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The plight of refugees in war-torn areas of the Middle East and Africa is a global problem without an easy solution, and finding homes for the millions that have been displaced by violence and unrest continues to cause division and debate in nations around the world. Swedish furniture giant IKEA, however, isn’t waiting for the world’s governments to decide what needs to be done. Instead, in cooperation with the UN Refugee Agency, they have developed a product called the Better Shelter, and it’s already begun to change the lives of tens of thousands in need.
When most of us think of IKEA furniture, overly complicated instructions, a seemingly endless supply of parts, and a finished bookshelf that vaguely resembles the one from the store likely haunt our memories. The Better Shelter, however, is different. It began in 2010 as an effort to replace the tents that have traditionally provided temporary housing for the millions of refugees and victims of natural disasters around the globe. While those tents are better than the open air, they barely protect occupants from the inclement weather and lack of security that so often make living in refugee communities unbearably dangerous.
By contrast, the Better Shelter, which was recently awarded the Beazley design of the year by London’s Design Museum, can safely house up to five people inside its semi-hard, non-transparent walls. The structure, which takes roughly four hours for a team of four to build, comes complete with a door that’s lockable from both sides, a solar powered lamp to provide light during the dead of night, and a high ceiling that allows those inside to stand and move around with ease. It’s built to last for three years—a marked improvement over the tents that often deteriorate in a matter of months—and the steel frame can be used as a foundation on which to build a more permanent home with local materials should the opportunity arise.
As the company described, “Our mission is to improve the lives of persons displaced by armed conflicts and natural disasters. We aim to be the leader in emergency and temporary shelter innovation and strive to provide a safer, more dignified home away from home for millions of displaced persons.” The Better Shelter is a good place to start, but there’s still much more that needs to be done. And while IKEA seems to be doing their part, are we?
As Dr. Denison recently asked, “Can we truly say we love our Father if we don’t protect and serve his children?” In that same article, he made clear just how complicated this issue is, and my purpose today is not to insinuate that there is an easy or straight-forward solution. Rather, it’s to remind us that there is a middle ground between doing nothing and solving everything.
If IKEA had waited until they could help every refugee to start building their Better Shelter, they would have helped none of them. In the same way, we don’t have to help everyone to make a difference in the lives of some. If God has put this issue on your heart, simply feeling bad for those in need isn’t enough. Prayer is a great place to start, but, in addition to praying for the hurting, ask God with an open and willing mind to let you know how he might want you to help those in need. It could be something as simple as donating to groups on the ground. It could mean a mission trip to help some of those affected. Or it could simply be a platform God will use to prompt you to serve the suffering closer to home.
However God leads you to help the needy on his behalf—and such service is done on his behalf (Matthew 25:31-46)—remember that making a difference in the life of even one person in need can have an impact far greater than we could ever imagine. You don’t have to help them all, but I do believe that God is calling all of us to help some. Have you found your Better Shelter yet?