- - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Terrorists such as those from the Islamic State won’t be stopped unless Christians help to save the lost boys of the world.

The Lost Boys of Sudan fled violent Islamists, communists and wild animals. Their exodus led them across Ethiopia and eventually to refugee camps in neighboring nations. From camps, the boys were taken to America or other industrialized nations.

The gripping story of a handful of those lost boys is now in theaters in “The Good Lie,” starring Reese Witherspoon. The movie’s producers are counting on support from the Christian community. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church even hosted a recent discussion with the film’s Sudanese stars.

Surprisingly, some of the most daunting challenges for this group of lost boys would lie at their final destinations, such as the United States. Imagine a teenaged orphan’s complex transition from rural Sudan to the United States: learning to read and write; the culture shock of TV, the Internet, shopping malls, bank accounts and getting a driver’s license.

However, this isn’t just a movie. It’s not an event that happened at some distant place in the now seemingly distant past. It’s a story that takes place in America every day by the tens of thousands.

The filmmakers may be counting on Christian churches to make this a box-office success, but can the refugees themselves count on Christians? No. Churches are not doing enough, and we have every reason to do more.

I call Minnesota home. So do well over 100,000 refugees, with as many as 3,500 more arriving annually. We’ve welcomed refugees from the world’s most tumultuous, headline-making places: Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Somalia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Globally, there are more than 17.2 million refugees who have crossed international borders on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion. In Iraq and Syria, there are estimates of approximately 8 million people displaced — perhaps not even counted in the global refugee total.

Minnesota’s refugee flow has amassed more than 77,000 Somali refugees, the largest Somali population in the United States. Resettling in the U.S. has addressed their basic concerns with survival, but it has led to new tensions. Al-Shabab, al Qaeda and Islamic State networks are targeting Minnesota Somali refugees, recruiting impressionable teenagers to join their cause.

In August, a sobering video surfaced of young Somali men fighting with the Islamic State in Syria. One turned toward the camera wearing a sweatshirt from a Minneapolis high school.

While we don’t know specifically who these recruiters are, we know that it’s an organized strategy to prey on vulnerable communities. Their agents introduce refugees to the idea of evil, rather than welcoming them to the American dream.

Unfortunately, the welcoming arms of resettlement organizations are stretched thin, overbooked, understaffed and underresourced. Resettlement officers put in late nights waiting for flights and long weekends helping refugees with basic needs: understanding housing, grocery shopping and toilets that flush.

I sit on the board of Arrive Ministries, one of the largest resettlement agencies in Minnesota and one of the few that are faith-based. In the past nine months, Arrive Ministries has resettled more than 300 refugees, with several hundred still to arrive this year. Of the approximately 10,000 churches in Minnesota, only 17 have stepped forward to help Arrive Ministries with refugee families. An additional 25 churches are involved in various refugee programs, such as literacy training. That’s it — four-tenths of 1 percent of churches.

Minnesota is a microcosm for the broader picture across America.

The annual refugee quota to the U.S. is set at 70,000. By contrast, we have approximately 350,000 Christian churches. If just one in five churches adopted a refugee — welcomed him or her, showed refugees how to buy groceries, how to pay rent, and bought them bed sheets and clothing — we could reach every arriving refugee.

Christianity is inextricably linked to the refugee. From God’s admonitions to the Israelites to the pilgrims who arrived on our shores, care for refugees has been a biblical mandate and the bedrock of our faith.

Yet, the reality is that there are other groups already doing this effectively — other groups who claim to be acting in God’s name. We know far too well the acts of terrorism that lost boys can be persuaded to commit.

This is a global crisis we can act upon at home. It’s a crisis that echoes across the world, to war zones and terrorist training camps. If just one in five Christian churches adopted a refugee, we would make a world of difference.

Jay Milbrandt is author of “The Daring Heart of David Livingstone: Exile, African Slavery, and the Publicity Stunt that Saved Millions” (Thomas Nelson, 2014), a professor at Bethel University and a senior fellow in global justice with the Nootbaar Institute at Pepperdine University School of Law.


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