When historians look back on 2015, it likely will be remembered as the year the impact of the war in Syria was finally felt in Europe.
Europeans are starting to meet the hundreds of thousands of victims of horrific conflict in Syria and Iraq on their terrain.
I can understand the fear that many Europeans have of not being able to cope with the influx of refugees.
Will they change your way of life and culture? Or take your homes, jobs or benefits? What if some are economic migrants?
Could generosity compromise national security? Could religious freedom also be at risk?
I understand these concerns. For four years in my home country of Lebanon, we have faced these fears, lived through these experiences and are still struggling with these questions.
A quarter of our population now are Syrian refugees. We are struggling to ensure that they get food, accommodation and schooling.
There have been security challenges with Islamic fundamentalists trying to get a foothold in northern Lebanon.
At first, Christians in Lebanon were afraid of helping the fleeing Syrians. A contentious history between the two nations is the reason for the animosity. We were afraid of helping Muslims.
We soon realized that most refugees are innocent people who were living in peace and have nothing to do with the conflict.
The Middle East has paid a high price for the battles of our rulers. They fight and the people pay the bill.
As Christians, we couldn’t look the other way while they suffered. We couldn’t follow Jesus and ignore the plight of desperate refugees.
So we have overcome our fears and shared the love of Christ through practical action like providing food, bedding, heaters and schooling for young children.
It has not been easy, but God has broken down barriers between communities and encouraged both Christians and Muslims to see each other in a more compassionate light.
We have not watered down who we are or what we believe. We are standing up for the values that Jesus taught us in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). It has been a challenge but also a huge blessing.
Last week, while in Germany, I met some Syrian refugees working near Dortmund and sending money home to their loved ones in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
They told me about the difficult journeys they had made to get there and some of the poor and inhumane treatment they had received along the way.
The warmth and support they were getting from Germans impressed me. Many had opened their homes, offering food and other assistance. Dignity and human rights were being respected regardless of national origin.
The response of Germany and a few other countries to the refugee crisis is a good lesson for the rest of Europe. I learned that in the German constitution the “dignity of man is untouchable” and is translated into laws and is practiced (religiously) by authorities. Their welcoming spirit and respect for human dignity is something Syrians and Iraqis have note known in their own countries.
I shared in a Sunday worship service and spoke to refugees and Germans. Never did I hear anyone saying, “We don’t want them; they are terrorists; let them go to their countries.”
I was touched to see the effect of Christian values among Germans, even though many no longer have an active faith.
In Europe, Germany’s compassion and commitment to human rights are exemplary. When refugees arrive, on the whole they receive fair treatment.
It’s sad that Middle Eastern countries and North African countries didn’t extend any invitation for any refugees to come and stay. By the same token, refugees do not want to go to any country in their region.
Why is there no invitation and no desire to go to this region? This is a challenging dilemma for the 300 million Arabs and their leaders in the Middle East and North Africa.
Refugees coming to Europe are in desperate need and are flocking to countries built upon traditional Christian values.
How will European Christians respond?
Some may say, “We have enough problems of our own and we need to put our country and its people first.” Christians cannot say this without turning our backs against our beliefs and our Bible.
We need a new vision to love and help refugees. Now is the time to apply our practical Christianity.
We need to show Christ is for all by sharing the love of God, feeding the poor and extending a hand to the hurting whether they are Syrian, Iraqi, German, French or Serb. Fanaticism, hatred and killing are not our way of life.
It will not be easy. There will be a lot of political attacks for doing so.
In the Middle East, we have a completely different upbringing from Europeans. Some of us have been brought up to hate the West and Western traditions.
It will require education and patience on all sides to enable Muslims, Christians and those of other faiths, or of no faith, to live together.
We may face hostility, but Jesus had a compassionate heart for the poor; now is the time to show our compassionate heart.
This does not mean comprising values or traditions. We should retain our values, laws, traditional beliefs and cultural systems.
Refugees should respect these values, not changing a nation’s customs to their ways, as they are receiving help. If they don’t like and appreciate their new homes, they are free to return to their old ones.
If refugees stay in Europe, I hope within 10 or 20 years a new generation will be born on the continent that will embrace a peaceful culture. A culture that will not be one of revenge and hate, but one that enables them to live peacefully with all faiths.
How Europe and the church respond to the refugee crisis will not only have an impact today, but also on the future of Muslims in Europe and in the Middle East.
It is time for European Christians to be visionary, standing up for what Christ has taught us and showing his love to all that need it.
To Christians in Europe already engaged in helping refugees, thank you. To those yet to get involved, I encourage you to do so.
History will remember those Christians who had a new vision and made a paradigm shift on applying “love your neighbor,” not only talking about it.
Be the Good Samaritan that refugees desperately need. It will be a challenge but it will also be a blessing.
Nabil Costa is the executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society, a BMS World Mission trustee and the general secretary of the Association of Evangelical Schools in Lebanon. He also serves on the executive committee of the European Baptist Federation. You can follow him on Twitter @NabilCosta.