Rev. Dr. Wes Magruder – Refugee images shook us awake. Now it’s time to do something.

*by Wes Magruder

Last week, I delivered a sermon on the story of a Syrian immigrant who approached Jesus to heal her daughter.

The timing was good, given that the world’s attention was focused on Syrians fleeing their country and seeking refuge.


Jesus’ reply to the Syrian woman took me aback. Instead of warmly welcoming her and granting her request (Mark 7: 24-30), he offers harsh words, as she is not part of his target demographic: “The children must be fed first. It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs,” he said.

But the woman answers immediately: “Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table!”

It’s that comeback that gets Jesus’ attention, that desperate plea for attention from a woman who was normally despised. Her words are a ringing declaration of human dignity.

This exchange altered the trajectory of Jesus’ life. After this event, Jesus expands his ministry to all people, not just his fellow Jews. After this encounter, Jesus responds to the dignity of everyone.

I can’t help thinking that the photo of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, face down on a beach in Turkey, is having a similar effect on Americans today. We’ve been able to stay emotionally distant from the Syrian refugee crisis for three years now, even though as many as 200,000 may have died, and over 4 million people have fled.

The picture of that boy changes everything. In that photo, we see every little boy. It’s an image that cries out for a recognition of dignity.

Even Donald Trump has changed his tune. This week, Trump said the U.S. should take in Syrian refugees: “I hate the concept of it, but on a humanitarian basis, you have to,” he said. Trump later seemed to backtrack slightly, but his sentiment was clear.

Now that our eyes have opened to this crisis, we must act.

The first thing to do is to persuade President Barack Obama to expand the number of refugees allowed to come to the U.S. International Rescue Committee is asking the administration to take in 65,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year. Lutheran Immigration and Relief Services has argued for an even greater expansion: setting 200,000 refugees as a target in 2016, with 100,000 of those specifically from Syria.

These numbers sound imposing, but Europe is absorbing far more refugees. It would not be an impossible goal, particularly for those of us in Texas.

For the last four years, Texas has been the leader in U.S. refugee resettlement. In the past year alone, Texas resettled 7,200 refugees from a wide array of countries, including Vietnam, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Iraq and Burma.

Resettlement agencies do the hard, practical work of picking up refugees from the airport, settling them in their new homes, walking them through the initial steps of becoming citizens, and helping them find employment. In Dallas, three agencies do this vital, life-giving work: Refugee Services of Texas, Catholic Charities of Dallas and International Rescue Committee.

But none of these agencies can do their work without volunteers. These agencies rely on volunteers who agree to “adopt” or “mentor” refugee families for the first few months of life in America.

In my own experience with the refugee resettlement process, there are never enough volunteers to do this simple work. I have taught a young Eritrean how to count American money, delivered household goods to a Burmese family, and accompanied a Congolese woman to the doctor’s office with her baby.

Making a difference in the life of a refugee is something all of us can do.

432330_10151118102540047_654066289_n-225x300-1*Wes Magruder is senior pastor of Kessler Park United Methodist Church and chair of the board of the nonprofit Refugee Services of Texas. Reach him through  

This commentary originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News at


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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Hayne hamiltonRichard F Hicks Recent comment authors
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Richard F Hicks
Richard F Hicks

The European Union and the United States have the same border policy. Let everyone in who can get here. They can bunk with those who want open borders. Each titan of business, each pastor, seminary professor, etc. who advocates open borders can take in a refugee family into each of her/his bedrooms. US border states need to follow the lead of Croatia and Hungry and give free rides into rich neighborhoods. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

Hayne hamilton
Hayne hamilton

Where have you been sleeping, Rev McGruder ? You say that you have been awakened to a human disaster. Over at least the last four years, 250,000 to 300,000 humans have been slaughtered by Muslim terrorists. 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 additional persons have been displaced in the imiddle east alone because of the war there, and they now stagger through the rubble with nothing or survive in sqallid refugee camps. Your resume tells us that you have known about this, but you have not helped any Syrians. Many of us have been resettling immigrants for many years. The UMC has made… Read more »

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