I have just returned from two-weeks in Egypt. I was privileged to take 15 church leaders from America with me. I have been taking groups to Egypt since 2002. Each time I go, I am amazed with what the Lord is doing and in such tough terrain for the Gospel. The contrast between light and dark throughout the Arab world has never been greater than it is now. ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Brotherhood of Islam have done more to drive Egyptians and other Arabic-speaking people into the arms of our Lord, Jesus Christ, than any other factor in recent history. The utter darkness and cruelty of these movements have caused an increasing number of Egyptians to either become atheists, or be more moderate in their Islamic faith, or followers of a different religion, most notably Christianity. Egyptians want nothing more to do with radical Islam. They are seeking more light in their lives, and many are finding it in Christ.
In the beginning days of our trip, my team and I were invited to visit a campground filled with Syrian refugees. Ninety percent of the residents were women, widows who had lost husbands, fathers, brothers or sons in the war. There was a smattering of men in the camp and children were running everywhere. We were asked to immediately jump in and join in the many games and activities that were underway. Clearly, the Egyptian Christians in charge of the camp, had one objective in mind – to make the Syrian people smile, laugh and forget about what life’s circumstances had brought them. With enthusiasm we joined them, bringing what grace and love we could to their lives for just the few hours we were there.
Unexpectedly, at the end of the day, one of the camp directors tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would give a short talk, a word of hope to the Syrian people. Before I knew it, I was standing before a very large crowd of Syrian refugees, which was a very new experience for me. With God’s help, I directed my thoughts to 1 John in the New Testament. After bringing greetings from the American church, I dove into my chosen topic: God is love, which is a new thought for most Muslims. I went on to explain that with God’s perfect love dwelling in us through faith, there is nothing to fear. But, who was I, a well-fed American, to tell a room full of war-torn refugees, that there was nothing to fear? I had to trust that God had me standing there for a reason. I will never forget seeing those eager, humble, reverent faces looking straight at me. I concluded by saying that God brings healing to those who trust him with their lives. Before I knew it, we were all locked arm in arm, love flowing around the room, Christians and Muslims, Egyptians, Americans and Syrians, praying together asking God for courage not to fear the future.
My group and I learned a great deal about the emotional and psychological challenges associated with being a refugee. Approximately one half of the population of Syria has been displaced by war. They have no home to return to; many of their towns have been destroyed from top to bottom. They had no choice but to leave their country. However, few are fully welcomed by the countries to which they have fled, whether it be Turkey, Greece, England, Sweden, or Egypt. These refugees are now living in a no man’s land, they’re neither here nor there. In many instances, families have been destroyed; their emotional instability and pain is enormous. According to our Egyptian Christian friends, the biggest need refugees face is for their humanity to be recognized, acknowledged and embraced. They are incredibly ripe to hear that God loves them.
The family of our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, experienced the same kind of trauma and refugee status in Egypt that Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni and Sudanese people are experiencing today. Soon after the birth of our Savior, King Herod tried to find and kill young Jesus in his attempt to eliminate any threat to his power. He ended up terrorizing and destroying young Jewish families by killing all boys under the age of two in the town of Bethlehem in his quest to locate Jesus. Egypt prides itself as being a safe place of refuge for traumatized and displaced people. Egyptians love to say that the parents of Jesus brought him to Cairo for safe protection because of threatened persecution in their homeland. And, during more ancient times, the Israelites were saved from starvation because of the mercies of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Today, there are one million refugees from Yemen currently living in Egypt. Well over half of Yemeni people are now displaced, with the vast majority still trapped inside their country; and 16 million people are on the brink of starvation. Every 15 minutes, a Yemeni child inside his own country dies from starvation.
At the end of Jesus’ life, when the Roman leaders finally succumbed to the relentless cries from the mobs of the frenzied Jewish people crying for Jesus’ crucifixion, a place was chosen for his gruesome death at Golgotha, or Calvary, a rocky skull looking area outside the walls of Jerusalem. Jesus was displaced, his life marginalized. These citizens of Jerusalem did not want him to die in their neighborhood or in their town. They wanted him to suffer like a dog outside the city on the fringe of society. However, the love and care of the Father and the Holy Spirit were there to greet and comfort Jesus during his greatest trial. They were there to walk with him through his greatest darkness into the light of heaven, from death to a resurrected life eternal.
May we be like God with open arms of love ready to care for and help war-torn and traumatized people. They need our love and attention. The dark forces of the universe have gained an upper hand in their lives, but it does not have to stay that way. They are looking for a word of comfort. They want to know that God is love – and that there is hope for their future. God will never abandon those who place their trust in him.
The disciple “whom Jesus loved” was the Apostle John. He was there at the foot of the cross when Jesus died. Later in life, he wrote these famous words:
“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16)
My family and I wish you a Happy Easter. May the love of God be with you. And, let’s say a special prayer this special time of year for all of the refugees in this world who are looking for a safe place to call home.