Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis

From my pastor’s column in the ESUMC newsletter

Every morning when I read the newspaper, I see another (or several) articles about the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. Last week’s news of 71 refugees who suffocated to death in a refrigerator truck along an Austrian highway was shocking. We hear about the atrocities in other places in Europe and the Middle East, but this news story hit close to home. The stories of thousands of refugees fleeing war and death in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan have caused me to stop and reflect upon the Bible and Christian faith.

The most famous political refugee in the Bible was Jesus. Upon hearing the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth from the Magi, King Herod ordered the slaughter of all first-born male babies. We may not feature this piece prominently in our children’s Christmas pageant, but nevertheless it is important to the birth of our Savior. Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus escaped from Judah and sought refuge in Egypt. The Holy Family was safe from harm.

Flight into Egypt

The Flight Into Egypt by Giotto di Bondone. In the public domain.

I wonder what would happen if Jesus was born today in Syria or Iraq. Would his family be able to escape the reign of terror? Would they be one of the families on the overcrowded boats or refrigerator trucks? Would they be standing outside the train station in Budapest, seeking peace and safety? Would they again be victims in their new European country by languishing in a ‘processing’ center or experiencing acts of racism?

Our Scriptures are quite clear about our response: “when an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as your-self, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19.33-34 NRSV). The Bible (in both the Old and New Testaments) speaks more frequently about welcoming strangers and refugees than nearly any other contemporary issue. So as followers of Jesus Christ, we must be people who welcome and comfort strangers and refugees. The refugee crisis should cause us to stop, pray, and act. We must pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we discern what to do. And we must act. What will you do to welcome the stranger and refugee?