One of the things that I love about my job is the freedom I have to create experiences that not only draw teenagers deeper in relationship to God, but educate them on social issues that are close to God’s heart. A few years ago, all of us at YouthWorks started asking more intentionally why we serve in each of our communities, and it’s continued to help shape the direction of each of our sites and create more meaningful mission trip experiences for both participants and community members.
One of the sites I have the pleasure of setting up is Louisville. When we began seeking clarity around why we are serving in the community, we realized we had a core of partners who are involved in the refugee resettlement process. Naturally, with as much of a political talking point as refugees have become, I took it as an opportunity to move towards a focus on such an issue and educate teenagers on what refugees are and about the Biblical basis for caring for refugees. It’s been my pleasure to become more knowledgeable and engaged in the arena the past two years, and it’s my moral obligation as Christian to declare the Jesus’ love for refugees.
As a clarification, a refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. The operative word here is forced – unlike immigrants, refugees do not have the luxury of options. By definition, refugees are fleeing terrorism, not creating it.
Even a cursory reading of the Bible ought to reveal God’s heart for refugees. In fact, Jesus was a refugee. Herod, ruler at the time, feared the newly born “king of the Jews” and decreed that all children two years and younger were to be killed – infanticide. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt and didn’t return to Israel until after Herod’s death.
But the Old Testament is ripe with verses commanding care for the refugee, so much so that it was a part of the law as written in Leviticus and Deuteronomy:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” ~Leviticus 19:33-34
“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” ~Deuteronomy 10:19
Relevant Magazine did a quick overview of verses on this that you can read here.
I also think it is important to make the distinction in these kinds of topics that you can hold personal/religious beliefs and still disagree about the role of the government in the issue. But, it is equally important to recognize when we hold positions rooted out of privilege. There is a common argument that speaks of issues such as caring for the poor and the refugee as the role of the church, and not the role of the government; that argument is a lot harder to make if you are a poor or a refugee – you expect the full weight of the government to acknowledge your plight and help restore you.
Of course, the federal government has an obligation to it’s citizens to make sure that we are safe. Fortunately, the refugee resettlement process is the most thoroughly screened and vetted method of coming to the country. On average, refugee resettlement can take 18 months – 3 years, not including the time that refugees spending fleeing from their countries or living in refugee camps. The whole process can be read about from the White House Archives here.
And so this brings me to the point – the church has a moral obligation to be for the refugee and to follow the call of Jesus in Matthew 25
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’
Banning those of different religious beliefs, ethnicities, or countries of origin is selectively choosing who deserves grace, in spite of following a God who overflows with unmerited love. It’s in complete contrast to Matthew 25.
My hope is this – that we would not let the political rhetoric of the day dictate to you whom is worthy of love, service, and dignity, but extend compassion generously to those in the most need.