A few days ago, I went searching on The New York Times website because I wanted to see what happened in the no-confidence vote that took place in South Africa against President Jacob Zuma. [He survived, by a National Assembly vote of 198 to 177]. In pulling up the “World” section, I stumbled across this story buried about halfway down the headlines:
“At Least 50 Migrants Drown when Smuggler throws them into the Sea.” Here is the story: At Least 50 Migrants Drown.
Yes, you read that correctly. A small boat carrying migrants—average age, 16—fleeing Ethiopia and Somalia was on its way to Yemen, when the smugglers got nervous: they thought they saw authorities on the Yemeni coast, so they simply pushed the migrants into the Arabian Sea to drown. Then they turned the boat around, and headed back to Somalia to pick up more migrants.
It is a measure of what is going on the world—the sparks and bluster around North Korea, political instability in several African countries, continued concern about terror attacks in Europe—that the ongoing, devastating migrant crisis has slipped off the radar of most major news outlets and out of the minds of most of us.
The fact that starving, desperate children are fleeing one horrific situation through another just to get to another [Yemen is no safe haven!] is old news. It’s a tragic story, but it’s complicated, it’s far away, and we’ve all got other things to worry about.
People, we need a bigger boat.
As I was reading this story, I remembered another “boat story”—the story of the St. Louis, a German ocean liner carrying 937 passengers [almost all of whom were Jewish] fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. [Read about that story here: The St. Louis ] Only 28 passengers were allowed to disembark in Havana, and then the St. Louis was turned away from Miami and sent back to Europe. Great Britain took 288 of them; the Netherlands, 181; Belgium 214; and 224 found a temporary place in France—thanks to the work of Jewish organizations. Many did end up surviving the war, but many did not.
This nautical image of people in desperate need, fleeing a situation of death and destruction, hoping to be received in safety and friendship; specifically escaping across the water—a place of vulnerability and risk—is a powerful image, and one that should resonate with the church in particular [I have two words for you: “Noah” and “Exodus.”]
In situations like this, the temptation is always to think, “my boat is too small”—we can’t risk our own lives to try and save someone else. We have to protect ourselves, our own self-interest. This is this same impulse that motivated both FDR and those Somalian smugglers; it’s the same impulse that motivates many current United States politicians as well, and our current president.
People, we need a bigger boat. Or, maybe we just need more boats. It’s really the same thing.
I saw “Dunkirk” a few weeks ago, and boy, is that a great story. Dunkirk is the name of the French harbor from which the British army was rescued, not only by the British Navy, but by hundreds of “small boats”—little pleasure boats, fishing boats, dinghies: whatever was available was commandeered and sent to save those soldiers from capture. There is a great scene in the movie where Kenneth Branagh’s character is looking through binoculars at the dozens and dozens of small vessels on the sea coming toward them on the beach; when someone asks him what he sees, he turns and says, “home.”
Home. That’s what everyone wants: a place of safety, a place of security, a place to work and play and dream; a place to eat and sleep, a place to have a family, a place to love and be loved. It’s a most basic human need.
I’d like to suggest that we have more room than we think. I’d like to suggest that our home is not compromised, but rather enhanced when we invite others in. And, more strongly, I think it is our responsibility to prevent as many people from sinking as we can: to prevent people—children—from drowning and dying homeless.
We may not be able to take everyone, but surely, we can do more than we are doing now.
People, we have a bigger boat; we have enough boats. It’s time to make some room.