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What causes refugees in the first place?

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.

This morning, Patrick Johnstone, the author of Operation World, began speaking to us about how God is still in control in the midst of the flood of displaced people that we are seeing. He began by explaining the root causes of the various types of displacements.

Our world is in crisis on multiple levels. Geopolitically, things are a mess because of bankrupt ideologies, the discrediting of those who have intervened in the past, and the loss of spiritual and moral standards. There was a time, perhaps, when the benevolence of institutions and countries with money and power helped the world, but as society has degraded, the world has slipped further down the rabbit hole.

These factors, coupled with a world infected with war, violence, and unrest create a formula for displaced people. The most current example of this is Syria, where you have multiple powers, from within and without, waging for control while those in the middle become the victims of the political game of ping pong. One refugee explained that Assad is vicious and cruel, but at least he didn’t use their children as human shields. How can you choose between two evils? Such is the world in which we live.

The post Imperial adjustments to the globe have been catastrophic. As imperial powers pulled out of countries, passing over independence in the name of democracy, violence followed. A perfect example, is Nigeria, where the southern half was controlled under British democratic rule and the north was still functioning in traditional structures. When England left, they simply told Nigeria to get along together and unite. No wonder, the keynote speaker said, that Nigeria is in such a mess today. The imperialism of bygone days has left a wake of unrest and now nobody knows what to do about it.

Other factors contribute to the displacement of people as well. Pakistan, for example, depends upon the typhoon season to flood the rivers for agriculture. If the typhoon fails, as it has in the past, they experience a massive shortage of water and famine, which will result in potentially tens of millions of refugees. All research suggests that it is just a matter of time before that threat becomes a reality as the world’s weather systems go through their cycle.

War, famine, civil unrest, economic failure, drug lords, the list goes on and on as to why people flee their homes never to return. The flood will not stop, it will only continue. Burying our heads or looking the other way will not help solve the problem. People always have been forcibly displaced and always will be forcibly displaced, it just finally arrived on our doorstep. What we observed in the last few years is not an anomaly. It will become the norm.

In the midst of all of this, we can be reminded that God reigns over the flood. He is sovereign and he is good. During the last 40 years, the non-Western world has experienced one of the greatest awakenings of faith with hundreds of thousands coming to faith in Christ. In China alone, current projections are that there are over 1 million evangelical Christians. This means that China is quickly becoming the most Christian nation in the world. Similarly, in northern India, an area that used to be completely animistic, there is now the highest density of evangelicals on the planet.

In the midst of the mess, we see that God is at work, bringing beauty out of the broken, bringing healing to those who are wounded. We may feel as though the church is shrinking in the west, and I believe that it is, but in the midst of the flood of refugees, the Gospel is growing and even flourishing.

It looks hopeless, but God is bringing glimmers of life, love, and hope. Lord, let me be a part of what you are doing.