This week, a picture of the body of a Syrian toddler named Aylan Kurdi shocked the world. (You can see the images here.)
In recent months, the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe has filled the news. War has been raging in Syria for longer than four years, but the heartbreaking image of young Aylan Kurdi, who drowned alongside his mother and 5-year-old brother while they attempted to reach safety in Greece, may serve as a tipping point for Western intervention.
Numbers—like 11 million Syrians displaced by violence; 220,000 people killed in the civil war; or more than 2,200 migrants from various countries who have died at sea since June—can be powerful, but they can also be overwhelming. A picture however, like the one of Aylan, lying lifeless, facedown in the sand, are truly jarring. The picture humanizes an issue that often seems so big, we feel like we can do nothing to change it.
But we all know a little boy like Aylan. And, if the numbers haven’t already, what happened to him—and what many others are facing—should spur us to action.
In a heartbreaking interview, the boys’ father, who survived the tragedy, told the AP, “I tried to catch my children and wife, but there was no hope. One by one, they died. My kids were the most beautiful children in the world, wonderful. They wake me up every morning to play with them. They are all gone now.”
Artists and activists began sharing their own interpretations of the devastating image, offering a small glimpse at the massive problem.
Aylan and his family are just a few of the thousands of refugees who have drowned or been killed while attempting to flee violence in North Africa, the Middle East and particularly the Syrian civil war.
Another young Syrian, interviewed by Al Jazeera while in Hungary, also drew millions of views online, describing the plight he and others are facing. After explaining, “The police don’t like the Syrians in Serbia, in Hungary, in Macedonia, in Greece,” 13-year-old Kinan Masalmeh told reporters, “My message is please help the Syrians. Syrians need help now … Just stop the war in Syria.”
The millions of desperate refugees who have come into Europe—many of whom have risked their own lives while fleeing the war and ISIS—have been the source of political debates in several countries, where leaders are determining if they will be accepted and how many will be allowed to find refuge there.
The political crisis is complicated and can be difficult to influence, but for the Church, the imperative is clear: We must help.
A Biblical Mandate
From the very beginning, God has commanded His people to help those who are strangers in a foreign land.
In Exodus 22, the Lord says, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.”
In Leviticus, God forbids His people from clearing their fields of all of their bounty, leaving nothing for the poor and migrant. “Do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”
Ezekiel cites this as the biggest sin of Sodom, a city God destroyed for its wickedness: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
In Matthew, while Jesus is discussing eternity, He says He will one day act as a judge, putting “the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
Then the King will say to those on his right … ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me … Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
He continued, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
The Church is called for such a time as this. We are called to help.
How You Can Help
Even if you are not in Europe or can’t directly assist refugees in desperate need of the basic resources—unlike 10,000 Icelanders who have offered to open their homes to refugees—there are things you can do to help.
Give to Organizations Making a Difference
Many organizations are assisting Syrian families who have been displaced by the violence—those families affected by the war who are attempting to escape, living in refugee camps or struggling to rebuild their lives after making it to Europe.
For the millions of Syrians who have been displaced and are living in refugee camps with extremely limited resources and access to education, day-to-day life is a struggle. World Vision is on the ground providing food, blankets, clean water, education programs, places for children to play and more.
International Rescue Committee
The IRC provides support, medical assistance, educational assistance and aid to Syrian refugees in countries throughout the Middle East, as well as Greece. They are also working to assist Syrian families who are among the 8,000 granted refugee status to resettle in the United States.
Migrant Offshore Aid Station
MOAS maintains a large boat equipped with search drones, rescue vessels and emergency personnel that seeks out migrant boats and rescues the people on the small, overcrowded, extremely dangerous vessels to prevent more tragedies at sea.
Save the Children
Save the Children specifically aids Syrian children effected by the war and ISIS, providing them with support and education resources.
The organization distributes food, water, medical supplies and shelter to Syrian families.
Here’s a closer look at the refugee situation along with more organizations who are making a difference and need our support.
Whether or not you are able to give financially to an organization helping the Syrian people, every Christian can commit them to prayer. Whether it is individually or with our churches, the Syrian people should be a constant fixture of our prayers.
The images of the man selling pens in the streets of Beirut while holding his daughter (shown above), moved so many people online, that $160,000 was raise for him and his children through a crowdfounding campaign. He told BuzzFeed News, “I was surprised to know that people abroad heard about my story and care about my kids. I couldn’t hold my tears. I kept saying, ‘Thank God, thank God,’ and hugging my kids.” The story wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t of been for the creativity of people on social media wanting to help.
Start your own fundraising campaign. Get your church involved in an outreach or humanitarian effort. Set up a Facebook group with Friends who want to help. Use your own creativity to assist those who are in a truly desperate situation.
The stories of the people of Syria need to be told. In a situation of this magnitude, a collective understanding of the plight of the millions of refugees can actually sway politicians to move on their behalf. Share images, stories and news updates on social media and with your friends. The more people who are aware of the refugee crisis, the more it will be difficult for those in power to ignore it.
Big or small, we can all do something. Because as Christians, the one option we don’t have is to stand by and do nothing.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.