Helping when it all seems so helpless

Just in case you just climbed out of a time capsule, I just wanted to let you know that the news lately hasn't been all that good. We can start with the terror attacks in Paris last Friday, where over 100 people were senselessly murdered in a hail of gunfire, bombs, and mayhem. The media has made sure that we know every ounce of information (and disinformation) about this tragedy, and in doing so we have all been made even more aware of the horrific plight that the Syrian refugees are facing in their attempt to escape their homeland in the advance of ISIS plundering and domination.

The conundrums that these issues have raised are numerous. There are many who desperately want to help those in need right now - how can we turn away Syrian refugees who are desperately seeking a safe haven in which to raise their families? Others, however, are exercising caution for fear that another country's conflict might be brought to their own backyard. Passions are inflamed, accusations are hurled, politicians are grandstanding, and social medial is bursting at the seams with ill-informed rhetoric and cyber narcissism.

What are we supposed to do?

There is no simple answer to this question and gaining any semblance of consensus seems next to impossible. As one who has tried unsuccessfully to use online outlets (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to engage in positive dialogue about divisive issues, I want to take a few minutes of your time to offer a few suggestions about what all of us might want to do as we wrestle with these issues and seek some sort of path toward a solution that we will want to take. While these ideas may seem simplistic and certainly aren't exhaustive, I hope that they can serve as a good starting point for many of you.

First, we all need to understand that any humanitarian crisis is a big deal, not just the one(s) that the media draws to our attention. This is no way diminishes the urgency of the situation with the Syrian refugees, but if you did not know any better you would think that outside of Syria and northern Iraq the rest of the world was all unicorns and butterflies. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
  • Right now the Ebola virus is still ravaging many areas of West Africa, especially the countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Over 6,000 men, women, and children have died from the disease so far and it's spread is far from contained.
  • Over the past few years 2.4 million people have been displaced in South Sudan due to war and as many as 4.6 million people will face food shortages in that region this year.
  • 2.5 million people across Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras face food shortages due to severe drought that has prohibited the cultivation of their staple crops.
  • Ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic has displaced at least 430,000 people from their homes.
The list goes on - Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Nepal. Most of these crises are not new; they have been ongoing for months and years, yet the media is eerily silent on them. My point is that there is a lot of pain going on in our world right now that needs our collective attention. The tragedy occurring in Syria is despicable and is most certainly urgent, yet at the same time we do not have the right to pick and choose which humanitarian crisis is more worthy of our attention.

This understanding leads to my second suggestion: Respect that others may not share your passion for the same crisis that has gripped your heart and emotions. Why is this important? Because arguing with someone on Facebook or Twitter has never (at least to my knowledge) solved any major world crisis. The man or woman who is not passionate about the Syrian refugees in the same way that you are may not be bigoted or hate-filled - it may be that he or she is invested in other similar worthy causes that have grabbed their heart strings.

Sure, there are idiots out there who want to label everyone a terrorist and attempt to deny them their basic needs, but more often than not the vast majority do not understand the ramifications of the crisis at hand because the information being fed to them comes from multiple one-sided sources. Engaging in verbal sparring matches on social media will not help the greater cause at hand. Sure, you may be right about your position, but there may be nothing more polarizing than turning your passion for a cause into a know-it-all symposium where you shame anyone and everyone who does not share your views.

Finally, be proactive. Do what you know to do right now. This may be raising awareness in a forum that is respected and trusted (contacting your government officials, doing thorough research of the issues, etc.), give financially to those organizations that have the means to help right now, or committing yourself to pray for those affected by senseless tragedies. Whatever you choose to do, do it in the direction that changes things in a positive direction no matter how small or insignificant others may perceive it to be. World Vision, International Justice Mission, and The A21 Campaign are just a few of the organizations out there that are seeking to help those who are in the greatest need. Anything that you give is better than nothing at all. Get out from behind your keyboard and do something.

When it comes to humanitarian issues, most of us can agree that helping is a good thing. While we may not always agree on politics and the solutions to the worlds problems, you don't need permission to care. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). He also warned us to protect those who have been entrusted to our care from those who would bring them harm or lead them astray (John 10:1-13). Yes, there is a tension here, but none of that can keep you or me from doing what we can to seek justice and provide for those who are in desperate need right now.

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