Refugee stories stretch volunteer's 'narrow view'
EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention was Dec. 2-9 with the theme "Every Church. Every Nation." The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at IMB.org/lmco, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year's goal is $160 million.
Syrian Kurds arrive at a camp for refugees in northern Iraq. All over the world, thousands of people are moving across borders, leaving everything familiar so that they can escape unrest or persecution in their countries. It's a huge crisis, but it has also opened doors for Christ followers to share the gospel. IMB photo
A young Syrian refugee holds a newborn baby girl, the first of her family born in Europe. They and other refugees are part of a huge population worldwide -- more refugees than ever before in recorded history are fighting to build new lives around the globe.
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Remember back in 2015 when Syria's refugees were flooding out of the country in record numbers? Thousands died crossing a sea on what should have been a 45-minute boat journey. Rescue and relief organizations were out in record number.
In the years since, many more refugees have filled the news cycle. More than a million Rohingya people have reportedly been forced out of their homes in Myanmar, taking shelter in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand with no hope or plan for the future. Uganda is reportedly also hosting more than a million refugees from South Sudan. And refugees from Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria join Syrians in their quest to somehow get beyond the reach of terrorist groups.
At a refugee center in Greece, volunteers use art therapy to help children regain some of what's been lost. In many locations around the world, churches are partnering with IMB workers to offer help and hope to refugees.
But even though there are reportedly more refugees today than ever before in recorded history, for some of them, their story has led them to a freedom they never knew possible. God is working through churches and International Mission Board workers in the midst of their suffering to accomplish the highest good -- His name being proclaimed by every tongue, nation, tribe and people.
Pastor Bryant Wright said he and his church, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., have invested heavily in refugee ministry both at home and overseas.
"It's a humanitarian disaster," noted Bryant, who announced in November that this church will begin a search for his successor. "It just makes sense to me to reach out with love and concern to them rather than withdrawing in fear. We are not naive about the dangers; we know they are there. But that doesn't change our calling to reach out with the love of Christ."
There in the Atlanta area, members of Johnson Ferry Baptist are walking alongside nine Syrian Muslim families who are trying to rebuild a life.
The world has more refugees today than ever before in recorded history. All over the world, they are fighting harsh conditions to escape the threat of and start a new life. IMB workers say they have seen this tragedy open doors to share the hope of the gospel.
"They needed someone to sit with them and pray with them and be with their family," said an International Mission Board worker overseas who partners with Johnson Ferry Baptist. She has experienced the same kind of need in the country where she lives.
She and other IMB workers are scattered across the globe to serve as a consistent presence in refugee centers and camps in Europe, Africa and Asia, sharing Christ in their moments of deepest pain. As volunteers from the United States have come to partner with them, they have heard story after story of devastation and tragedy. They've heard about family members lost and long journeys on foot. And as they have listened to refugees' stories and wept with them, they have also shared hope with them.
"It was so hard," one volunteer admitted. "These people challenged my narrow view of the world. They aren't just news headlines anymore. Their faces left a lasting imprint on my heart, and I see them in my dreams. I now pray for them with such compassion and tenderness, just like I pray for my own family."
-- God to guide the path of refugees to a place where they might find salvation in Christ.
-- Churches to step up and engage in ministry to refugees right where they are and through partnerships overseas.
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