Last December, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated there were likely far more than 60 million displaced people living in the world. That record total included 20.2 million refugees, many of whom had fled violent conflicts and persecution in the Middle East.
The resulting crisis has become not just a humanitarian issue, but a political one as well. Countries, particularly in Europe, have been forced to decide how to handle the massive number of people looking to resettle within their borders, and any potential solution is often criticized.
Best-selling author and filmmaker Joel Richardson does not deny the situation is complex, or politically divisive, but he believes there are certain aspects of the crisis that should not be up for debate. Namely, he said Christians currently have “an endless opportunity to share the Gospel” with thousands of people searching for God — and they must capitalize on that opportunity.
“Whether we like the refugee crisis or not, it’s a crisis,” Richardson said. “The point is: Even if we’re opposed to it politically, that doesn’t excuse us from sharing the Gospel with them.”
Richardson visited Morningside this week to speak at the 2016 Prophetic Conference. Before giving his sermon, he sat down with The Jim Bakker Show news team to discuss his ministry work in the Middle East and Europe, the role of Christians in the refugee crisis and faith in the end times.
The first part of his Q&A appears below.
Q: Have you been to the Middle East recently, taken any trips over there? Or, do you have friends over there? What kind of things are you seeing on the ground?
A: The last time I was in Iraq was a year ago in Iraqi Kurdistan. I’ll be going back this year, but I’ve got very close friends and a few different ministries that we work with. One is called Frontier Alliance International, the other one is called The Refuge Project. They’re both up there in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, working with the refugees. I also have friends in the Balkans.
Q: Can you talk about that last ministry, antecessor.org, and its work in the Balkans?
A: You have as many as 10,000 migrants and refugees flowing through a day. They are doing the ministry of charging their cell phones and then asking them if they would like a free micro SD card that’s preloaded with the Bible in any potential language that they could need, as well as different Christian literature. They stick this little micro SD card in their phones, and we’ve just gotten the Bible into thousands of Muslims’ hands.
Q: What makes that kind of outreach important, particularly in today’s world?
A: What we’re primarily seeing in the news is all of the bad stuff with the refugees, and all of that is legitimate, but the truth is there is a chaotic nightmare of human catastrophe over there and as a result you have literally millions of people whose lives are in crisis, whose hearts are incredibly open, many of whom are actually quite turned off to Islam. What we’re kind of saying is we have to get them before they reject God entirely. They’re turning away from Islam, that’s good, but we want them to maintain a hunger for God. It’s just they’ve been brainwashed to think there are no other alternatives.
Q: There are millions of refugees in the world today. Not just in Europe, but in the Middle East as well. Many more are displaced. How can we help them?
A: There’s just an absolute, wide-open door, endless opportunity to share the Gospel. And in the midst of all of this preparing for all of the difficult times that are coming here, we have to be focused on saving as many as we can. Because it’s an opportunity. It’s like a wide-open opportunity. That’s a thing I always try to emphasize, because we can become a bit self-focused.
I kind of made the joke when I was here a couple times ago. I said ‘Look, I’m all for getting food and preparing, but I’m making a new rule.’ I hope I didn’t offend Jim or anybody, but I said ‘The new rule is this: For every hour that you spend preparing, for every dollar you spend on dehydrated food, make it a rule that you spend two dollars on evangelism and missions. For every hour you spend prepping, spend two hours sharing the Gospel.’ If you do that, you’ll be very balanced. But if you’re spending all of your time prepping, you can get into this sort of anxious, frenetic mode of panic and anxiety. We want to prepare out of wisdom, not out of fear.
Q: So what can the church here in America do for not just Christians, but people who possibly want to become Christians, overseas?
A: We have to empower the ministries that are there. Whether it’s the missionaries that are there or the native churches, the largest Arabic church in Northern Iraq is in Erbil, and to empower them and give them the resources so that they can become this hub for all of the need over there. Because, like I said, it’s a bottomless pit. People are searching, they’re looking for something. If there’s a church that has resources, literally by giving them money, food, whatever, that church becomes a resource hub and then it just opens the door for the Gospel in the process. It’s really just a matter of — and this is basically what I’m trying to do because I’m going over there — identifying and then networking the resources with those that are already there on the ground. I’m only in touch with a handful, but they know everybody that’s on the ground.
Q: Like you were talking about, sometimes something negative happens with migrants and that’s what gets covered. The New Year’s Eve assaults in Germany, for example. Now, Europe has been shutting down borders. Critics say some of the new proposals are immoral and possibly illegal. What’s your take on all of these new developments?
A: Here’s the thing. It’s a complete conundrum, because it doesn’t matter what your answer is. There are problems with it.
