As of the time of writing today’s Reflection – Channel News Asia reported that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that some 2,621 refugees still remain stranded on smugglers’ boats at sea and called for more actions to resolve the migrant crisis in South-East Asia. Earlier in the week, mass graves believed to contain the bodies of Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants were found in the border town of Padang Besar in Malaysia’s Perlis state. We are told that some 25,000 people left the Bay of Bengal from the period January to April this year – entrusting their lives into the hands of human smugglers, who use leaky fishing boats to transport them over treacherous seas – because the unknown, risky ocean crossing offers better hope than the tragic hardships these people have to face in the land of their origin, the land they call “home”.
Several months ago, I visited MMK (Migrant Ministry Klang), a ministry network of Christians who seek to make a difference among the marginalized migrant (“guest”) workers and refugees in the Klang region and elsewhere in Malaysia. I found myself face to face with children at the refugee school, some Bangladeshi, some Rohingya, and others of various nationalities who had taken refuge in Malaysia, fleeing violence or economic hardship at home.
Refugees crowded on a fishing boat (ST, 25 May 2015)
The children were lively and cheerful and ate their simple lunch of rice, a few ikan bilis, and a small portion of vegetables with a thankfulness that we seldom see. The school’s principal shared with us that everything at the school – from the teachers’ allowances (they are all volunteers) to the books, from the premises to the food – all of these were contributions from Christians and their churches around the area.
It was difficult not to be moved, especially in the light of the knowledge that many more do not make it to safe refuge either in Malaysia or elsewhere.
Isaiah 1:17 (ESV) challenged Israel then, and us today, “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
A couple of years ago – I reflected on “love” in John 21:15 – 19, where I observed that the Apostle John recorded the conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter, where the verb for love alternated between phileo and agape. I wondered if there was a little too much academic discussion regarding the two Greek verbs for love instead of learning that regardless of whichever verb was chosen, the point is that love needed to be love in action, as Jesus’ instruction in all three exchanges was clear: “feed my sheep”!
For many of us in Singapore – such sights of overcrowding on the refugee boats, or the little children at the refugee school, are not seen except on TV, and even then for just a few seconds. But such difficult conditions are reality for many people – and I wonder if we as Christians should not be seeking how we ought to be involved in being salt and light.
A couple of thousand years ago, the early, infant, church grew despite hostile Rome – when the Roman people realized, that even in times of disaster (such as when the plague hit Rome in the 2nd century A.D.), noting that “they (the Christians) alone in such a catastrophic state of affairs, gave practical evidence of their sympathy and philanthropy by works. All day long some of them would diligently persevere in performing the last offices for the dying and burying them… while others distributed bread to them all.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, while it is not my intention in my contributions to this morning’s reflections to debate on the cause of such a tragedy (as the problem most certainly is multi-factorial in origin) – it is my intention to encourage us today to consider what is the difficulty of our time, the “catastrophic state of affairs” of our time – that we should demonstrate practical love that the world cannot give, because it neither knows Jesus Christ nor cares – but we do. Because Jesus IS our Lord and Saviour, because our Lord Jesus Himself, who took our suffering upon Himself on the cross, told us, “… by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another!” (John 13:35)