Updated: Sep 15, 2021
The whole world witnessed a horrific sight on August 16, 2021 as crowds of desperate, determined Afghans ran beside a massive US military plane filled with refugees fleeing the country after the country fell to the Taliban. As the aircraft taxied down the runway of the Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, people were clinging to the sides of the plane while it took off, hoping for a chance to leave the country. Tragically, some fell to their death after the plane lifted off. For days, the scenes of chaotic, fearful crowds anxiously showing papers and pushing through Taliban checkpoints revealed their dread of living under Taliban rule. A bomb blast at the airport on August 26, 2021, took the lives of 13 service people and 170 Afghans raising the threat level and risk for those hoping to leave. As a result of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, over 120,000 refugees have fled the country to other nations who now have to vet, process, and resettle the traumatized new arrivals. Some of these people will be our neighbors.
Our purpose at Global Initiative is not to engage in the political debate of whether refugees should come to the United States, but to highlight this incredible opportunity for Christians and churches to show the love of Jesus to those who arrive in our neighborhoods from war-torn lands. Journeys of desperation, trauma, fear, and loss mark their search for freedom and a new life. Global Initiative: Reaching Muslim Peoples exists to equip the church to reach Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who alone gives true freedom and a new life.
In the mid-1980’s, Vietnamese and Afghan refugees fleeing war in their countries settled in neighborhoods around our church in Arlington, Virginia, where I served as Minister to Internationals. A poster from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) hung in my church office picturing a forlorn woman in a refugee camp, with her head in her hands. The haunting caption read, “A refugee would love to have your problems.” It was a daily reminder that many people in the world live in the midst of war, grinding poverty, difficult circumstances, political instability and hopeless situations. One day any of us could be a refugee.
A refugee, according to the 1951 United Nations Convention definition, is “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion” (http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html).
In those years, I picked up Vietnamese kids in a van and brought them to Sunday school. They lived in an apartment complex where you could recognize the nationality of the people living there by the wonderful smells of food wafting under the doors: Indian, Afghan, Salvadorian, Vietnamese, and Korean. The International Ministry at Arlington Assembly of God hosted regular International Potluck Dinners inviting people for food and fellowship. Everyone feasted on the delicious cuisine proudly prepared by each nationality. We made new friends. The dinners and the church grew. A foretaste of heaven!
In Pakistan, I met Iranian Christian refugees who had horror stories of their flight from religious persecution in search of freedom to worship God. They were taken advantage of by unscrupulous smugglers, uncertain of whom to trust. They waited for God, the UNHCR, and foreign governments to decide their future, without knowing how long they would have to wait, exhibiting far more patience, grace, and trust in God than I would have been able to muster. I learned so much from them over meals, tea, and times of prayer together. They appreciated freedom in a way that those of us who have always had it, take for granted.
Through this 10-Day Refugee Journey we will share resources, such as articles written by our team, books and websites to deepen your understanding of Islam and Muslims, and suggest ways that you and your church can personally share the love of Jesus with your Muslim refugee neighbor.