WORLD REFUGEE DAY: A Call to compassion
By Mike Burnard – Analytical Strategist at dia-LOGOS
World Refugee Day is held every year on 20 June. It is a special day when the world takes time to recognise the resilience of forcibly displaced people throughout the world. World Refugee Day is celebrated annually to honour the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threats of persecution, conflict and violence. On this day, the international community seeks to draw attention to the plight of refugees and celebrate their courage and resilience.
But, before understanding the realities of the global displaced communities, it is important to press the pause button for a moment and embrace a Christ consciousness. 2 Corinthians 1:3 is a profound description of the God that we serve and should challenges every follower of Christ to the core: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.
The one virtue, the one character trait, the one habit, and the one action that embodies a spirit-filled follower of Christ more than anything else is INDISCRIMINATE COMPASSION.
Consider the world of displaced people in 2021:
- According to The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there are currently 244 million people (1 in every 30) living outside their country of origin, all of whom are known collectively as ‘migrants’. This term covers an extremely broad range of people and circumstances — from “expats” who relocate through their job, to families fleeing violence, to individuals seeking better economic opportunities abroad.
- Almost 80 million of these (1 in every 90 people on earth) have been forced to flee their homes, the majority of whom are children.
- An average of 1 person is forcibly displaced every 2 seconds. By the time you have finished this article another 150 people would have been forcefully displaced. Think about it.
But not all displacements are the same. According to the most recent data from the UNHCR, there are currently 80 million forcibly displaced people around the world. Of those…
- 27 million are refugees — and more than half of these are under the age of 18
- 5 million are asylum-seekers
- 43 million are internally displaced people (IDPs)
- 4 million are stateless people
In the past decade, the global refugee population has more than doubled. Nearly 27 million refugees currently live in host communities, many of which are in neighbouring countries. We are now at the highest population on record. 68% of the world’s refugee population comes from just five countries.
SOMALIA: At the end of 2020, there were nearly 1 million Somalis who were forced to flee their country (1 in every 16)
MYANMAR: Since August 2017, over 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled ongoing violence in Myanmar. Many of the stateless Rohingya have wound up in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It houses nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar (Burma).
SOUTH SUDAN: Since December 2013, conflict in South Sudan has driven nearly 4 million people from their homes — with more than half being forced to leave the country entirely. Approximately 2.3 million South Sudanese live in host communities abroad, including areas of Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the DRC.
AFGHANISTAN: Roughly 1 in 10 — that is, 7 million — refugees are Afghan by birth, and this number has fluctuated steadily over the last four decades. More than 88% of Afghan refugees are hosted in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.
SYRIA: Over 25% of the total global refugee population are Syrian. As of mid-2020, 6 million Syrians (1 in every 3 Syrians) have sought refuge, primarily in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey (which is currently the largest host community for refugees). In Lebanon, there are no formal camps, which leaves its population of over 1 million Syrians living across 2,000 communities, often overcrowded temporary shelters. The number of Syrians displaced within their own country matches the number of refugees, with conflicts driving over 6.6 million Syrians (1 in every 3 Syrians) from their homes and forcing them to resettle. 2.98 million still remain in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.
Add to these numbers the nearl 400,000 Burundians that are living as refugees, the more than 500,000 Eritrean refugees, the more than 1 million people displaced in CAR, the nearly 735,000 refugees from Sudan and the more than 4.5 million displaced in the DRC.
At the end of 2019, South Africa hosted 586,000 refugees and asylum seekers. The majority are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and South Sudan.
And this brings us to a call to compassion.
I can imagine that most readers glanced over these numbers with pity and sympathy but without feeling a deep sense of anguish. And that’s OK. Statistics simply don’t bleed and it’s nearly impossible to use academic or numeric arguments to mobilise people into a sense of compassion. But it’s not OK to remain that way. As Christians we have an inner-conscience that compels us to do something – not because we have to, but because of who dwells within us
The Latin root for the word compassion is pati, which means to suffer, and the prefix com– means with. Compassion, originating from compati, literally means to suffer together with. The connection of suffering with another person takes compassion beyond sympathy into the realm of anguish.
This also explains the difference between pity and compassion and how we can be confronted with the numbers of people suffering without feeling the anguish of those who suffer. Sympathy and pity are feelings for someone. Compassion is feeling with someone. Pity results in feelings. Compassion results in action. And this is why the statistics in the beginning of this article were ineffective to a large extent. At the most, it created a sense of pity for millions of people suffering as you read over it. But it is impossible to feel anguish with millions of people.
And this is why 2 Corinthians 1:3 is so profound.