I think the Lord has sort of allowed this conundrum. There are literally hundreds of thousands of little kids, women who are in genuine crisis. People going over there with their families, fleeing the Taliban all the over way over to Afghanistan because radical Islam is exploding. And they’re fleeing. … We need to minister to them, period.
On the other hand, we need to be wise of serpents. What that means is up for debate. On the left, we get everybody saying ‘Welcome, look how wonderful we are.’ And then on the right, everyone’s saying ‘Shut the door. We have enough of our own poor to take care of.’ Every kind of self-righteous sort of excuse. Somewhere in the middle is we need to be actively trying to do our best to help, but also prioritizing the Gospel.
This is another issue that I’ll just say. A lot of church ministries now, what they do is it’s real hip and trendy to get into humanitarian stuff. And so if you’re ministering to the orphan or the widow, if you’re doing sustainable agriculture, digging wells, any of these things, everyone will give you money. But if you’re like ‘We’re planting churches, making disciples, winning the lost,’ you actually struggle to get funds. I hear this from every missionary I talk to. They’re like ‘The church doesn’t have a high priority on the Gospel, they have a high priority on humanitarianism.’ Why? Because we’re infected with the spirit of the world. You’re putting a Band Aid on temporal needs. And it’s important. It’s part of the Gospel. Part of being a disciple of Christ is ministering to the poor and the needy, but if you’re not prioritizing the Gospel then you’re failing in our most basic need to invite them and make them a priority.
It’s worth highlighting that on the right, we only hear the negative. We only hear the bad. And if we were to believe the picture painted by the right, we would think like 95 percent of them are terrorists or are about to be terrorists or are right on the edge. It’s not even close to that. There’s enough that it’s a big problem, but the problem is I have yet to hear anybody offer a solution that is legitimate. Most people say ‘We need to wipe out ISIS.’ I go, ‘Oh, cool, wipe out ISIS.’ 85 percent of the refugees aren’t fleeing ISIS, they’re fleeing (Syrian president) Bashar al-Assad.
Q: And there’s still al Qaeda, the Taliban, all those other organizations.
A: Exactly, and they’re all Sunni. Most of them that are fleeing are the more moderate Sunnis.
The point is: The Lord is allowing this divine conundrum. We’re trying to wrestle through what we need to do. No matter what we do, if we’re following Christ, we’re going to get attacked by the left and the right. The right are saying ‘How dare you love them when they’re coming to kill us?’ And you go, ‘No, I’m sure there are some that are in there to kill us.’ But the point is this: When has the Lord ever said ‘If there’s risk involved, don’t do it.’ He never says anything like that. He says ‘Do it, and it’s going to be filled with risk, lay down your life for your enemies.’
This is the thing. We have to be, as a church, wrestling through what it means to be a disciple of Christ in the midst of the chaos that is beginning to engulf the world. And it’s only going to become more chaotic. … I go to all these conferences, everyone goes ‘What’s the prophetic word, what’s the secret code?’ And we need to have discernment and understand what’s unfolding, that’s important. But the biggest warning in the midst of it all is Jesus said ‘At that time, because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of most will grow cold.’ We’re spending all this time trying to figure out what’s going to happen and we’re spending very little time guarding and preparing our hearts for the chaos.
Q: So it’s important to resist that and find a balance somewhere in the middle?
A: The point is: We need to resist the carnal spirit on the right — and there is a carnal spirit on the right — and we need to resist the naivety of the left and make laying down our lives for our enemies for the sake of seeing the lost get saved our highest priority. I don’t have all the answers.
Q: Right, there really is no easy solution. Like you’re saying, it’s not necessarily an unsolvable problem, but the Gospel is always a good answer.
A: Yeah, and this is the whole point. What do we focus on? The only weapon that the Lord has given us is change people from the inside out, one heart at a time. And maybe we won’t win. In fact, the scriptures say of the antichrist, multiple times, he will prosper in all he does. He’s going to win for a little bit. We as men and as conservatives, we’re like ‘Why won’t anyone listen to my answer?’ We want to fix it and have the answer. We have to come to terms with the fact that we actually lose for a little while. It says he’s given power to break the power of the holy people.
Check back for Part 2 of the Q&A in the coming days. It focuses on Syria and the Middle East.
Richardson’s evening service centered on Biblical prophecies concerning Israel, Jerusalem and the last days. If you missed the event, the 2016 Prophetic Conference DVD Set contains Richardson’s service, as well as those of Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, Michael Snyder and Hubie Synn.
The Jim Bakker Show is also giving our partners a chance to send buckets of our 20-year-shelf-life food to the Middle East, which will support Christian churches at this important time. Click here to learn how you can help these churches become a resource hub for those searching for the Gospel in the midst of these chaotic times.