A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO REFUGEES: Dan O’Deens – January 29, 2017
THE WORLD IS FACING THE WORST HUMANITARIAN CRISIS OF OUR TIME….WHAT WILL WE DO?
8.7 million Syrians are predicted to be displaced within the country in 2016, and 4.8 million have sought refuge in other countries since 2011. The UNHCR’s latest figures show the crisis is getting worse. Families are moving not to simply better their lives, but to literally save their lives.
And at a time when the west is reeling in fear and anti-refugee rhetoric is ruling the headlines, we as the Church have a responsibility to respond. We cannot sit blindly by as people die, flee for their lives, search for homes, or live in an existence many of us cannot even comprehend.
We cannot let the generations to come look back on this time in history and wonder how we sat back and did nothing. We must engage, and we must act.
“Now, now, is the time for the Church to be the Church. In the past, the Church may have been defined by what the Church is against — but, in this defining moment in history, may the Church be clearly defined by what it is for — and the Church has always been for the stranger, the sojourner, and the welcoming arms of the Savior. How can we not move heaven and earth to let the broken in – when heaven moved and came to earth to let us in?” – Ann Voskamp
As we continue to watch the refugee crisis unfold in front of us, it is natural to feel somewhat helpless as to what to do, yet we feel compelled to respond in a way that eases the heartbreaking struggle we are see our brothers and sisters going through. It is frustrating to feel that helplessness, the problem often then becomes overwhelming, and we feel paralyzed by the inability to be able to fix things.
The reality is that while there are hundreds of thousands flooding into Europe, this is not a new crisis. Nor is it the only refugee crisis happening around the world.
By the end of 2014, 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. This is 8.3 million more than the year before (51.2 million) and the highest annual increase in a single year.
In 2011, Syria had a population of 22.4 million people. Today, 10.6 million live in their homes, 7.6 million are internally displaced, 4 million have left the country, and 250 thousand have been killed. Of those who have left the country, 1.6 million live in Turkey,
1 million are in Lebanon and Jordan, and a few hundred thousand are in Iraq and Egypt.
95% of those who have fled Syria live in these 5 countries. 25% of Jordan’s current population, and over half of Lebanon’s population, is made up of refugees.
These countries are completely underfunded to support this massive refugee population, and most refugees live in a type of legal limbo outside camps where they cannot work or get an education. And so, many are attempting to get to Europe in the hope of refuge, security and the chance to start over.
In this mass migration to Europe, in 2015 alone, there have been over 600,000 arrivals by sea. More than 3,000 dead or missing. Boats are run by people smugglers from Turkey, Morocco and Egypt.
Many governments are opening their borders and offering refuge, and many individuals, churches, and other communities are putting out the welcome mat. However the hard work is yet to come, the hard work is in fulfilling the welcome.
The challenge right now is how to provide both aid and development. We must provide the immediate resources required for a crisis of this scale, but we must also invest in sustainable solutions. This crisis is not being fixed any time soon, nor is it going away. Millions of people are needing to start their lives over, from nothing. And potentially in countries where there is no familiarity, where they do not know the language, how to navigate, or how to move forward. The challenges are enormous.
We can, and must, have an immediate response, to give of our resources to those who are in need. And there are a great number of aid organizations doing amazing work all around the world.
But what is our responsibility as followers of Jesus? What does He ask of us when it comes to the widow, the orphan, the stranger?
Matt 25:35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
Verse 13 of Romans 12 speaks about how to behave like a Christian and in the Message says that we need to get creative with our hospitality. So how do we respond? How do we allow our hearts and minds to be changed to reflect what Jesus would have us do?
Firstly, we must truly examine the scriptures and open our hearts to hear what Jesus says about this. This will take time, and we must have the conversations within our churches, our small groups and our communities. We must continue to examine our hearts.
- What rights and privileges we are holding onto as we consider this issue?
- What fears are driving our response?
- What would it look like if we truly respond in love and got creative in our hospitality?
- Our challenge is to spend some time examining this for your own life, and that of your church or small group.
First – How can we do this right now – how can we practice a radical hospitality to those already in our midst? How can we show that there exists a community (the Church) ready and willing to welcome others into our communities and into our lives with a kind of hospitality that extends beyond our usual norms and which may take us out of our comfort zones. In the U.S. it’s easy to feel like our hands are tied and the problem insurmountable. But we can’t let that prevent us from doing something, we must also be part of the solution.
We need to look for ways to partner with our governments to come up with creative solutions, to show a desire to be a nation of hospitality. We can each begin to do this through getting involved with refugees who are being currently resettled in the U.S., and embrace and welcome whoever God has placed at our doorsteps. Contact your local Refugee Resettlement Agency to see how your church can be involved.
