Those are his shoes, his wet hair and his clothes. They look too familiar. This little boy could have been my son. I’m reluctant to share the picture of three-year old Syrian child, Alan Kurdi, out of respect for this child’s family and the immensity of such sadness it brings, but it hits so close to home. The image made global headlines in September of 2015 after Kurdi and his family tried to flee war ravaged Syria. I see this image, I see my son.
This is, in part, why I have become involved in helping to resettle and welcome refugees in Indianapolis. I have been blessed by working with the Syrian American community, learning their stories, and getting to know many of them as friends. Nearly everyone in that community has been affected by the war while the rest of the world looks on. Too often though, the rest of the world doesn’t just ignore what’s happening in Syria or to the refugees, many are out right opposed to welcoming refugees.
I’m not sure what it is that keeps many from welcoming refugees or at least not opposing their resettlement. Perhaps it’s a great fear of the unknown or a belief that refugees are getting more benefits than others. I’m not sure sure what it is, but for me, I feel that we have no choice to respond. My friend from the Syrian community, Nora Basha, shared yesterday, “Looking back we won’t be able to say we didn’t know or we didn’t see. Because we did know and we did see.”
We see it everyday. The images of continued bombings, violence, and families fleeing Syria are becoming too common. Those of us in the West are starting to think this is just normal life for those in Syria and refugee camps are ordinary life for those who have fled. What we forget is that those fleeing have gifts to offer their families and communities. Many of the refugees can care for our wounds, teach our children, and cook some amazing food. I pray we will embrace the gifts refugees bring with them to our nation and the other nations where they are being resettled.
On Sunday, March 26th, my congregation, Meridian Street United Methodist Church, welcomed several refugee families to share their stories. We learned about the Syrian conflict, listened to powerful stories, and learned about how we can make a difference. As I continued to plan this event along with Nora and others in the Syrian American community, I couldn’t get the image of little Alan Kurdi out of my mind. It’s not that he could have been my child, he is my child, because he is God’s child.
What I witnessed during our “Flight From Syria: Refugee Stories” event were people who had seen and experienced things that I pray no one will ever have to live through. Even so, they have hope for the future. I could see how the parents simply desire what anyone would desire for their children, an education, nourishment, a safe place to sleep at night, great joy and laughter, and a community that surrounds every child in love and care.
It was a powerful experience to gather Christians, Jews, and Muslims together to say with one voice, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” It was a beautiful sentiment that has a real effect on the life of a community. The only way to dispel the fear and hatred of our world is to gather together, share a meal, and listen to one another. If people remain strangers, then fear will only grow and that will lead to more hatred.
It is my hope that the picture of little Alan Kurdi or the image of five-year old Omran Daqneesh will become a reality that is a thing of the past. Until then, may these pictures call us to action. May that action be one of welcome, love, and a desire for peace.
Instead of pictures of refugee camps, violence, rubble, bloodshed, fear, and hatred; I hope and pray that we will begin to see more pictures of Christians, Muslims, and Jews sitting down together enjoying a meal, learning about each other, and living life together. I hope we will see more images coming from every church, synagogue, and mosque coming together to promote relationship and peace.