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RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Did you see the picture of Marwan, the 4-year-old Syrian boy recently found wandering in the desert near the Syria-Jordan border?
A news photo of the refugee child went viral on social media. It attracted far more attention than the hundreds of Syrian refugees who cross the same border every day and night to escape the murderous war in their country. Turns out Marwan wasn't alone; he had temporarily fallen behind his family members, who were among about 1,000 Syrians making the chaotic border crossing that particular day. Relief workers reunited the child with his parents about 10 minutes after the photo was taken.
People around the world responded to the photo because it depicted a lost child, dragging a plastic bag with his few belongings, seemingly alone in the world. Who wouldn't feel compassion for this little boy? His personal, heartbreaking plight is easier to understand than the struggle of millions of refugees experiencing the same thing.
"A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." That statement is attributed to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who knew something about engineering death on a mass scale. He understood that most people can't fully comprehend events affecting great multitudes, especially if those events are happening far away.
Media have radically changed the global landscape since Stalin's time, however. News travels instantaneously. Digital devices bring us images of tragedies, wars and disasters 24/7, if we choose to watch. But that poses a new problem. The constant onslaught of events and information dulls our senses. We have our own daily problems. We turn away. Americans in particular, living far from many of the world's conflict zones, tend to turn inward.
"It's not that Americans are disinterested in foreign affairs, it's that their interest is finely calibrated," observes geopolitical analyst George Friedman. "The issues must matter to Americans, so most issues must carry with them a potential threat. The outcome must be uncertain, and the issues must have a sufficient degree of clarity so that they can be understood and dealt with."
There aren't that many global crises that neatly fit such criteria in these confusing times. The outcome of the war in Syria is uncertain, but its multiple causes and combatants are anything but clear to us. Does its eventual outcome, regardless of who wins, threaten us directly? Hard to say. One could say the same of the current troubles in Ukraine, Venezuela, Egypt, Thailand, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and other places. Trouble is always brewing somewhere. Let them sort it out, we say. We're tired of being the world's policeman.
"Whether this sentiment is good or bad is debatable," Friedman said. "I would argue that it is a luxury, albeit a temporary one, conferred on Americans by geography."
Weary of years of war and overseas entanglements, many Americans are ready to withdraw behind our spacious borders -- physically or psychologically -- until something so big happens that we can't ignore it.
That's a national choice. But God calls His followers to greater things. If we serve Him, we are citizens of the world, no matter how chaotic the world may seem. In my last column, I asked how we can continue to go into the world and make disciples as a new age of upheaval dawns. Withdrawal is not an option for world-hearted Christians, because it implies one of two things: fear or indifference.
God is not indifferent about the world. He is passionately concerned about every people, every culture. The more suffering and turmoil a nation is experiencing, the more intensively He is working to bring His grace and mercy.
"This past month we have seen an amazing outpouring of God's Spirit," said IMB worker Brady Sample,* who lives in Kiev, the violence-torn capital of Ukraine, a nation on the edge of cracking apart. "God is moving. This event is causing people to pray, and while they are praying for peace in the land, God is trying to bring peace into people's hearts."
No matter how difficult the destination or the situation, God will go with us. In fact, He's already there, waiting for us to meet Him.
Don't miss the appointment.
*Name changed. Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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