Salem climbs the hill with her brothers, Luca and Matthew, on the evening before her coming-of-age ceremony. As they sit together watching the sun set, the boys tease her good-naturedly and talk about the celebration that is coming. But their sibling banter is interrupted by pop-pop-popping sounds and commotion down in their village.
Luca, the older brother, shouts to Matthew, “Keep Salem safe!” as he rushes to see what is happening. The two younger siblings hide in the bushes for what seems like forever. When they finally venture out they discover that their village has been decimated. Their mother has been killed and their brother is missing.
Grief-stricken, exhausted, and hungry, Salem and Matthew begin the long hard journey toward a refugee camp they hear of from the only other survivor, a friend named Kagan.
These children were well-loved. They had a community that celebrated and treasured them. But violence entered their village, leaving them as orphans, and they were forced to flee. Now they are refugees.
Today is World Refugee Day. Instituted in 2000 by the United Nations to be observed every year on June 20th, World Refugee Day honors the courage, strength, and determination of women, men, and children who are forced to flee their homeland due to persecution, conflict, and violence. And today, we honor them too.
The refugee crisis truly is a crisis. By the end of 2017, 68.5 million people around the world were forcibly displaced. 53% of these are under the age of 18. Two-thirds of the world’s refugees come from five countries – Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Somalia. More than 1.4 million people take their chances braving the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas on rafts and dinghies to reach Greece, Italy, and Spain. And in recent years El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have experienced an escalation of violence leading to the uptick of attempted migrations into the United States.
And while these numbers are shocking, behind every single number is a person. And more than 36 million of these people are children. Children like Salem, Matthew, and Kagan.
Salem and Matthew eventually make it to the refugee camp, but Kagan doesn’t. He’s caught in danger like the danger that plagues all children fleeing from war, persecution, and violence.
Matthew, Salem, and Kagan are characters in our new drama, Jabota Bridge. But their story is similar to the story of millions of children who are forced to flee their homes because of violence.
On World Refugee Day, you may be wondering what you can do. Perhaps you'll give to organizations that help refugees, or march to keep families together, but right now, would you take a moment and simply pray. Pray for these children and their families? Children and families like …
- The fathers, mothers, and children who are fleeing their homes in South Sudan because of mass killings.
- Rohyingya children running from violence in Myanmar only to face wild elephants, snakes, and human traffickers who prowl the forest as they escape route to Bangladesh,
- Syrian children orphaned when their parents were killed in gas attacks and are now on the run seeking safety.
- Families from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala who are fleeing gang violence and drug wars running to safety in the United States.
While action is important, and there is truly action you can take, please stop and pray and ask God to give you insight not only for the millions, but for the individual children - the Salems, Matthews, and Kagans who are fleeing dangerous situations today.
We do not deny that immigration issues are complex. And resolving these issues will take hard work, perseverance, vision, and conviction. With RiverCross, when it comes down to it, we have one conviction that drives everything we do. We treasure children. And so, on World Refugee Day, our hope is simple ... that decision-makers would treasure children and act ... just like Jesus did.
"(Jesus) took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.'" (ESV, Mark 9:36-37)