In Light of Paris: A Refugee Support Group Finds its Way

by Karen Stiller

We have one of those decorative signs in our house near the back door so our kids can see it as they leave for school. Instead of “dance! sing! celebrate!” this one is about doing the right thing.

Syria in rubble (
Syria in rubble (

It is a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., with this quote, “The time is always right to do what is right.” I’m sure it annoys our kids. As if they need Martin Luther King, Jr. nagging at them too.

But it is top of mind for me these days, after Paris, and before our next meeting of the Port Perry Refugee Support Group.

We formed the group, our own church getting the ball rolling, to try to bring together churches, along with community groups and individuals who might not go to a church, but still care deeply about the devastation of Syria’s people.

We thought this was something we could do together. To borrow a line from the EFC, something we could do better together than apart.

In the back of our minds as well, we thought it was a perfect way to welcome the broader community into an issue that everyone cared about. Relationships could be built and strengthened. That’s what we were thinking.

We had one big information night a few weeks ago, very well attended, and yes, non-church people came out too, much to our delight and relief.

We explained our idea, to sponsor a Syrian refugee family to come to our beautiful small town. And to do it together. There was great enthusiasm and at the meeting we upped our goal to two families.

The most interesting moment for me was when a self-described atheist asked us if we were planning to make sure we brought in a Christian family, above all others.  She wanted to make sure that was not our plan. She prefaced her question by saying she didn’t want to offend us.

It wasn’t offensive, but it was interesting. We had already discussed among the churches signed up thus far that we needed to be committed to bring in whoever was the neediest and fit our ability to help.

Paris happened.

I can feel a slight  shift in the mood of our town.

What I thought, if I am to be perfectly honest, would make church more popular, might actually make it less. What I thought would unite people, might actually divide.

Our initiative has a Facebook group. This morning we posted photos of devastated Syria. Syria as rubble. With the caption, “This is what they are running from.”

And that is what we are keeping in mind.

On Sunday at our church, Bruce the preacher, in response to a question about Paris and the death of so many innocent people, suggested that we can use what we do understand about God to help us with what we do not understand.

What I do understand is that God is merciful and just. That He holds history in His hand. That He walks with the oppressed, the suffering and the left-behind. That He requires us to do the same. And that He once told a story about a Good Samaritan.

I do get that this is complicated. Terror complicates things.

But a couple of years ago I visited refugee camps in South Sudan. I interviewed some of the people who lived there, people who had fled dropping bombs and withering crops to find refuge. They were refugees.  Fathers, mothers, teachers, mayors, nurses, community organizers, grandmas, teachers, mechanics. They were just people. Just like us. I was embarrassed that somewhere along the line I had forgotten that.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. You can read her article on visiting refugee camps in South Sudan here. Read an article on how your church can sponsor refugee families in the Nov/Dec Faith Today here. And finally, buy three subscriptions to Faith Today, Canada’s thought-provoking Christian magazine, here. 


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