Second – We can partner with churches who are reaching out to those who are turning up on their borders, seeking to provide immediate comfort and support, but also providing a new home, and community. This requires not only financial resources, but also training and support. Embracing a newly arrived, highly traumatized family who may not speak the language, who has no family, no support, no options – may seem like a good idea. But the reality is really hard. Providing both financial and spiritual support to these churches is essential.
Third – We need to commit to long term responses, as well as supporting those providing immediate need. This crisis is not going away any time soon, and millions are displaced
We Welcome Refugees is a collaboration of those who believe the Church can and must be an answer. This will take time, and perseverance but we believe that the Church has a mandate and responsibility. Let us consider how we can respond together.*Statistics provided by UNHCR
The following link comes from the resource site from We Welcome Refugees. This will give great perspective on the issue https://wewelcomerefugees.com/resources/
10 Reasons Why Christians Need To Welcome Refugees With Open Arms
Perhaps you feel torn too – between mercy and defensiveness, between care for others and care of your own? Perhaps you’ve experienced that tension between fear and compassion?
What will happen to this nation, you wonder, if too many Muslims come and settle here? As Christians, are we not called to defend a Christian way of life, maintain a Christian majority in society, and promote a Judeo-Christian value system?
- We don’t have a monopoly on Jesus
When Jesus commanded his followers to “Go into all the world and make disciples” he promised He would be with those followers, saying, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
So, Jesus is with you and I – His followers – right? Jesus is on our side! That’s a true comfort and a source of strength. But hold on. Jesus also promised that whenever you welcome the foreigner, the naked and the hungry, you are welcoming Him (Matthew 25:35). So, Jesus is ALSO with them – the foreigner, the naked and the hungry.
We don’t have a monopoly on Jesus’ presence. He is with everyone, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. REMEMBER He FIRST gave to the good news to the poor and down-trodden,.
This may be a hard word for us to swallow. It may be jarring to consider that Jesus could be so concerned about our treatment of someone of another religion and ethnicity, that He would declare that our welcome of them is equivalent to our welcoming of God. But isn’t that what He is saying when He says “Welcome the foreigner and you welcome me”? He doesn’t say, welcome the foreigner as long as that foreigner is Jewish or converts to Judaism (or Christianity) – because that wouldn’t make any sense. Foreigners, by definition, were almost always of another religion and culture. Yet Jesus identified with them so strongly that He made their welcome a central measure of our faith.
- Jesus calls us to leave behind our Tribalism
Part of what Jesus is digging at here, is our human tendency towards tribalism. That “Us and Them” mentality that rears its ugly head whenever we feel threatened. Politicians are MASTERS of pressing those tribal buttons. No matter whether the highest authority in political power, there is a higher authority. The Bible always trumps culture.
In Luke 4, when Jesus announces his mission statement – that God would be pouring out His blessing on the poor, the people of Israel are elated. “Good news for the poor? Yes! We’re poor. God is gonna bless us! Yay!” The problem is our definition of the ‘poor.’ ALL people are poor. Some are poor physically/materialistically, some are poor relationally and some are poor spiritually….but make no mistake…we are all poor. We are only made rich in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
Tribalism. We’re the chosen ones. We. Are. The. People. Of. God. Got it? Who is ‘we?’
The elation and adulation continues until Jesus points out that God’s blessing must also be poured out on foreigners of other religions. He outlines how there were many widows in Israel, but God felt it necessary to bless a widow in Sidon (located in modern day Lebanon). Sidon was a well-known place of Baal-worship. That widow was certainly not an insider (Luke 4:26). And then get this – Jesus says, “There were many lepers in Israel…and none of them was healed, except Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:27)
If you needed a word from Jesus about how God wants to bless not only YOUR tribe, but also a foreigner with a foreign religion FROM SYRIA of all places, there it is. Right there in black and white (or red letters if that’s how you roll).
If you know history, you’ll know that we have been playing this awful tribalism game since the beginning of time. At first, we looked down on Gentiles. Then Jews, Blacks, Mexicans and the Irish. Then we were afraid of the “Asian Invasion”. Now it’s the Muslims. Nothing has changed. Just the groups we exclude and hate. It’s time to repent and turn away from our tribalism.
- Compassion for the alien is central to following Jesus
There are few phrases more repeated in Scripture than the call to care for the orphan, the widow and the alien (or foreigner):
So you, too, must show love to FOREIGNERS, for you yourselves were once FOREIGNERS in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19
Cursed is he who distorts the justice due a FOREIGNER, orphan, and widow. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ Deuteronomy 27:19
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment…against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the FOREIGNER and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:5
“When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the FOREIGNER, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. Deuteronomy 24:19
“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the FOREIGNER by giving him food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:17-18
Historically, Christians have been on the forefront of caring for orphans and widows. We all know that such care is central to the teaching and priorities of Jesus, who sought to bring good news to the poor. Now is the true test of our faith. Will we also care for aliens (immigrants, refugees and foreigners) or will we turn our backs, saying they are too hard?
