Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a refugee? Imagine being told you and your family had 24 hours to vacate your home or face death. On your way out of town you turned to take one last look at the only life you had ever known, realizing you may never return. Your attention quickly turned to daily survival in an attempt to protect your family from the dangers that awaited them on the long and uncertain road ahead.
Our world is facing a refugee crisis. Some have left their homes under the circumstances I have just described. Others have fled on their own, hoping to escape the ravages of war or the bondage of political oppression. We hurt for them. Yet, at the same time, we worry.
We worry because we recognize the refugee crisis is an opportunity for those who seek to harm others. On one hand we are moved to tears when we see videos of hungry families trudging through a wilderness in search of a better life. But on the other hand, we are afraid of the opportunists.
Therefore, we search our souls. We know Jesus commanded us to care for strangers who are hungry and thirsty. The Bible tells us to love our enemies and to trust God to use our generosity for His glory. We think about some of the great servants of God with refugee status. King David was forced into exile when his son Absalom usurped his throne. The prophet Elijah was hunted down by Ahab and Jezebel, and he sought refuge by a brook, and later in the home of a widow.
Jesus was the most famous of all refugees. After His birth, an angel told Joseph to flee Judea to escape King Herod. Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped to Egypt where they stayed until circumstances permitted them to return. What did they do in Egypt? Where did they live? Did Joseph open up a carpentry shop to feed his family? Was Jesus’ family ostracized and bullied? I am sure it was difficult.
The refugee crisis creates some real dilemmas for refugees and the countries they seek to enter. It would probably do all of us some good to spend a few days on the front lines. It is hard to comprehend the desperation and fear that exists there.
So what do we do? What should Christians be doing to help refugees, and how do we show the compassion of Jesus while recognizing some of the real concerns associated with a crisis of this magnitude? Consider these possibilities:
Put down the remote. Ok, so you can still channel surf, but realize a refugee isn’t an actor on a television drama. The people on our screen on the evening news are flesh and blood. They are fathers, mothers and children who are experiencing real tragedy in their lives. They have seen their dreams shattered and they are scared to death! It is very hard for us to relate to the suffering of refugees as our car idles in line at our favorite fast-food restaurant. Therefore, we must ask God to help us remember the people on our TV screen are made in His image and are no different from us.
Help in tangible ways. The world is full of scams that use other people’s pain as a vehicle for personal gain. However, there are some reputable organizations that reach out to refugees in the name of Christ. Check with your local church leadership for guidance, or look online. Be sure to cross-reference your interests with watchdog groups that evaluate charitable organizations.
Love your neighbor. When refugees come to our country they are weary and frightened. They don’t always speak our language, understand our laws, or comprehend the nuances of political freedom. They need love. It is hard to love someone who may not know how to love us back. Refugees probably aren’t going to hang out at our house for a night of wings and football. They are too busy working multiple jobs and managing their transitions to socialize. We still love them through kind acts and expressions, and whenever possible we let them know God loves them too.
Show them Jesus. Refugees bring their faith with them, or the lack thereof. They also bring their disillusionment with those who have used religion as a vehicle to hurt others and to take advantage of their circumstances. Certainly, some come with hate in their hearts, and preconceived beliefs regarding Jesus and His followers. We can’t understand everything going on in a refugee’s heart, but we know people can change. If we believe Jesus is the light of the world, and that His truth can bring order out of chaos, then we must be convinced our witness matters. It matters to everyone, and especially to people who come to our shores confused and broken-hearted. They must see Jesus in every aspect of our lives that they might one day come to know Him.
Now for a disclosure: I am writing these things from an armchair. While I have ministered to a few refugees in my community, my contribution has been minimal. I have not been in a war-torn country, and I have not served food in a way station to families fleeing political oppression. I have had a few conversations with Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, but our conversations have been shallow and casual.
But this will change, not because I have decided to become more conscious of the challenge, but because the world is coming to our door. Our hypotheticals are becoming reality and our “what if” will soon become “what now?”
It is time to think about what God is calling us to do. Indeed, He has already called us. We must now decide how we are going to answer.