Twenty Thousand And One Refugees

Twenty Thousand And One Refugees February 6, 2017


I’ve found an answer for all of those people who say we’ve got no room for refugees. The ones who say that America can’t take care of refugees because we’ve barely got enough for ourselves. The ones who ask you how many refugees you can fit in your own home, if they’re going to come here.

I answer them right away: twenty thousand and one.

My small town of Steubenville has a population of about eighteen thousand, down from about thirty-eight thousand in 1940. The population has been in decline ever since the 40s and it shows no sign of stopping. But we still have housing for about thirty-eight thousand. These are mostly Sears and Roebuck pre-cut houses from the teens and twenties, very sturdy and respectable constructions. But now they’re derelicts, their windows are broken, rats colonize them. Arsonists occasionally have fun setting a derelict ablaze and then we all get asbestos in our lungs. They drive down the value of the neighborhood. No one profits from those houses remaining empty.

I say we welcome twenty thousand and one refugees right here to town. Settle twenty thousand in the derelict houses, and one can sleep on my sofa. There’s a beautiful boarded-up building downtown that I’m guessing from the architecture was once a synagogue but is now abandoned; the Muslim refugees could have that for a mosque. The Christian refugees would surely feel at home at the Orthodox churches of which we have several. We can also give quite a few of them the abandoned shops downtown that nobody wants to fill. People are desperate to get somebody to open businesses in Steubenville, but nobody wants to. Let’s get some hardworking immigrants to open businesses here. They could re-open the grocery store downtown; they could have book shops and clothing stores and food trucks. Craftsmen could craft things. I could order Middle Eastern takeout whenever I wanted. Nosy university students would get actual practice in talking to people from other religions. The terrifying racists in this town would be forced into meeting and interacting with human beings rather than the caricatures they’ve been taught to expect.  I don’t see a single downside.

Now, would that specific plan work? I don’t know. Maybe not. But something like it could work, because refugees are humans, and humans are not problems.

It is against our faith to think of humans as problems. Once you start thinking of them as problems, you start thinking of how to solve them, and next thing you know you’re trying to make them go away. That’s not how we’re supposed to treat people. We are supposed to view them as good, and find a way to welcome them in the name of Christ. And why does Christ want us to do that? Because it’s hard and difficult and He likes to see His children inconvenienced? Not at all. It’s because people are good. People are how He visits us.

This is a huge challenge for everyone, myself included. We’ve all got a group of people we’d like to treat like a problem in the way; I can mention several, if I’m honest with myself. But we’re not allowed to do that. We can’t claim that they’re not worthy of our help because they’re the wrong kind of people. We cannot say “How can you complain about poor children when unborn babies die in the womb?” We have to fight for them both. We can’t say “how can you worry about prisoners  after what they did to their victims?” We have to care for both. We certainly can’t pit veterans against refugees or foreigners against Americans as if we’re only capable of helping one group.  We have to reverence every icon Christ sends our way. If a person is in need, that person is your neighbor. Your soul depends on providing for your neighbor, not because God is mean but because providing for your neighbor is good for you. And sometimes, as in the case of refugees, providing might mean making them the other kind of neighbor– a person who lives close to you.

This is hard. This is something I fail at, and I must repent of my failure and try again every day.  But this is the task Christians find ourselves with.

Where will we put all these refugees? I don’t know. I know that refugees are humans, and because they are humans, they are not problems. And my soul depends on not treating them like problems. The same for every other human being I encounter.


(image via Pixabay)




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