Last Wednesday, the photo of little three-year-old Aylan Kurdie lying on the beach in Turkey went viral. He was one of 12 refugees who drowned when their boat sank in a failed attempt to reach Greece.
It hurt to breathe after I saw that photo.
Since last summer, I’ve been actively working with others to find ways to advocate for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. In January, I saw their suffering first hand when I met them in tent settlements and crammed with multiple families in apartments in Lebanon, which hosts almost 2 million of refuges.
I came back to the U.S. eager to share their stories. At first, I was full of hope and enthusiasm, but as months passed I grew discouraged and frustrated. It felt like their stories—be it those I shared, those shared by others advocating for refugees, or the ones on the front pages of newspapers around the world—evaporated into the air. It felt like the world was simply shrugging its shoulders and looking away. While I connected with Christian leaders and friends advocating for refugees, I was disheartened by the lack of priority and concern in churches in North American and the church as a whole.
Then came Aylan Kurdie. All that discouragement welled up with deep grief. His little body symbolized the indifference and inaction of us all.
“I just hope this photo of my son changes everything,” said Aylan’s father before he returned to Syria to bury him with his wife and their other son.
Maybe it has.
In the last few days, European leaders and other countries around the world have committed to taking in more refugees. Op-eds are popping up everywhere, focusing on everything from the ineffectual responses of the world leaders to the call to find long-term solutions. An Egyptian billionaire even offered to buy an Italian or Greek island in order to house refugees.
“All I need is the permission to put these people on this island. After that I don’t need anything anymore from them. I’ll pay them for the island, I’ll provide the jobs, I’ll take care of all the logistics. I know I can do that,” he said during a CNN interview.
But here’s what makes my heart quicken.
This morning, I read in the Huffington Post that Pope Francis announced the Vatican would take in two refugee families and called on European Catholic bishops to “express the Gospel in concrete terms” and have their dioceses do the same.
“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing death by war and by hunger, and who are on a path toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be neighbours to the smallest and most abandoned, to give them concrete hope,” he said.
“May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe host a family, starting with my diocese of Rome.”
Then I read a post by Ann Voskamp announcing the formation of We Welcome Refugees, founded by Voskamp, World Relief and The Justice Conference to connect churches, communities, organizations and individuals to respond in practical and tangible ways to the crisis—including sponsoring refugee families and finding concrete ways to embrace them into our communities.
These are the kinds of “third ways” I’ve been longing for. They remind of the resourceful, outside-the-box responses Jesus made in the gospels.
They remind me of what it looks like to love.
Today, there are tears in my eyes again. But this time, it is hope that is taking my breath away.