Two Book Reviews - Required Reading for Engaging (rather than ignoring) the Refugee Crises

Last month my family traveled to and around Hungary, Czech Republic, and Germany.  We traveled with ease via airplanes and cars, never worrying at borders or immigration or wondering where we would sleep each night.  Armed with American passports, cash, and credit cards, as well as friends around the continent, we traveled without concern.  Indeed, in the currency of citizenship, finances, relational contacts, and global status, we are very wealthy. 

As we traveled, I read The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First-Century Refugee Crises.  The stories told in this book served up a stark contrast to the experience I was having in Europe.  The book was written by Patrick Kingsley, a correspondent with The Guardian who imbedded himself in Europe’s immigration crises.  The crises was just unfolding when my family moved out of Europe in the fall of 2015—as we drove through Austria on our way out of town we saw masses of people at the border and at bus stops with disheveled clothes and weary eyes.  Kingsley’s accounts answered my wonderings about what the migrants had been through, both before and after we witnessed them on the roadside.

Kingsley followed the refugee crises through 17 countries in North Africa, across the Mediterranean, and up through Europe.  He traveled with refugees from throughout the Middle East and Africa on foot, by boat, by train, by bus—and almost always at the mercy of smugglers.    He stayed especially close to one man, a husband and father from Syria named Hashem.  

Hashem left his family in war-torn Syria and set out for Europe in hopes of getting established, claiming asylum, and sending for his loved ones within a few weeks or months.  His journey through North Africa, across the Mediterranean, and up into Sweden had me weeping almost every time I cracked open the book.  I couldn’t help but glance around my airplane cabin or hotel room and wonder at my undeserved wealth and his harrowing trial.  The account of this one man’s journey made the refugee crises both personal and painful.  

I cannot recommend The New Odyssey enough.  I think it’s vital reading for those of us in the West who are largely unaffected by the refugee crises.  It gives life to the headlines we’ve been reading for years.  It opens one’s heart to the reality of suffering in places such as Syria and the plight of a people who have nothing to lose at home, because home has been completely decimated.  I found myself praying for refugees in a fresh way and asking God to show me how I might minister to those who have been forced from their homes—moms and dads whose only fault was being born within the borders of a now war-torn nation and who simply want life for their children. 

Those prayers and the desire to somehow minister to refugees from here in Denver led me to a related book, Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crises, written by members of the World Relief staff.  In 11 chapters the authors navigate from thinking biblically about migration to sharing personal stories of today’s refugees to practical ways the church can engage the refugee crises right now, from right where we are—whether it’s Colorado or Canada or Crete.  I found the book informative and enlightening.  The authors dispel popular myths about migrants, as well as disarm the thought that we individuals or churches cannot make a difference inside such an overwhelming geopolitical problem.  Here are some quotes that I found particularly thought provoking: 

“…economists who actually study migration issues, who perform…cost-benefit analyses, consistently find that immigrants actually contribute more, overall, to the economy of the receiving country than they receive from it…refugees do not merely consume…as resilient and entrepreneurial people made in the image of their Creator, they also have a remarkable capacity to produce, and we deny the image of God within them when we speak of refugees as a burden” (page 37).  

 “More unreached people groups live within the boundaries of the United States—361—than in any other country besides India and China” (page 43). 

“Most economists also agree that the average American-born worker actually sees their wages positively impacted by the presences of immigrants, because most immigrants tend to work in fields that complement, rather than compete with, the work that most Americans are willing or able to do” (page 67).  

“When we are commanded in the Scriptures to ‘practice hospitality’—the word used in Romans 12:13 is philoxenia—it literally means to ‘practice loving strangers.’  Loving and welcoming our friends is insufficient—even the tax collectors and sinners of Jesus’ day did that (Matthew 5:46-47)” (page 97). 

“…there is no better healing experience for a refugee family than getting to know an American family that chooses to come alongside them and guide them through their new journey.  When refugees are treated with love, patience, respect, and honor instead of rejection, intolerance, shame, and disgrace, past wounds heal and refugees learn to expect to be treated with kindness and dignity again” (page 149).  

Seeking Refuge is required reading for any globally concerned Christian or church today.  It is full of wisdom from experts intimately acquainted with our modern refugee crises.  I believe we will be called to give an account to our Father at the end of our days—what will we tell Him when He asks us how we loved the least of these?  We cannot ignore the refugee crises.  As believers called to love our neighbors—and refugees are our neighbors—we must engage.