Refugees and Impossible Needs
It was a hazy and chilly 5:15 am sunrise that found us pouring out of two Uber vans onto a dirty Parisian street.
Our drivers looked at us like we were crazy. We looked at each other like we were crazy, because the scene we stepped into was unlike any scene we had ever witnessed this side of a CNN report.
Thousands upon thousands of refugees filled the streets. It was standing room only, and the air was tense with expectation and confusion as the men looked up and down the streets unsure of what was was next.
They had come from war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Somalia and the Sudan, anywhere where immense suffering was affecting all humanity. They had traveled thousands of miles over months in adverse circumstances to Paris hoping to find refuge and security.
And behind the overflowing crowds in the street was a newly abandoned tent city. Greens. Blues. Reds. The tents that housed these men seemed to go on for days. The remnants of six months of life spent living in the streets surrounding them.
They had come with hope of a better life, and here they were crammed in the city streets waiting to be taken to a holding location to be catalogued and relocated. The atmosphere contained all that spent hope, the hours and months of waiting, the frustration of leaving a home filled with suffering only to be relocated again and again without any foreseeable change to that pattern.
This is what we stumbled into that hazy, chilly morning in Paris. Not exactly what I had expected.
We had come to France to share the Gospel. To be the hands and feet of Jesus. To do whatever you’re supposed to do on an international mission trip. All those cliche godly things that mission trip goers do.
But all that left me when I stepped out of that van. All the good godly things I was supposed to do disappeared from my mind the instant I saw those crowds of men. When I saw those tents. When I saw their faces. Their eyes. When I tasted, if only minutely, what it was like to be a refugee.
All those godly things I was supposed to do were swallowed an overwhelming fear. Fear of the crowds, of the place, of what I might have to do or say, just a big big fear.
It didn’t look like normal fear. I didn’t wring my hands or get jumpy or run away or cower behind my teammates. It manifested itself instead as detachment. It was a fear that kept me from truly engaging in what was going on around me. It filled my mind with hopelessness as I looked at the 1000s of men that filled the streets, understanding the reality of their vagrant lives. And I had no choice but to also feel the depth of just how helpless I was.
What was I supposed to do?
Looking into the face of the global refugee crisis that day was like looking at a burning building filled with people while being handcuffed to a fence a safe distance away. It was shocking and petrifying and it rendered me helpless. And, it honestly still haunts me on occasion because it feels so impossibly big. An impossible need that can never be fully met.
But, as the Spirit so often does for me, He didn’t leave me paralyzed in my fear. He nudged me towards Truth. And as I moved around that Parisian city block, as I talked to some of the men, as I took down tents, as I jumped feet first into the lives of these refugees, God showed me some big things.
One is that He is a God who sees, and there wasn’t one person on that street that day who God wasn’t intimately acquainted with all their ways. He saw me trembling in my Nikes, and He also saw each one of those refugees. In fact, God had seen every part of their journey - even all that is to come.
We see this time and again throughout the gospels. Jesus is constantly surrounded by multitudes, and yet His gaze lingers on the individual. Someone who needs His healing or His words or His presence gets seen and uplifted as a result. It brings to mind the words of Hagar when the Lord met her in the desert:
“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me.’” Genesis 16:13 (NIV)
And because God truly sees, He also knows the needs of all those who fall under his gaze. He knew that day in Paris I needed a wake-up call. He knew I needed to see those men, to understand the plight of the refugee, however jarring it may have been. He knew I would be experiencing that level of fear and detachment and be overwhelmed and need Him to help fill in the gaps of understanding.
As I looked around at my wake-up call that morning trying to understand God’s place in it all, I ticked off a huge list of their needs that seemed overwhelming - an actual home, consistent meals of healthy food, reliable health care, to be reunited with their families, socks and shoes, backpacks, cell phones, translators, the proper paperwork to go to school or to get a job. The list of needs never seemed to end from my perspective. It seemed impossible.
But on that street in Paris, I heard God say directly to me, that I had missed the point.
Because that list of earthly material needs (although important and overwhelming to each of us) belied a deeper more pressing need that pulsed from that tent city in a palpable way.
What those refugees really needed was a true savior. The Savior.
They needed Jesus.
And as sure as I heard God say these men needed the true Gospel through His Son, I immediately felt the depth of that task. The enemy whispered into my soul how very impossible it would be for these men to hear of and believe in Jesus right there on the street in Paris.
But Jesus, as described by Pastor Shadonkeh Johnson, just happens to be an “impossibility specialist”.
One example of His ability to meet impossible needs is found in Luke chapter 8:26-39. It tells the tale of the man called Legion who was shackled, naked, living in a cemetery, and tormented by many demons for a very long time. Basically the local castaway, someone who was probably frightening to and forgotten by the local townspeople.
But after an encounter with Jesus, the man called Legion was a completely different person.
“Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.”
We see specifically in verse 35 that this man was sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind after this encounter. Then in verse 39 we see him proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.
All his needs were met. Even the impossible ones.
That day Jesus knew the best thing the demon-possessed man could receive from Him was Himself. Now fast forward to last summer, and that was also true for every one of the refugees that filled the streets of Paris.
The same is true for me and for you. He knows all our needs. He knows when we are hungry, when we need money, when we need a friend, when we need a break. He sees and knows it all.
But God knows what we need most is Him.
We need His saving grace. We need His compassion and comfort. We need His truth and justice. We need His provision and protection.
We just need Him.
As my gaze switched from my fear and my helplessness to the true need of the refugees, a peace settled deep into my heart.
Honestly, it felt a little weird as I stepped through the garbage of that makeshift camp. Here I was helping to fold up tent after tent, and a smile began to creep onto my face and a song of assurance filled my heart. I was surrounded by one of society’s saddest secrets, but I was joyful.
I was filled with joy because if what these refugees needed was Jesus, well, I knew there was something I could do about that. I knew I could show His love through my actions towards these people. I knew I could speak of the amazing things my Savior had done for me. I knew I could make great my Lord during my stay in Paris.
And I also knew deep in my heart that God could meet the refugees ultimate need. He was right there with the men and women and children, and He was waiting for them to call upon Him. His deepest desire was for these people to become His own.
Our God is big enough to meet all needs. Especially the impossible ones.
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37
Amy Bufkin has loved Jesus for as long as she can remember. Even though she basically lived at her local church growing up, her faith and relationship with The Lord was incredibly shallow until her early twenties. It was then Amy learned how to study her Bible, began to truly commune with God, and her shallow faith began to deepen as she got to know her Lord and Savior. Now her passion is to communicate the same truths that changed her life to young women in as many ways as possible. You can find her on Instagram | Facebook