If you grew up in the American church throughout the 1990s, you heard a great deal about the 10/40 Window, a large area of mostly un-evangelized people that spans the Middle East. We focused our prayers on spreading the Gospel throughout this region, while mission agencies combed the campus of my Christian university seeking bold souls.
We had mission conferences where some of the bravest, most daring missionaries spoke of their time preaching among hostile tribes and oppressive governments. We learned how Jim Elliot died with his gun in its holster because he would rather take a spear to his chest than allow violence to get in the way of preaching the Gospel.
We heard stories of Hudson Taylor who endured shipwrecks, sickness, and beatings throughout his missionary work in China. We were jolted out of our comfortable Christianity by Taylor's words:
"China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women ... The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, [and] souls first and foremost in everything and at every time—even life itself must be secondary."
There's no mistaking that Jesus has sent us out to preach the Gospel to all people, but actually "going" has proven difficult for some in America.
Today the same Christians who grew up praying for the 10/40 Window are faced with a brand new challenge. The 10/40 Window isn't just "over there." The 10/40 Window is expanding to our shores as Syrian refugees seek asylum in America.
One Christian working with refugees in Europe quipped, "Funny, how God works. Mayhap, he is penning a comedy up there? The world is crossing your borders. Moving into your neighborhoods. Eating lunch with your kids. It turns out that missionary to the Middle East ... it's YOU."
In the midst of this amazing opportunity to welcome strangers as God commanded his people (Leviticus 19:33-34) and to provide hospitality and shelter as Jesus said in Matthew 25:35, we have many American Christians and Christian politicians, who often deserve their own category in America, demanding that we close our borders to Syrian refugees for fear of a terrorist hiding in the ranks of refugees.
Here's a quick overview:
- At least 25 state governors have asked the federal government to not send refugees (Under federal law, states cannot prohibit refugees).
- Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush said America should only help Christian refugees from Syria.
- Candidate Ted Cruz said that you don't hear about Christians committing acts of terrorism.
- Candidate Ben Carson said Americans should reconsider letting Syrian refugees into America.
This fear of foreigners is a sure way for politicians to score quick and easy political points with their base, while creating the illusion that they are making America more secure.
As a notable aside, if these governors were committed to actually protecting Americans from violence, they'd adopt better mental health checks and longer processing periods for gun ownership, to say nothing about banning assault rifles. Gun violence has claimed over 10,000 lives so far in 2015 compared to terrorism that claims roughly 10 American citizens each year.
While many Syrian refugees are Muslims, we shouldn't confuse Islam with terrorism. In fact, there is only an estimated 106,000 Muslim extremists who have taken up arms worldwide. The vast majority of Muslims oppose terrorism, while ISIS would love nothing more than for their tiny movement to be considered representative of Islam.
In fact, there is very, very little risk of a refugee being a terrorist, since the 18-month waiting period for refugees in America is extremely inefficient for a terrorist when far more efficient illegal channels exist. America's vetting process is so thorough that: "of the 3 million refugees admitted to the US since 1975 (785,000 since 9/11), roughly a dozen have been arrested or removed due to security concerns."
Some analysts are concerned that keeping refugees out of America, where they can find work and become acquainted with Americans first-hand, will lead to them becoming radicalized. Refugees with no viable options are the real threat long term. In fact, ISIS is counting on western nations turning refugees away.
Regardless of whether Americans are confident in our government's ability to screen refugees, Christians in America have every reason to open our arms to them.
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). If that worked for Elliot and Taylor, that should be good enough for us today.
Many Christian leaders are countering the message of American politicians. World Relief is one of many Christian groups that actively works to settle refugees in America, the National Association of Evangelicals cautioned against confusing the victims of terrorism with the perpetrators of terrorism, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called for compassion on the families fleeing violence.
If American Christians believe that those who lose their lives will gain them, and if we are willing to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, then perhaps we have been placed where we are for such a time as this.
We don't have to cross the raging seas on a rickety ship or venture into the jungle where sharp spears await. We can commit to welcoming refugees, and recognize that we have an unprecedented opportunity to show the love and hospitality of Christ to people who just 20 years ago were merely numbers in a 10/40 Window prayer guide.