middle East for over nine years, I have prayed and dreamed for opportunities to openly share God’s story with Arab Muslims. God is making this dream a reality! What will be our response?

About Bob Johnson

Engineer, Theologian and Community Development Practitioner by education. Lover of God’s Kingdom, passionate about building and developing God’s community in the Arab World. Working to make that happen through sports, health, education and business development. Bob feels most comfortable in a third culture setting, having lived most of his life outside the USA, the last 9 years in the Middle East. He is a husband to an amazing wife and father to four wonderful children. Addicted to whole foods and exercise.

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