There is so much hurt and anguish in the world that the suffering of an individual is often forgotten. When the news broke recently that there were talks in South Sudan of extending the war, the cameras washed over the crowds and the world was exposed to the plight of the Sudanese refugees once again.
But this conflict doesn’t get the attention it still deserves. North and South Sudan have been at war for decades. Those who live in Sudan or have made the journey to the refugee camps are hard-pressed to remember a time where there was peace or relief from the conflict.
Photo after photo appears on the internet of the plight of the Sudanese people. Thousands of faces caked with dust and frown furrows make their way through the camps to secure their food parcels or strike up conversations with potential employers. Bartering and gangs are an everyday occurrence, and refugees find themselves fighting for everything they have outside the borders of Sudan as well. There is no escape.
The photo above of a young woman on a food parcel illustrates the world’s idea of help: a bag of food from well-meaning folks a thousand miles away who have closed their borders to the plights of refugees. At least they’ve sent a few dollars to purchase a bag of food.
She could be a distributor of the goods, a caretaker, or someone who is tasked with feeding others on behalf of the aid workers. She could be one of the locals who merely wants to lend a helping hand, since it helps time move along faster. Yet, her face carries the years of hopelessness of someone who has given up any hope of living a life of peace and prosperity.
It’s easy to dismiss her apparent despair by saying things like “at least she has some food to eat” or “luckily she’s out of Sudan.” It’s easy to forget that underneath it all, she is still a young woman who may or may not have thoughts of family, education, a good job, new clothes, or a home of her own. As a refugee in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, it’s going to be a long time for her to dream of anything more than getting the next meal or a way out of there.
Jesus’ time in the wilderness has a profoundly different meaning for refugees. A foundation of faith is needed before the refugee is able to receive the gospel. This comes with time and a hungry heart, but it’s very hard to have a hungry heart for God when hunger pangs and longing for acceptance plague the refugee.
Sending a food parcel is a good gesture, but what’s more important is that everyone does their part to help refugees live a meaningful life. An open hand of friendship also makes this lonesome journey bearable.
For example, Ador — the widow of a soldier who died during the uprising after South Sudan gained its independence — was in her home country when she was ostracized by locals of the town she was living in. This was not her hometown, and she and her husband were considered outsiders. Although these people were her countrymen, faction fighting in the civil war meant that she was the enemy. Her spouse was killed during the fighting, and she was left destitute and afraid. With no husband and two small children, it took efforts from International Committee of the Red Cross to get her safely back to her family. During this time in the wilderness, what Ador needed most was the comfort of her family and the love and sense of security they share.
Not Just Sudan, But Syria Too
In 2011, when the Syrian refugees were starting to migrate across the world hoping for a safe haven, it allowed the world to get a closer glimpse at the unique needs of refugees. Europe and America were forced to accommodate refugees in droves and although many countries closed their borders, there were nations such as Canada and Germany that tried to accommodate as many refugees as they could. Their efforts are still ongoing today.
A few years later, as these refugees started settling into their new homes, it became clear that shelter and food were not going to alleviate the issues that plagued the displaced. Al Jazeera reported that a skills-building initiative for the youth was a fundamental element in ensuring that refugees were able to integrate into society without hassle.
Education and skills-building initiatives were not only at the heart of alleviating the plight of Syrians, but also other refugees across the world. The ravages of war can continue for many years, which makes it difficult to determine when refugees will be in a position to head back home.
We must also consider the amount of time it will take to get their economy going again and the massive skills shortage the country will experience due to the lack of education. Instead of merely placing plaster on the problem, it’s imperative that Christians be part of the solution to support refugees in developing the life skills required for them to make it on their own.
In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the final judgment and illustrates how he will separate the goats from the sheep. He tells us that those who receive the lowest of His brothers and sisters will be as if they receive Him. Currently, refugees are branded with the lowest status in any nation. One cannot help but wonder whether Jesus had the refugee in mind when He spoke these words.