Give us orphans. Give us widows. But do we draw the line at foreigners? If, at this crucial moment we turn away from the central piece of the gospel – to bring good news to the poor, how can we call ourselves Christians? How can we say we are followers of Jesus? The Church should be in the lead in the battle FOR orphans, widows AND Foreigners!
- Jesus was a refugee
Jesus chose to walk this earth, not as a King, Chief Priest or wealthy landowner, but as an undocumented child refugee to Egypt. If our Lord and the God of the universe deliberately chose to identify Himself with refugees, don’t be too quick to overlook the significance. Jesus was in solidarity with those we are most likely to overlook or turn away from in disgust and fear.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Isaiah 53:3
- The inaction of others is no excuse
A common ploy of those who want to dodge the call to compassion is to point the finger at others. But it would be unjust and inaccurate to say that Muslim nations have not welcomed refugees. Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have more than 4 million Syrian refugees within their borders – far more than have made it to Europe or North America.
At the end of the day, you and I will not be measured against others. God will not ask whether you helped more or less than someone else. God will only ask whether you sought to practice the teachings of Jesus – to welcome the stranger and live a life of Good News for the poor.
- ISIS doesn’t have a historical monopoly on brutality
Perhaps you agree with me…in general. But! Surely, the situation today is different to anything we have faced before? ISIS is much more brutal and evil and dangerous than any group ever seen in history, right? Well, yes and no.
Anyone who argues that ISIS-style torture and execution is unprecedented hasn’t read the history of the Christian church. Perhaps you have heard of a little thang called the Spanish Inquisition? It was a period when Christian leaders tortured and killed thousands of fellow Christians who were considered to be heretics.
A famous French Inquisitor was known to have regretted his leniency when, instead of having young children accused of witchcraft burned, he had only sentenced them to be flogged while they watched their parents burn. Thousands of men, women and children were brutally executed by these Christian torturers, resulting in millions of refugees who fled to different parts of Europe and North America.
Of course, now we are civilized. We have developed drones to do our dirty work for us, flying unmanned over countries like Pakistan, dropping bombs on civilians and enemy targets alike. Thousands have been killed by drone strikes during the Obama administration alone.
None of this is meant to excuse the evil acts of ISIS. I condemn their actions. But we must speak out equally against all violence and militarism. Not only that of our enemies.
As Jesus said, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5).
- Only a tiny minority of Muslims are involved with ISIS
Let’s not allow the victims of ISIS and other brutal oppressors like Assad to be overlooked, simply because we are simplistically painting everyone with the same brush. Estimates of the number of ISIS fighters ranges from tens of thousands to as many as 200,000. Quite a number. But not when you consider that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.
Like me, you’ve probably been frustrated with the twitter tyrade by now President Trump and his ridiculous bluster about immigrants. His worldview is NOT Christian whether or not he holds the most powerful position in the world.
- Jesus calls us to love our enemies
Let us not be naïve though. There is a chance that some of those who seek refugee status have some leanings towards violent radicalism. There is at least a chance of that. (Just as there is a chance, when you meet an American, that they are willing to take up arms against an enemy or drop bombs on them.)
What then is your response to someone who could be considered an enemy? On this, Jesus is very clear: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, LOVE YOUR ENEMIES and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45
You can argue that this is naïve. You can say that it is unrealistic. But you cannot argue that Jesus called us to something different. This is His calling. To love our enemies, even those who persecute us.
I believe that welcoming Muslim (or any) refugees, whether you consider them enemies or not, is the most logical and obvious way to show love towards them in their suffering.
Jesus showed us how to love our enemies – not seeking to preserve His life, but to lay it down for those who mocked and sought to destroy Him. Are we willing to pay such a high price for loving like Jesus called us to?
- Following Jesus is costly
“If you want a religion to make you feel comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity,” said CS Lewis. And this is truly where the rubber meets the road. If you believe that welcoming Muslims will be costly, then good. Welcoming strangers is costly. It costs time and money and all kinds of other things. Welcoming people who think, act and believe differently is especially costly and difficult.
Christians should know that we are not called to some wishy-washy, sacrifice-free faith. We follow the One who went to the cross and called us to take up that cross ourselves. We follow the One who called us to deny ourselves. We follow the One who ultimately gave His life for us. Our citizenship is not on this earth. Our MASTER holds no political office. Our SAVIOR loves the WHOLE WORLD. Will we follow that One no matter what the cost?
- Many Muslims and Christians are now discovering Jesus
Ultimately, what we will see when we are willing to lay down our lives for others is transformation. IF we have nothing worth dying for then we have nothing worth living for.
Firstly, we “Christians” are the ones who are being converted to the way of Christ when we turn away from tribalism and violence and towards Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.
