The Refugees and the Gospel


On September 2 we awoke to the tragedy of the refugee crisis now spreading across Europe. Aylan Kurdi’s body was photographed and chronicled for the world to see: a three year old, lost in the midst of war and sectarian violence. He was a Syrian Kurd, and his family was caught in the violence of a war that has waged for almost four years with no end in sight, a war that was a result of Arab Spring when another young man, Mohammed Bouazizi, lit himself on fire because of repeated insults and an inability to forge a future with hope.

What kind of father takes his family, paying upward of $800 per person, across a treacherous stretch of water knowing that some of them might not make it? What kind of man, in his twenties with a college education, sets himself on fire to protest the injustices of a country he lives in? Men without hope!

We live in a world without hope. The refugee crisis in our world is a great example. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) recently published total numbers for 2014 and stated there were almost 60 million refugees and internally displaced people around the globe. Syria alone counts for some 6.5 million people who have been displaced. Three million of those have fled as refugees to other countries.

Baptist Global Response (BGR) is working hard to help resettle, feed, clothe and care for many of these refugees fleeing a life of war and death, but what can the rest of us do? Most of us live in much safer places where our stomachs are full and we sleep securely knowing that the loud noises we hear outside aren’t bombs or explosions but just harmless sounds. Yet for college students and others, there are many things that can be done to affect at least our part of the world and reach out to refugees in our cities.

First, we can pray! I know it seems like a simple thing but prayer is where we should start and where we should end. There is so much to do, but without the Father guiding, directing and helping us there really isn’t much we can do! When the Jews were sent out in exile, Jeremiah told them to “pray to the Lord on its (the city’s) behalf, for in its shalom you will find shalom” (Jer 29:7). As the world finds shalom, it finds hope because ultimately shalom with God is the only thing that can give us hope.

Second, we can get involved. Just to understand how the Lord works, as I was writing this I turned off my phone so I could better concentrate. When I looked at it again, I had received a call from Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM), a ministry here in Louisville. They want my church to help resettle a Syrian family coming to Louisville in two weeks. KRM is serving refugees right up the street from Boyce College, and students can get involved. Refugees need people who can help them resettle, tutor their children, and love them as image bearers of God. As believers we know that only God can provide lasting hope, so we should be on the front lines of these resettlement programs.

Third, we can financially support organizations like Baptist Global Response and by taking trips to work in refugee areas. This summer one of Boyce College’s Bevin Center trips will focus on refugees and our response to them. We are trusting the Lord to provide us with opportunities to intersect with those who are hurting and displaced.

Fourth, we can promote an attitude that says God loves the refugee! Refugees come from all over the world. They are not numbers. They are individuals, they are vulnerable, and they need hope! As believers we understand that hope only comes from the gospel and it only comes through Jesus Christ. We were once without hope, enemies of God, and dead in our sins, but one came to give us life, and He is our hope.

Aylan Kurdi’s death should remind us of those who are lost, hurting and without hope. God has graced us with amazing lives, work and hope. May we never forget the masses who when Jesus saw them, “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ (Matt 9:36).


Dr. John Klaassen serves as Associate Professor and Program Coordinator for Global Studies at Boyce College and works with the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His new book Engaging with Muslims is designed to help the average church member connect to the Muslims in their neighborhood. John is married to Shari and they have two boys.