Do we need a higher fence or a bigger table?
February 5 to 12, I was in Budapest for a conference focused on refugee work. How I arrived there is a story in and of itself and one we don’t have time for, but I was there with two other members of Revolve. We approached the week knowing that I was invited to teach a breakout session, but not really fully aware of what God wanted us to learn beyond that.
Since we have returned home, I have been inundated with people asking questions about the trip. What did we learn? What was it like? How was it?
Honestly, I have had a hard time wrapping my mind around everything that I am processing. I am still putting everything in the funnel, so to speak, and seeing what comes out on the other side. In response to these questions, however, I wanted to take a few weeks to share what I learned and, hopefully, begin a healthy conversation in our own backyard about the forcibly displaced people here and abroad. What follows is an edited journal entry.
After Tuesday, I had a hard time sleeping. Wednesday morning, going into the plenary session, I felt as though I didn't know at all what to do. The thoughts and emotions swirling through my head were overwhelming. 65 million people? What can anyone do?
Following a time of worship through song, one of the Croatian pastors stood up to share his testimony of the last 5 years. Perhaps predictably, he shared the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 - a narrative included in all four gospels. Of course, the story has much different meaning for him in Croatia.
On September 15, 2015, that pastor woke up to a swarm of refugees arriving by the thousands. Now, you must realize that Croatia only has 5,000 believers in the whole country and here is this man, a pastor, and ten of his friends staring at a flood of people. What was he to do? He said he was reminded that Jesus' disciples, in that story, say to Jesus, "Send them away - we do not have food for them!" Jesus' response, "You feed them." So that's what the Croatian pastor did.
Remembering what it was like to have some 40,000 Croatians displaced in previous years due to war and Balkan unrest, the little church, with its 15 volunteers on any given day, tried to feed people. Thousands of refugees arrived in the middle of this small insignificant town as they began their march down the Refugee Highway. Thousands arrived. 660,000 over a 6 month stretch of time. The pastor estimates that during this time they were able to feed some 80,000 refugees. He said it was a daily miracle that left them overwhelmed, not with the situation at hand, but with the miraculous hand of God.
As we listened to another pastor share from Serbia, in a similar situation with only 2,500 followers of Jesus in the whole country, God's miraculous hand was seen time and time again. One day, a national farm donated 140,000 eggs. God continually provided supplies through the hands of generous people (not governments, civilians).
More miraculous than the physical, however, was the steady stream of Christ-following refugees who had met Jesus through dreams, visions, and other followers of Jesus along the way. They had heard of Christ in Tehran, in Greece, on a boat, through a leaflet, and so on and so forth.
God truly is working even in the middle of this displacement of people. This is a graduate level concept to understand. God is moving people. In this mess, in the tragedies, in the horror, God is involved, sovereignly redeeming the muck and the mire by bringing light into darkness and binding up what is broken.
In Serbia, there was a day when overnight a barbed wire fence appeared on the Hungarian border. That day marked a massive shift in the way that refugees were being treated in the European Union. The fences went up, compassion went down. This isn’t a concept too far from our own hearts in the United States as conversations swarm around what we do with immigrants, refugees, and all the various manifestations thereof.
Don’t get me wrong. We are a nation. We need rules. We need laws. We need to be governed by those rules and laws, but that should never eviscerate the compassion from our hearts.
The Croatian and Serbian pastors left us with two thoughts which cannot be underscored:
The first is the reality of my own role. The one pastor simply said, "Pay attention to the people around you." What a thought. Who is in front of my face who needs to receive the love of Jesus through me? Who is my neighbor? Love him.
The second though is a question, "Do we need a higher fence or a bigger table?" It may seem hackneyed and trite, a phrase worn out by cheesy bracelets and jokes, but - truly - what would Jesus do?