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The world’s forgotten refugees

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Somali children stand at the burial of 12-month-old Liin Muhumed Surow at UNHCR's Ifo Extention camp outside Dadaab, Eastern Kenya, 100 kms (60 miles) from the Somali border, August 6, 2011 (Credit: AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

With the refugees streaming across the Mediterranean in search of a new life in Europe garnering the majority of media attention in recent months, it is easy to forget that they are not the only people that have been driven from their homes by war and civil unrest. For those suffering in the world’s largest refugee camp, it is easy to feel forgotten. That is why CNN’s David McKenzie and Brent Swails recently visited the Dadaab refugee camp near Kenya’s border with Somalia.

The Dadaab camp was established in 1991 after roughly 90,000 refugees fled across the border in an attempt to escape the civil war that was, and still is, tearing Somalia apart. It has since grown to house more than 300,000 displaced Somalians. While shops, hospitals, and other venues give the illusion of a normal city, the Kenyan government will not allow Dadaab’s inhabitants to build permanent structures. As a result, homes are comprised mostly of tents or, for the fortunate, walls made of branches and reclaimed wood with tin roofs.

Conditions in Dadaab are often what you might expect when you think of a refugee camp, with hunger and poor living conditions a standard part of life in the camp. However, bouts of famine in recent years have only exacerbated the already critical situation and increased the needs of Dadaab’s residents. Tragically, with the situation in Syria and similar crises around the world, rations from the World Food Program have dropped by 30 percent over this past summer alone and efforts to reduce the population in the camp have been largely unsuccessful.

You see, most of Dadaab’s refugees have no interest in going back to Somalia. Many were born and raised in the camp. For them, it’s the only home they know. And even though life in Dadaab is difficult, with one man likening it to a prison given the residents’ inability to leave or provide for themselves, the prospect of going back and facing the violence and danger that waits for them in Somalia is even worse. As one resident said, “We never left Somalia because we wanted to come here. We left because of the war. The war is still going on.”

According to international law, refugees are supposed to have three options to leave camps like Dadaab. They can return home, apply for resettlement in a third country, or integrate into their country of asylum. However, the Kenyan government will not allow Dadaab’s residents to become citizens and, according to the CNN report, “historically less than one percent of refugees worldwide are resettled in a third country.” Given that returning to Somalia is not considered a viable option for most of Dadaab’s residents, remaining in the camp and attempting to overcome the lack of food and other resources is their only viable option.

The plight of Dadaab’s residents might not seem, on the surface, to have much to do with those of the Syrians and others fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East. But they are connected, since the same organizations are often charged with giving aid to multiple refugee groups. When you live in community with other people, even if that community is not linked geographically, what happens to one person or group will invariably impact the others. That is true of refugees across Africa and the Middle East and it is true for each of our communities as well.

While there are many applications of that principle that we could speak about today, the one I would like to focus on deals with sin. We have a tendency to look at our sins as personal and as something that only impacts ourselves. That is simply not the case. Your sin will inevitably influence the lives of those around you and it is vital that we remember that truth. That’s one of the reasons why Jesus speaks about the need for the community to get involved when you see a brother or sister in Christ living in sin (Matthew 18:15-17).

Ultimately, there’s really no such thing as your sin or my sin when it comes to the body of Christ. We may be individually responsible for the wrongs we commit but we are all impacted by the mistakes of others because we are all connected as God’s adopted sons and daughters. We need look no further than the way that stories of infidelity among pastors or the hateful speech of those who condemn rather than speak God’s truth in love impact the way that we are all viewed by the world around us to see that the actions of a few can impact the whole. The same is true on a smaller scale when one church member gossips about another and the unity of the local body is made weaker.

Ultimately, what we do impacts those around us in ways we may never fully understand this side of heaven. But God does, and it’s part of the reason why he takes our sin so seriously. So the next time you are tempted to sin, remember that the consequences will not be yours alone to bear.