God has the ability to have compassion with the multitudes. When God saw the lostness of His creation and the brokenness of those in it, He didn’t just feel a sense of pity or sympathy – He had compassion. God is able to identify with statistics and numbers to the extent that He feels the sorrow, hardship and pain of every individual. And from His character of compassion, heaven was moved into action. … for God so loved the world that He sent His Son…
Yes, INDISCRIMINATE COMPASSION is one of the key character traits of God. The ability to look at the multitudes and recognise every soul for what it is worth. Not only do we know our God is compassionate because 2 Corinthians 1:3 tells us so, but we know He is compassionate because He displayed it when He stood at the grave of Lazarus and wept (John 11:35). Or in Luke 19:41 when He saw the city and He wept. We read about the compassion of Jesus in Luke 7:13 when He saw the dead son of a widow and He had compassion with her, in Matthew 9:36 when He saw the crowds and He was moved with anguish and also in Matthew 14:14 when He saw the multitudes and He was moved with empathy. His words reflect someone who deeply notices the needs of others even before He recognizes His own. In Matthew 15:32, when He saw the hungry, He said to His disciples, “I have compassion with them.” In Matthew 20:34, He saw the blind man and He had compassion, as He did with the leper in Mark 1:41 and those who were like sheep without a shepherd in Mark 6:34. Most of all, in His biggest time of need, isolation and pain, he had compassion for those who crucified Him and with those who were crucified with Him.
But what makes this compassion so divine is that it is indiscriminately available to all. When we are confronted with people suffering we tend to assist those with whom we can identify. We help someone who is of the same faith, the same culture, or of the same country. We tend to tend to those we belong to.
Not so with God. Not only do we know our God does not discriminate because Romans 2:11 and Acts 15:9 tell us so, but we also know that God does not discriminate because He displayed it when He sat with the tax collector, when He defended the prostitute, when He touched the leper, when he listened to the Roman centurion, and when He answered the rich young man. He never served with a self-righteous attitude. He became a servant to all – man, woman, rich, poor, marginalized, wealthy, sick, healthy, Jew, and Gentile – no one excluded.
Wow, what a Saviour. Not like the one who says he is compassionate but demands submission at all times, but the One who is known by this trait: INDISCRIMINATELY COMPASSIONATE
And here is the application.
St. Bernard, in the 12th century, said that Christ is our primary teacher of compassion because He willed His passion (suffering) so that we could learn compassion (to suffer with others). If I have to define compassion it would be ‘Choosing to feel the pain of others’
More than ever the world needs a generation that will have the perceptual ability to view people, events, and circumstances with hearts of compassion. More than ever the world needs to see a generation that reflects a God with a heart of compassion.
Not only does our Saviour have a heart of anguish but we have a mandate to imitate our Master by clothing ourselves with hearts of anguish. Colossians 3:12 states: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” John echoed this teaching by asking this question: If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? (1 John 3:17)
It is vital that we, as spirit filled, Christ conscious followers, display the same urgency that Jesus displayed. This is not about being sad all the time or walking around with a long face. This is about truly experiencing the fullness of life with joy and vision BUT having hearts of compassion that will melt in the presence of a broken world. It is vital that we express the same compassion that was evident in the life of a loving Saviour.
BEING THE ANSWER TO THEIR PRAYERS
So how do I nurture compassion in my own life and inspire compassion in the lives of my friends, my family, and my fellowship? Here are six practical steps:
1. Be informed. Knowledge is power. Help dispel myths and misunderstandings about asylum seekers and refugees. Get regular updates with news, information, and stories by subscribing (free of charge) to The Refugee Brief at https://www.unhcr.org/refugeebrief/
2. Be aware. Regardless of where you live, there will be displaced people near you. Here are some practical steps to build relationships and getting involved: http://www.timetobewelcome.eu/downloads/REfugee-REsponse-Seminar-How-to-make-a-difference-for-refugees.pdf
3. Be connected. Find like-minded people or other organisations that work amongst displaced people and become a volunteer. Rescue.org provides some valuable guidelines, and even though it is written for an American audience, the principles could be applied anywhere: https://www.rescue.org/article/how-help-refugees-united-states-12-ways-stand-welcome
But do not only meet like-minded people, make a point of befriending a displaced person. Make a friend, meet together, and build relationships
4. Be generous. Give of your time, your skills, your abundance, your emotions, and, yes, your money. The needs are tremendous and any form of support will be deeply appreciated. But remember there is a difference between charity and generousity. You, giving displaced people what they need, is charity. You, giving displaced people what you need, is generosity. At dia-LOGOS we are still raising funds for displaced Syrians, the largest displaced community in the world. Have a look at: https://dialogos.co.za/project-rose/
5. Be kind. Sadly, displaced people are often discriminated against and abused. Any gesture of kindness will be greatly valued and appreciated. For more tips on how to reach out visit the website of the Redcross: https://www.redcross.org.au/get-involved/take-action/help-refugees/5-things-you-can-do
6. Be a voice: invite a speaker, organise a meeting, start a fundraiser – just do something. Be a catalyst! We, at dia-LOGOS, have been to refugee camps across the globe and will be happy to share information and testimonies at your church or groups. Contact us and invite us at the following site: https://dialogos.co.za/speaker/
May our response to global needs reflect hearts of anguish and may we imitate and emulate a God who is known by His ability to suffer with the multitudes. The truth is that if our salvation makes us more judgmental, more sceptical, and more arrogant, we might have gained knowledge that puffs up, but we would have lost a love that builds up. Indiscriminate compassion is the true virtue of a revived Christ consciousness.
For more information on some current opportunities visit: https://dialogos.co.za/project-rose/
 John 11:35 Jesus wept.