Whilst writing my blog in the anteroom of a dentist’s torture chamber in Tijuana seems like hardship to me, it is nothing compared to the plight of those refugees in Europe as winter really bites. I read recently that many are trekking across Eastern Europe in minus 20 degrees centigrade and have to walk backwards into the biting, blistering winds. I have determined that ‘Topical Tuesday’ will be an opportunity to cover positive topical events as a minor antidote to the mountain of bad news dished out by the media each day. Today I want to focus on a story that moved me in a positive way and gave me hope for human kind
Most of the 900,000 refugees arriving in Europe from Syria have turned up in rickety boats and rafts on the shores of a few islands in the Aegean Sea. This would clearly put a huge burden and strain on the relatively small number of inhabitants of these islands. Remarkably, a group of these islanders is being nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for their sacrificial humanitarian efforts in aiding those devastated by the war and fleeing their homeland in the Middle East. Despite the crippling economic state of the Greek economy, these brave and selfless souls from Lesbos, Kos, Chíos, Samos, Rhodes and Leros have given up their occupations and risked their lives to focus on rescuing, clothing and preparing these displaced people for onward journeys into the rest of Europe. The assistance they have proffered has been so significant that eminent academics from Princeton, Harvard, Oxford, Copenhagen and Cornell are drafting the nomination on behalf of these modern day heroes. It has been suggested their efforts have strongly influenced the way in which the rest of Europe have responded.
On reading this account, I was drawn to the story Jesus told of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25). One of my perennial concerns with the evangelical world is the focus on who is in and who needs to ‘get in’. This usually involves saying some kind of prayer, responding to an altar call or having a Damascus Road experience. I may not be very popular bringing this up, but the story in Matthew more than implies that being ‘in’ involves taking care of the hungry, the thirsty, those who are homeless, who need clothing and who are in prison. This is further borne out when we ask ourselves the difference between sheep and goats. The most obvious distinction is that sheep are followers. I am not suggesting that simply by doing these noble things, you have access to the Kingdom of God, but I would humbly suggest that those who profess to be followers of Jesus might be first in line to take care of those suffering along these lines. The current mass exodus of refugees could not better depict the very people described by Jesus in this story.
So the challenge for me is, where would I be? Have I the same inner passion to meet the needs of the poor, hungry and homeless? This is the challenge we all face when we search deep inside and ask this question. And when the poor hungry and homeless are on our doorstep, what will we do? I am truly inspired by the people of the Aegean Islands as, I hope, are you. I leave you with a quote from a Greek activist observing the exodus to Greece over the many months of the crisis, “I will never forget seeing young girls being rescued from a boat on Leros. They were smiling. They didn’t have suitcases or any possessions except their end-of-year school certificates written in Arabic. They laid those down in the sun to dry out. It was a combination of tragedy and hope.”