Heroes or Neighbors?
by Aimee Fritz
"So what does this have to do with refugees?" I asked my kids at breakfast.
"I don't know. Maybe the naked part?" my son offered.
"He's naked? That's what 'stripped him of his clothes' means? He's lying naked on the road all beat up?!" my youngest daughter asked, shocked.
"Yeah, it makes me think of those people washed up on the beach. The ones trying to get away from ISIS," my oldest daughter thought aloud.
This graphic imagery wasn't on a webpage or TV news; it was in the Bible.
I swallowed hard. We were reading the Good Samaritan story for clues about how God might want us to treat refugees for our Family Compassion Focus this year. This graphic imagery wasn't on a webpage or TV news; it was in the Bible. That day we weren't going to rush past the hard parts of Jesus' teaching. We were going to stop and stay there all summer, copying and memorizing every word, reciting them to each other in silly voices to make it stick, and asking each other what it really means.
"Why do you think the first two people just walked by the naked, bleeding, hurting man?" I continued.
"Because they thought he was a terrorist?"
"Because they're scared. Maybe the bad guys are waiting nearby to hurt more people?"
"Because they don't want to get dirty?"
I pushed further, "If you were driving in the dark at night and saw a body lying on the side of the road, what do you think you would do?"
"I would call 911!"
"I would run to help him to see if he was alive."
"I would wonder if it was a trick."
I probed deeper, because I know my own heart. If I was alone on a street with no lights and saw a body, I would be terrified. I would want to be a hero: ripping the bottom of my skirt for a tourniquet, dragging him to my car, driving to a hospital, staying with him all night in my stained clothes, then paying all his medical bills. But if I'm honest, at most, I would pull over, lock all my doors, call 911, and wait. I'm not sure I would even do that if I had young kids in the car.
"So, we're making fun of people for not helping the man on the side of the road, but we're not sure if we would help him ourselves? You guys, this is hard."
"I would feel bad about not helping, but I would be scared to help," my son admitted, looking a bit defeated.
I think that's where we are as a church with refugees (and documented/undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, and economic migrants). We feel really bad about not helping when we see shell-shocked Syrian boys like Omran Daqneesh, or hear plans about mass deportations.
We want to help, but we're scared. What if, in our mercy, we do let in terrorists? What if there really aren't enough jobs and services to go around for our already-citizens and not-yet-citizens? We ask for more walls, security, and safeguards. We label people different from us and get farther away from them. It's our survival instinct, based on fear, turned all the way up. I will help you, only if I can guarantee that nothing bad will happen to me and the people I love.
I was hoping they would suggest something like a bake sale, something neat, tidy, and far removed from actual human pain and risk. But my kids want to get dirty.
Is this what I'm teaching my children?
Jesus taught and did the opposite, and he expects us to copy him. He pursued the outcasts, enemies, and dangerous leaders of his day with forthright, bold love. He didn't pray for safety like I do everyday.
"I'd be scared, too, buddy. But does that mean we shouldn't do it?"
We talked about the people we know already helping refugees, the Good Samaritans we look up to: the Preemptive Love Coalition, Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Ships, World Relief, and our new friends at the Refuge Coffee Co. in Clarkston, GA.
"Do you have any ideas about how our little suburban family could help refugees? There is not one refugee in our fancy pants town. There are no wrong answers, guys. Just say anything you're thinking."
"We could save money and give it away to refugees and homeless people."
"We could help build Tiny Houses for refugees to wait in."
"We should share our house. The whole basement is empty. We have room here."
"We could get a big boat and go rescue the people and give them a place to live until it's safe again."
I was hoping they would suggest something like a bake sale, like we've done before. Something neat, tidy, and far removed from actual human pain and risk. But my kids want to get dirty. They want to go find hurting people and be with them. They want strangers in our house. This doesn't feel safe.
So now when we recite this story to each other and pray at breakfast, "Lord, what would you like our family to do to love refugees today?" I wonder what we'll hear. I don't think we'll be heroes, but maybe we'll learn to be Good Samaritans.
Aimee Fritz is an introvert who delights in telling long, true stories about everyday absurdities in her suburban life. Long ago she consulted companies, churches, and nonprofits. Now she runs Family Compassion Focus to funnel all that into helping people become lovable and loving World Changers. She recently co-wrote the Family Toolkit (free download) for Kent Annan's Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice. Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly in the World (IVP). She loves to write, speak, and laugh about compassion, souls, and big mistakes. To arrange a meeting, a talk, or an article, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.