When we repent of how we have not loved our enemies, we are converted all over again to the cause of Christ. I am grateful that many Muslims are also discovering Jesus as they experience the radical welcome of Christ in new countries. Love transforms lives. Love attracts people to Christ. Love overcomes fear. HE WHO LOVES FIRST WINS.
JESUS LOVED FIRST…JESUS WAS A REFUGEE!
Don’t you want to be part of this exciting new movement of welcome? We have an opportunity at this juncture in history to be on the forefront of a movement for radical hospitality. Sadly, Christians often miss what the Spirit is doing. Let’s not miss it this time. The world is watching and we have an amazing opportunity to love our neighbors. What are you doing to love and welcome Refugees?
There is something profoundly important about the fact that God’s own son walked this earth as an undocumented child refugee. This was no accident. It was part of the plan all along. He could have been born and lived as a prince, a wealthy landowner or the Chief Priest. But instead He chose to become a refugee:
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.” Matthew 2: 13-15
God’s heart is very much for the refugee. His own Son was a refugee. To the point where Jesus reiterated that, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me in.” Whatever you do for refugees you do for Him. He calls them his “little brothers” as a reminder that those who suffer are to be considered as family (Matthew 25:40).
HOW then should you and I respond, practically speaking, to what seems like an overwhelming refugee crisis?
I trust these ‘how to’s’ will serve as a Biblical, Christ-like responses to the humanitarian crisis that is currently unfolding. These are the ways I would want folks to respond if my own child or spouse were caught up in this refugee crisis:
- Speak Truth to Power
We are building walls to keep people out! Where is the Christian outrage over leaders in authority who are out-spoken in their anti-biblical response to the foreigner? Where is the Christian voice for our refugee brothers and sisters? Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
- Practice Radical Hospitality
Kudos to the Church and the Organizations who are fighting the battle for the Orphan, the Widow and the Foreigner. That love and acceptance makes a massive difference in the life and faith journey of these people for whom Jesus loves. They live this scripture:
The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
- Embrace Non-Violence
This refugee crisis has not arisen in a vacuum. It didn’t come from nowhere. It has emerged because of decades of military intervention and violence. Much of this by Western powers such as the United States, England and Australia.
Where does anger and bitterness (the things that lead to violence) come from? It comes from past hurts, fear of others and woundedness. Those hurts and fears can only be healed by love, reconciliation and forgiveness – not military strikes and violent suppression. Hatred cannot be transformed by the fist, or at the end of the barrel of a gun.
If we Christians don’t lead the way in this, who will? As followers of Jesus, we need to be a radical voice for non-violence and enemy-love. No matter what they do to us.
The way of Jesus is truly the only hope for the world now. I am not talking about passivity, but creativity. Radical love is this: laying down our lives for our enemies. We were created to BREATHE LIFE and Hope into the world!
- Face your Fears
Ultimately, when it comes down to the reality of welcoming refugees you will come face to face with your deepest fears:
- that your jobs might be taken
- that your nation will change
- that your community will look different
- that resources will be spread more thinly
- that you will no longer be part of a demographic majority
- that Christians will no longer be a majority.
But what do these fears reflect, but an unhealthy attachment to power, comfort and control? We enjoy being the majority. We love the privilege that comes from being in power. We love having more than we need to meet our basic needs.
Is that what Jesus has called us to grasp for? Has He not called us to lay down our lives for others? To love our neighbour, no matter what the cost?
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)
Only love can overcome fear. And that is why I appeal to you on the basis of relationship and familial ties. What if that refugee child were your own flesh and blood? What if they were your own son or daughter? What mountain would you not climb? What politician would you not lobby? What price would you not pay to see them brought to safety? Only the kind of love we usually reserve for family can overcome the fear and selfishness that teaches us to close our doors and turn away from their plight. But Jesus calls us to a different way, the way of peace, radical welcome and laying down our lives for others.
- STOP DOING WRONG, LEARN TO DO RIGHT
The STOPdoingWRONG Campaign seeks to address the social injustices that plague people affected by poverty and injustice. This happens through education, advocacy, and collaborative partnerships. We believe that everyone, from child to adult, deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities that adhere to Biblical principles. #thechurchwithnoborders
Isaiah 1:16-17 “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.” “Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.”
Will you allow that love to compel you towards action today? God ‘demonstrated’ His love to us while we were yet sinners. To whom much is given, much will be required.
How you can help
You can become a part of the STOPdoingWrong campaign by partnering with us in prayer, education, and advocating about the plight of the refugees.
Breathe Partners will steward your generosity to regugees through SACC in Philadelphia who currently is ministering to 7 refugee congregations. We are proud to partner with “We Welcome Refugees.” Let demonstrate God’s love.
Give now at: https://breathepartners.com/give/ Mark “REFUGEES” in the giving line.