Vernon Brewer, the CEO of World Help, is on the ground in Lebanon working with refugees. As crises in Syria and other locations in the Middle East reach a watershed moment, Charisma News reached out to Brewer to discuss how Christians can share the love of Christ in such trying times.
What is our Christian responsibility to refugees?
I think any person—especially people of faith—has a responsibility to make sure these refugees are not forgotten. To see the images coming out of Syria and not respond is unthinkable.
I worry that over the past seven years of the refugee crisis in Syria, the American church has grown numb to this great need. After the horrible chemical attack on Douma, what did we do as a nation? We debated. We talked about who was at fault and what military action should be taken. And while it’s important for our leaders to think through these decisions, we don’t have to take sides or wait to see how they will respond. We can respond right now with compassion. We can meet the physical needs of the sick, injured and hungry. We can show them the love of Christ.
Unless something changes quickly, years from now, history will write this as a moment of failure for the global Christian church. We will have to answer to our children and grandchildren why we stood paralyzed out of fear in the face of unspeakable violence and suffering. We shouldn’t be afraid of how big or overwhelming the need is. We should focus on the individual needs of the one person we can help—a refugee orphan or mother—and give what we can to meet her most urgent needs.
What is the biblical significance of the refugee crisis?
To see the biblical significance of the refugee crisis, just look at James 2:15-16 (NIV). These verses say, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”
We can pray for refugees all day long—and we should! But unless we actually do something, we’re not really living out our faith. The refugees I’m meeting here on the ground have absolutely nothing. They are living in makeshift houses constructed from wooden pallets, tarps and even old tires. With all we have in America, how can we not respond by giving at least $35 to meet the needs of one refugee? I believe the refugee crisis today is a test of our faith. How we respond will determine whether we pass or fail that test.
What do American Christians need to know about refugees?
The most important thing American Christians need to understand about refugees are they’re just like you and me. Many of these people in this camp used to be businessmen, nurses and teachers. They had houses and cars. They spent their days going to work, picking kids up from school, running to the grocery store. And then their lives exploded.
People ask me all the time how can we pray for the people of Syria. I tell them put yourself in their shoes and think about the things you would pray for if you were in their situation. You would pray for your kids’ safety, for the opportunity for them to go back to school, for them to grow in their relationship with Jesus, and to not let the hatred they’ve experienced poison their young hearts. You’d pray that you could return to work and provide for your family. You’d pray for enough food to eat. And you would pray that you could return home soon.
How would you respond to people who don’t want to help?
When I meet someone who is questioning why we should help refugees, I often share this story. On one of my trips to a Syrian refugee camp, I saw a man hurrying toward me, carrying a tiny baby in his arms. He kept pleading with me to do something. When he finally reached me, he began to push the baby into my arms, repeating the same words over and over. I quickly learned that his wife had been killed, and he had been trying to keep his 3-month-old daughter alive by himself in the bitter cold temperatures. He was afraid the baby was dying, and he wanted me to take her. He would rather give her to me—a total stranger—than risk having her die in his arms. How can we possibly turn our back on people experiencing this unfathomable level of hopelessness? Even if our politics divide us, our compassion should unite us.
Many of these refugees are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And for those who aren’t, this is the perfect opportunity to show them the love of Jesus. Back in November, I visited a medical clinic for Syrian refugees and discovered that 16 families had come to Jesus because they saw something different in the Christian doctors and nurses there. That many Syrians becoming Christians in such a short time was virtually unheard of before this crisis. I believe that even as horrible as this crisis is, God is opening doors to allow us to do His work and use it for good.
What is the best way for us to get involved?
Of course, the first thing we should be doing is praying. We should be praying for peace and for the safety of everyone involved. We should be praying that the refugees receive the food, medicine, and other supplies they need to survive. And we should be praying about how God would have us to give and to help these people. Just $35 provides healthy meals, medical care and other essential supplies for one Syrian refugee for at least a week. Anyone who wants to learn more or give, can go online to worldhelp.net/Syria.
What Scriptures do you use to guide your ministry?
One Scripture verse that really sums up what we do at World Help is Isaiah 58:10, which says, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your light will become like the noonday.”
We believe that God isn’t just calling us to go into the easy places. He’s calling us to go into the hardest places and the darkest places—like Syria. We go there with a two-fold mission: to spread help for today and hope for tomorrow. Help for today means people’s immediate physical needs, and hope for tomorrow means sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. You have to meet the needs of the whole person—body and soul—for true transformation to happen.
How has the Holy Spirit used you/your ministry?
The Holy Spirit has used this ministry in so many remarkable ways. When I started World Help in 1991, I had no idea that God would allow us and our donors to impact 82 million people in more than 70 countries. I had no idea that we would be able to transform entire villages in Guatemala, send thousands of Bibles to persecuted Christians in North Korea, provide clean water for more than 950 communities or connect 56,000 children in poverty with generous sponsors. I certainly never thought that I’d make nearly 20 trips to visit Syrian refugees during a seven-year-long civil war. But God always has great plans for us when we choose to say yes to Him. He can use any gift you give—no matter the amount—to rescue and renew the life of a person in need.
What sort of miracles have you seen happen through your ministry?
Anytime we can point someone to salvation in Jesus Christ, I believe that is a miracle. Although we can help a person out of physical poverty, only God can bring them out of spiritual poverty.
I mentioned earlier that many refugees are coming to Christ because of the generosity they’ve witnessed from believers. Mrs. Zin is one of those people. I met her last year in a refugee settlement where her family ended up after they were driven out of Syria. She had been through so much. Her 11-year-old daughter was nearly raped and her 8-year-old son was almost kidnapped during the war. As the family escaped, they were captured and held with little food or water for 21 days. When they finally arrived at the refugee settlement, she went to our medical clinic looking for help … but she found so much more.
The doctors were so compassionate she couldn’t help but ask them why. After all, she was a Muslim. They were Christians. Why would they care about her? They told her about Jesus’ love and how He commanded us to love others. She was so impressed that she decided to become a Christ-follower herself … and her two children did too. Her husband, though, clung to his Muslim faith. But praise the Lord, when I returned a few months later, I discovered he has now joined the family of God, as well!
Vernon Brewer is the CEO and founder of World Help. World Help is a Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of people in impoverished communities around the world. For 27 years, World Help has worked with partners around the world to help those in need and bring hope into hopeless situations.