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The Refugee Plight
What can the church do?
By Peter N. Landless and Allan R. Handysides
The ongoing saga of the refugees entering Europe has been so much in the news. What are the predominant health challenges they face? Are we as a church assisting with this crisis?
The plight of refugees has been described as a humanitarian crisis, which indeed it is. Desperation, fear, and hopelessness drive people to flee the countries of their birth and seek asylum and new beginnings elsewhere. One can hardly imagine the despair that motivates people to leave their loved ones, homes, and familiar surroundings and head for—well, they cannot be sure; wherever might accept them. Such pain and uncertainty are difficult to grasp. It has been heart-wrenching to witness the undiluted suffering, stress, fear, and uncertainty that characterize the news coverage of this human tragedy. The tragic death of a young child whose body was found on a Turkish beach has become an international symbol of the heartache.
Respiratory (lung) infections, including pneumonia, are the most common diseases seen in this special population. Additionally, accidental trauma is common and related to the cramped space in crowded, often unseaworthy vessels; rough seas; and uncharted or unavoidable rocks in the ocean and on the coasts. Dehydration and hunger are also significant issues that need to be addressed. ASI Europe has successfully operated mobile clinics on specially modified busses, which are equipped with emergency and operating facilities. What a blessing these services have proved to be! Mental and emotional well-being are always challenging under these circumstances, and often complicated by grief and anxiety. Unfortunately, because of sheer numbers and sparse resources, these needs are not adequately addressed.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been encouraged to embrace comprehensive health ministry. This modern-day term for medical missionary work may be described as meeting people’s needs in a practical way by demonstrating God’s love and compassion.
Not all can interface with the refugees, but we all can make a difference.
The church we love and serve is also active and engaged in meeting the needs of refugees. The needs are so great that sometimes even our best efforts may seem as proverbial drops in the bucket. But ADRA International (and its agencies serving the affected countries) and ASI Europe continue to touch the lives of refugees, one person at a time. Joining hands with these agencies are Seventh-day Adventist volunteer health-care professionals from around the world, donating their time and expertise, but more important, sharing the love of Jesus in practical ways by meeting the needs of people, fellow pilgrims on this broken planet.
Efforts of church-affiliated agencies to coordinate a health response have witnessed amazing scenes, including a female Jewish physician treating Syrian women refugees. A popular Christian periodical quoted a Muslim refugee as saying that prior to this current situation he had seen religious people who were not godly; but after being medically helped in Greece, he had now seen godly people in practice! What a testimony to being the hands of the Master Physician.
Can you and I make any difference in the lives of refugees? We can earnestly pray for them and plead that Jesus will soon return and end the suffering, sickness, heartache, displacement, and death. We can donate to ADRA and ASI Europe to assist the valiant and necessary initiatives in which they are engaged. Not all can go and interface with the refugees, but we all can make a difference by sharing our means and being a Matthew 25 church, described in the words of Jesus: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ ” (Matt. 25:40, NIV).
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.