Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the greatest humanitarian crisis of our day. It's big, bigger than any one of us. And that's why we pray: because together, with God, we can accomplish anything.
Today, join us in action on behalf of refugees … Join us in prayer.
Half a world away, millions of Syrians are experiencing historic suffering. Indiscriminate violence threatens their children, their spouses, and their neighbors, leaving millions with no viable option but to run. More than 6 million have run from their homes to safer areas within Syria—only to find that the war changes and makes their new home as dangerous as their old one. More than 4 million have run from Syria altogether.
They’ve made their homes in rundown refugee camps and tent settlements or have found shelter in abandoned buildings. They’ve been forced to live on handouts because they’re not allowed to get jobs in their new countries.
Their children have lost years of education as they’ve been expected to learn in new languages—or have been barred from school altogether. The children scream at night, unable to sleep soundly because the horrible violence they’ve seen comes back to them in their dreams.
And the complex war that caused this damage doesn’t seem to be letting up, even after five years.
Sometimes it’s hard to know how to even begin to respond. It seems that our responses to crises like this—this big, this hard, this scary—fall into two main categories:
- Let’s DO something about this!
- I CAN’T do anything about this!
But what about this one?
- Let’s PRAY about this.
How often do we think about prayer first when difficult situations come up in our lives? And what do we think is going to happen if we pray?
Not everyone takes prayer seriously.
After the shootings in San Bernadino, the editors at the New York Daily News decided that politicians promising prayers weren’t taking enough action to stop similar tragedies. They affixed a bold headline to their December 3 front page that screamed, “God’s Not Fixing This!”
The headline kicked off a brief whirlwind of what was eventually dubbed “prayer shaming”—criticizing those who offered prayers while doing nothing themselves to solve genuine problems.
Then of course there was backlash and Christians defended prayer and its power to effect change.
But the whole debate does make you think: is “I’ll pray” just an empty platitude that Christians offer when they don’t want to get their hands dirty? Is prayer a replacement for our own obedience and action? Are prayer and action mutually exclusive?
I don’t think so.
1. Prayer is action
Prayer is a mysterious, incredible privilege that God gives us. I can’t walk into the office of my senior executive at work without a heads-up and usually a scheduled meeting. But we get to have honest, transparent conversations—at any time—with the perfect, holy God of the universe.
If we believe that God is both all-powerful and perfectly loving, the very act of bringing our concerns to Him—even huge, complicated concerns like war, disease and injustice—is action.
1 John 5:14 tells us that “this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
2. Prayer moves us to obedient action
At the same time, God isn’t satisfied with our words alone. He tells us that our actions are important.
In the Old Testament, God tells Israel through the prophet Isaiah, “When you spread your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you. Even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening … stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice; defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
In the New Testament, the book of James says, “What good is it … if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? … Faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
God’s action and our actions are intertwined. Often, He works through us, bringing His mercy and love to others through our merciful and loving actions. Often, he reveals what actions He wants us to take as we come to Him in prayer. And God infuses power into our actions when we seek to work with Him for the people He loves.
In a survey by Ipsos research, World Vision asked Americans what they had done to help Syrian refugees—and what they would be willing to do in the future. Here’s what we learned:
- More than 76 percent of Americans Christians said that they’d be willing to help Syrian refugees, but only 44 percent of Christians had done anything to help.
- Only 30 percent of Christians had said a prayer—even one prayer—for Syrians in this crisis.
- What’s worse: only about half of Christians said that they would be willing to pray for Syrians.
The Syrian crisis is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our day. It’s big … really big … too big for us. Fixing it will take more than what our actions can accomplish. The crisis also brings with it a lot of baggage: issues of foreign policy, religion, national security, and how open or closed we want our country to be are all balled up in this crisis. It can be really hard to see what God wants us to do.
But that’s why we pray. We pray because we can’t fix this on our own. We pray because we don’t even know how to start. We pray because we know that God can change hearts—even ours if necessary—to bring about the right results.
World Vision is participating in a prayer campaign called #PrayForRefugees—a campaign focused on the conflict and refugee crisis in the Middle East. It’s a great place to start. To start learning, to start praying, and to start discovering what God wants each of us to do in response to this historic tragedy.
Close your eyes. Fold your hands. Bow your heads. And do something.
Join us and our friends in praying daily for this refugee crisis through Easter. Find each day's prayer at Pray For Refugees.
After prayer, take the next step in helping alleviate this refugee crisis. Make a donation today to help us respond to the needs of refugee children and families.