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  • Writer's pictureJoel Harder

Finding True Religion Among Syrian Refugees

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. –James 1:27 (ESV)

It was a clear and sunny summer day in Greece. The port-city view of the Aegean Sea you might expect to follow that sentence would come later, but at that moment we were driving up to a gravel field behind a metal fence to look out on a sea of UNHCR tents. The tents provided some relief from the sun, but not really. It was hot. Living there were a few hundred Syrian refugees. Men, women, and children fleeing the destruction of war in their home towns.

We were greeted immediately by children, some as young as three years old. They were there with siblings and other family members, but many were orphaned. Their parents may have been denied access into Europe, or perhaps drowned trying to get their families across the ocean. I was surrounded by children barely old enough to read, who were completely on their own in this camp, and they were not able to leave. Our mission was simple. Love them. But how can I possibly do that? I don’t speak their language. I have nothing I can really give to them.

So we played games. I had a deck of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (my daughter’s favorite TV show) Numbers flash cards. These children have little other than the clothes they are wearing, but they know their best hope for the future beyond this camp is to learn English and math. So we played games. I made them up. First, simple identification games… then counting in order… then addition. I made up so many games and variations of games, I can’t even remember what they were anymore. I’m no math or English teacher, so I know this was the Holy Spirit working through me, because every time a game came to an end I’d somehow come up with another. And the children loved every moment.

I cried that night – when no one was looking. In such hopelessness and need there was nothing I could give them. At least not in that moment. My soul cried out within me, “God how can I change this? What can I do to help these orphaned ones? I’m so helpless, God!” I didn’t even have water bottles to share. But we were there. We visited them, there. We played and laughed together – even if just for those precious few hours.

It is the height of arrogance to think the injustice of this world can be solved by human hands. Don’t misunderstand me – Christians are commanded in scripture to seek justice and fight for those who have no ability to fight for themselves (Micah 6:8, Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 21:3). When you see injustice around you or when you see someone being mistreated and it is within your power to do something – remember you are a holy and chosen child of God, so stand up for the weak ones! But have the humility to acknowledge that God is the only one who can bring true mercy, perfect justice, and enduring peace to our war-torn world.

The Bible is clear in the book of James that true religion is not in an institution or social movement. True religion is when a Christian, even when unable to change the situation, will visit the weak one in their trouble… so they will not be alone. This is what Jesus did for you and me. We were completely unable to change our fate – to atone for our sinfulness and face a holy God and righteous judge. So He came to earth as one of us. He visited us in our trouble, and then did something so amazingly unbelievable that it could only have been done by God Himself – He took our place. He opened the gate that kept me in my own “refugee camp” and let me go free.

  1. In what ways can you seek justice for weak ones around you?

  2. How might you pray for God to use you to seek justice – or to visit someone in their trouble? What would you specifically pray for?

  3. What are three ways you can visit someone in the midst of their trouble – whether or not you have the ability to change the situation?

  4. Donate today to help serve Syrian refugees through Baptist Global Response.


Originally written as a devotional for the upcoming Youth Mission Trip based on the lyrics of a song the team would be singing in worship. The line the Youth Pastor gave me was “Fight for the weak ones…” asking me to write about my experience last month visiting a Syrian Refugee camp in Greece.

I wish I could share picture of the faces of the children – but that would not be appropriate. Remember that when we talk about Syrian refugees, we are not just pointing our fingers at young men who look like they might be ISIS. We are pointing our fingers at a 7 yr-old girl who has lost her parents. And thousands just like her.

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