I’ve always had a hard time visualizing large numbers. For example, the population of New York City is roughly nine million people. Considering how crowded some places can get in the City and how difficult it is to park a car there, my brain visualizes “a lot.” At the same time, when I’m in downtown Indianapolis, population nine hundred thousand, with less traffic and crowds than NYC, even after a sporting event my brain still visualizes “a lot.”
Because of my inability to see these large numbers, I have difficulty visualizing the refugee crisis around the world. When I hear about the number of displaced people, I think I downplay the seriousness of what they are experiencing . Many of them are on the run. They lack food, clean water, and clean bathrooms. They have to deal with sickness, diseases, and exposure. The choices we make usually involve something to do with our comfort. The choices that refugee families have to make could mean life or death for themselves or a loved one.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are over 65,000,000 refugees in the world. That makes 1 out of 113 people living outside their home, their country, and their language. There are already dangers associated with being homeless, but just think about the economic impact these large groups of people have on the cities they are residing. There are also children, with and without parents, that consider this life "normal" now.
When I think about refugees, my mind automatically assumes "Syrian refugees" who have been forced to flee their homes there. I’ve seen this crisis on the news, posted on social media, and even talked about in church. It is easy to pray, give, and generally know what’s going on with Syrian families, but, if you’re like me, you might forget about other displaced people that aren’t in the news. There are millions of people literally living in garbage dumps. Their homes aren’t really homes but shacks made out of garbage. The arrival of trash trucks brings excitement and opportunities to find food to eat or items to sell to make it one more day.
One of our mission partners in Ukraine has helped me visualize another group of refugee families that are often forgotten about.
"Since the beginning of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine (Donbass region) between separatists forces, backed by Russian Federation mercenaries, and the National Army of Ukraine in April 2014, nearly 10,000 people have been killed and more than 20,000 wounded, according to the United Nations data. The number of IDPs in Ukraine, who were forced to leave their homes in war affected regions, now stands at 1.7 million, including 215,000 children."
In the city of Mariupol, Ukraine our partner has been able to minister to refugees by providing hot meals, dry food packages, medicine and basic necessities.
"Our volunteers have formed personal relationships with at risk and IDP families and not only become their friends, but also mentors," our partner said.
Soon after the crisis in Ukraine they’ve been able to help many people. A large portion of refugees fled to the city of Mariupol, which is just outside the front line of the Ukrainian border. They are hoping to impact over 200 families through 2016.
"Now, that most of them are attending church, we want to move from providing humanitarian help to starting development projects. The biggest problem in this region is unemployment as well as growing economic crisis. People have been asking us to help them find a job so they can provide for their families themselves," our partner said. "Through many discussions with beneficiaries, we identified three projects that will employ IDP and at-risk individuals and hopefully will start a momentum rebuilding the whole community. The church will be behind all these projects and the ultimate goal of this development initiative will be to draw more people to Christ."
These projects have already been making an impact for the refugee families. Out of all the families helped so far, 120 people have started attending the church regularly, 48 people started attending Bible studies, and 35 people have accepted Christ.
Now those are numbers I can visualize! These are the numbers that matter most. We need to be concerned and do whatever we can to help the masses, but since I’m only one person and you’re only one person, we must work together. The changes we can cause in small numbers will indeed make “a lot” of difference for the Kingdom of God!
-written by Randy Jones, Project Manager @ IDES