The picture of Turkish police officer Mehmet Ciplak carrying the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi from the beach at Bodrum has touched the hearts of millions of people around the world. When Mehmet saw the little body floating at the water’s edge he said, “Dear God, I hope he’s alive.” When he found that Aylan had died he said he felt crushed deep down inside. Aylan’s mother, Rehan, and brother, Gylip, had also died. Only his father, Abdullah, survived and he has now returned to his home town of Kobane in Syria to bury his loved ones in the “Martyrs’ Cemetery.”
The tragic pictures of one little boy who died have made real to many people the desperate plight of thousands of families who have left their homes to set off on a long and dangerous journey to find a place of safety. The town of Kobane has been reduced to rubble and the people have witnessed the barbarism of IS who have killed hundreds of men, women and children in their homes and in the streets. Abdullah, like many others, wanted to protect his wife and two little boys and to take them to a place where they could live in peace. Tragically, in the attempt to do this, he has lost them all.
How do we respond to this situation? Our news reports tell us about anonymous and faceless “migrants”. Some simply see them as just a big problem. In reality most of them are people like Abdullah and his family. They are our fellow human beings; people like us who, through no fault of their own, have been caught up in a terrible war that has destroyed their homes and communities and put their very lives at risk? When one young man was asked why he wanted to come to Britain he said, “Because the people there are kind and good.”
God has given us two great commandments. The first is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second is, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” Jesus taught that all our fellow human beings are our neighbours. So when we ask how we should respond to the many families desperately fleeing for safety, God’s answer is straightforward. He tells us to put ourselves in their situation and ask, “If I and my family were in that situation, how would I want people to help me?” Then it is very clear what we must do.
Divers continue to search for the bodies of those who died when a boat carrying migrants from Eritrea and Somalia sank off the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa last week. The official death toll stands at 194, and 200 people are still missing. 155 people survived when the boat carrying them sank in deep water just 1000 metres from the island. Every year tens of thousands of migrants attempt the perilous crossing from North Africa to Italian islands. In the past two decades 20,000 people from Africa and the Middle East have lost their lives trying to reach southern Europe. In 2011, at the height of the Arab uprisings, 1500 died in one year.
The people who board over-crowded and unseaworthy boats pay large sums to unscrupulous criminal gangs who earn their living through people trafficking. The migrants are desperate. Many are fleeing from countries where there is conflict and persecution. They are willing to spend all they have, and even risk their and their children’s lives, in order to escape poverty and turmoil and find a place of safety and peace.
How do we respond to the plight of these people? Today in European countries, like Britain, immigration is a big issue. The Bible makes it clear that God cares deeply for the plight of migrant people and understands their needs. In the Old Testament there are many examples of people leaving their own countries and going to another. Abraham left his country and his family and went to the land of Canaan. He lived there all his life, but the only land he ever owned was the plot he bought to bury his wife Sarah. In a time of famine Jacob and his family went to Egypt. Later they became slaves there and suffered greatly under hard taskmasters until God brought them out and gave them their own land.
Soon after he was born Jesus was taken by his parents to Egypt because King Herod was determined to kill the new born king. He only returned to Nazareth after Herod has died and it was safe to do so. Jesus is a compassionate Saviour who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” He understands our needs because he has been where we are. He came into this world to give us hope and real life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”