Baptists confront refugee crisis at Greek border

March 9, 2016

“Europe faces an imminent humanitarian crisis,” warned the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) in a March 1 report that focused on the rapid build-up of migrants in Eidomeni, Greece. A team of North Carolina Baptists recently volunteered at the border crossing to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where they aided desperate migrants and shared a message of hope.
Alisha Houston launched the idea of mobilizing a team after hearing one of her husband’s sermons at Beach Road Baptist Church in Southport, N.C. She felt compelled by God to serve Middle Eastern refugees amid the crisis that has dominated the lives of millions.

“It is overwhelming how many people are being affected … so many young families just trying to get to safety and make a better life for themselves,” she said. “They are broken and we have the very thing that can give them hope and a future.”
The team’s primary job was to help a local, non-governmental aid organization (NGO) relay important information and resources to incoming refugees.

They offered basic guidance in the Eidomeni camp, including directions to food, bathrooms, clothing and doctors. The team also supplied practical items like plastic handbags and helped prepare food for distribution.
“We helped them achieve the second highest production day,” she said, “we packed over 2,500 boxes of fresh pasta.”
Houston especially enjoyed keeping a small stash of treats on hand for young migrants.
“The children were all smiles when you give them candy. Just looking at them and smiling makes them light up,” she added. “They seem happy that someone is paying attention to them.”
Recent UNHCR estimates show more than 2,000 refugees arrive daily on the shores of Greece, totaling more than 1 million since January 2015. People from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran make up 94 percent of asylum seekers coming into Greece by sea, according to the latest figures.
They take the short but dangerous voyage across the Aegean Sea in inflatable dinghies or larger boats with no crew. The cold, unforgiving waters have claimed 410 lives in 2016, said UNHCR reports.
Numerous migrants said they risk the mortal hazard because there is no other option. War and terrorism have created unlivable conditions in their home countries.
“They live [in Iran] with no hope,” said *Amir, an Iranian college student. Fighting back tears, he continued, “It was so hard living there.”
Another refugee told aid workers he would rather die in the ocean than return home.

Devastated by violence

Syria’s economic collapse drove *Khalil and his wife out of the country in search of a new life. Unsure of the danger awaiting them, the couple decided to leave their two children with extended family until they find a safer place to settle in Europe.

Holding pictures of the young boy and girl, Khalil said in broken English, “I very sad, very sad. Sometimes I cry.”
The family endured the early years of Syria’s civil war, hoping for a peaceful resolution.

They resisted leaving despite the apparent danger, due to close family ties and careers. But the fighting became chaotic, and they could no longer tell who was attacking whom.
It was too dangerous, Khalil said. So they decided to leave.
Conflict has spread beyond Syria as governments, rebel groups and terrorist organizations clamor for territory and power.
The Islamic State (or Daesh) and an al-Qaeda affiliate, called the al-Nusra Front, wreak havoc on fragile cease-fire agreements, fueling suspicion and spawning additional terrorist groups, according to news reports.
“It’s been five years – a war in my country,” said Khalil. “Now we leave Syria because we look for a new life, a future.”
An NGO leader said he was recently overcome by emotion when a young boy, after seeing an aircraft fly over the Eidomeni refugee camp, asked whether or not it would unleash explosives on them.
“It is so overwhelming to know that this is reality for people here,” he said.

Driven by fear

*Hassan, a construction worker from Baghdad, fled Iraq because terrorists threatened to destroy his family.
His oldest son is a popular Arabic singer in Turkey. After winning a well-known television singing competition, the son shared prize money with the family. When the Iraqi Daesh learned of the financial gift, they began making grave threats. For them, Hassan said, to be rich is considered “haraam” (sinful).
The young man must stop singing or be killed, the terrorists warned. When Hassan refused to forbid his son’s career, the Iraqi Daesh kidnapped one of his other sons. Terrorists sent Hassan a video threatening to kill the teenage boy unless he paid a six-digit ransom.
Hassan secured the child’s safety and fled the country immediately.

Distressed by uncertainty

Many refugees feel safe once they land on European shores, because they’ve escaped territories gripped by jihadists and shelled by warring armies, but additional troubles often await.
Instigated by European Union political tensions, arbitrary Macedonian border closings and immigrant flow restrictions cause Greek refugee camps to overflow, leaving people without adequate shelter or food.
The initial border camp in Eidomeni was built to hold approximately 2,000 people. The UNHCR estimated between 8,000-12,000 people were gathered near the border March 7. Nearly 60 percent are women and children. Many contract illnesses due to exposure and malnutrition.
The Greek government is making efforts to manage the flow of people and construct long-term solutions, but it cannot keep pace with the current influx. Officials recently announced plans to use docked passenger ferries as temporary housing, according to the UNHCR.

Strategies to build more “hot spots” on the mainland continue, but the country is limited by economic austerity measures and a lack of manpower.
The political uncertainty that surrounds the European refugee crisis keeps many refugees in a constant state of distress.

With a despairing look, Khalil said, “I don’t know if many people love us. … What can [we] do?”
Until a permanent resettling solution is reached, aid volunteers continue to serve those caught between violent turmoil in the Middle East and political upheaval in Europe.

Drawn by hope

James Zik, associate pastor of Beach Road Baptist Church, was among the volunteers drawn to the refugee camp in Eidomeni by a sense of urgency. His Christian convictions compelled him to offer hope to migrants in seemingly hopeless situations.
“James, you have no idea what it’s like to live under a dictator,” said *Amal, whose home in Damascus was destroyed. “Where is God right now?”
Zik replied, “You’re right. I have no idea what it’s like … but I can tell you this is not the world God created. It’s broken and tainted by sin.”
He continued, “The hope we have is in Christ. … All the brokenness you see on the planet will one day be restored.”
March 15 marks the five-year anniversary of the Syrian conflict. Many Christians are drawing attention to the date, calling for people around the world to pray, serve and give for the sake of displaced peoples scattered across the globe.
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships is actively pursuing ways to mobilize N.C. Baptists to engage people along the migrant pathway from Turkey to Germany.
The International Mission Board (IMB) and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission have partnered with other organizations in an initiative called Pray for Refugees (#prayforrefugees). IMB has also deployed field personnel to help develop a unified strategy for serving migrants.
Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization, provides avenues for volunteering and donating at their website, gobgr.org.
Zik said to anyone considering ways to help refugees, “Don’t hesitate. Just go. Sign up yesterday and get over there.”
*Names changed for security purposes
Find regular updates about the European refugee crisis at data.unhcr.org/mediterranean. You can also learn more at erlc.com/refugees.

This story was originally published here.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24