Yesterday, I was scrolling through my social media feeds and a vivid photo of a beach passed by. I scrolled back to see a very young boy in shorts and a t-shirt laying in the sand.
It took me a moment to piece together that this wasn’t a child playing on the beach, but instead a wordless and unimaginable tragedy. It was Alan Kurdi.
I have a son. A little boy that has often been dressed in shorts and t-shirts this summer. Those hands and feet, those legs and arms, that little body is one I see everyday.
It was heartbreaking to see the same arms, legs and body as my little boy lying lifeless on a turkish beach. It was guilt inducing and gut wrenching to be grateful that there was dark hair and not my son’s reddish blonde.
I have regularly prayed for Syrian refugees in my church. I have just slipped in a few words for them along with prayers for rain in spring and sunshine in harvest, prayers for world leaders and peace, prayers for church ministries and programs, prayers for sick and dying people. It was the very least I could do.
I have regularly forgotten to pray for Syria when all those other things took all my attention.
I have have encouraged my congregation to collect sweaters for displaced Syrian refugees, to give money to our denominational aid organization working in the refugee camps, to be open minded about our muslim neighbours.
I haven’t pressed them as hard as I could have.
A few months ago as I sat in my office, a muslim refugee family came to me to ask for help. A father and mother just like Abdullah and Rehanna, 6 children just like Ghalib and Alan. A family just like Alan’s sat in my office and I hemmed and hawed about how much help I could provide, secretly wondering about how much effort I would need to put in helping them.
As a pastor, I have had grieving mothers cling to me. I have had to offer failing words and inadequate comfort to those who are grieving the death of a child – young and old.
My job is to point to hope, even when no one else can. My vocation is to be the one who declares “Life” when everyone else declares “death.” My calling is to give words to the grieving.
Words for Alan, Rehanna and Ghalib. Words to Abdullah.
Words that somehow make sense of death.
I wish I could say there is some purpose in this tragedy, but there isn’t. I hope that Alan’s photo becomes as significant as the naked Vietnamse girl’s is, but it would better that neither needed to be taken. I wish that Alan’s death had some greater meaning, but would you volunteer your child’s life to be the one that moved the world to action?
I hope that Alan reminds us that the words ‘Syrian’, ‘Migrant’, ‘Refugee’ are synonymous with ‘person.’ I hope that we remember that Syrians, migrants and refugees are human beings, not numbers, not news headlines, not problems to pass off, or expenses we don’t want to incur.
The world – 5 years too late – cries out for Alan and for Syria.
Yet, world leaders, NGOs, military campaigns, and good intentions will not solve this crisis. At best, they will mitigate it, they will make things slightly less tragic.
That is where my job to speak words for Alan, Ghalib and Rehanna comes in… to speak words that somehow spark hope in the midst of tragedy and death.
Words that are not mine… words that belong to and are given by God.
Because when are confronted with images of tragedy that make us cry out,
Because when we know that our leaders don’t have the will to respond, nor could they adequately respond if they did will it,
Because our good intentions have never solved our problems.
Because the human spirit, as noble as it might be, will not save us.
Because when we cannot redeem senseless death, God can.
God makes sense of that which we cannot.
God turns our tragedy into something better – into mercy and resurrection.
God does have the answer, God has life and love for a little boy laying on a beach.
God has life and love for our broken world.
Featured photo courtesy of Leadnow.ca