An American Christian asked the gathered children if any had experienced difficulty in forgiving someone. One small boy raised his hand and said it was difficult forgiving the armed men who blew up a car, killing his uncle.
This very public and understandable confession occurred at a Baptist camp in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Texas Baptists are supporting ministries to Syrian refugees there through the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering and through the refugee efforts in Lebanon.
Despite the boy’s struggle with forgiveness, he also spoke of “his trust in Jesus and how much joy he has in his life,” according to a California Christian who witnessed the encounter. “It was obvious to us that despite the devastating things these kids have seen and experienced the message of Jesus’ love is getting through to them and making an impact in their lives.”
Residents of North America may find it easy to turn away from the human suffering caused by war in the Middle East, but followers of Jesus cannot afford such apathy. The Savior told us to care for those who suffer, that it is the same as serving Christ personally. In other words, Jesus is a refugee, and He needs us.
Scripture says God can bring good from any situation, and God is doing so in Lebanon. Another of the American Christians told of entering a family’s “tiny little” home. The family had very little, but “they were bubbling over with joy. They couldn’t wait to share how they came to know Jesus and how they have been forever changed.”
We see images of desperate people scrambling ashore in Greece or crowding onto roads in Hungary, and those of us in the West can feel as if we are being invaded. The challenge for Christians is to take off our national or cultural lenses which we see such things and put on the lenses provided by Scripture.
When the Bible addresses issues related to people who are living in a land not their own, the wording is usually translated into English as stranger, alien, sojourner or foreigner. There is probably no clearer statement regarding God’s view of immigrants than Psalm 146:9.
The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. (NRSV)
God looks upon refugees and immigrants as He does all vulnerable people. That God “watches over the strangers” implies not just seeing them but caring for and protecting them. It is listed here as the opposite of what God does to the wicked. God brings ruin to the wicked; God looks after the refugee and immigrant.
The Old Testament links God’s concern for immigrants to the experience of the Israelites in Egypt, when they were refugees who crossed a national border seeking better economic and life-sustaining conditions.
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 yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19:33-34, NRSV)
In the New Testament, Jesus references immigrants in the famous “least of these” verses about the judgment of nations.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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 welcomed me, 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.” (Matthew 25:34-36, NRSV)
Welcoming the stranger is one indication that people are living in accordance with God’s will. They are more focused on God’s kingdom than on the boundaries of this world.
Jesus also famously said to love God with all of your being and to love your neighbor as yourself. A lawyer then asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded by telling a story about a “good Samaritan,” which revealed that being a person’s neighbor knows no boundaries – racial, ethnic or national.
Jesus, of course, had once been a refugee. After his birth, his parents fled Palestine for the safe confines of Egypt.
Now when they [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him” (Matthew 2:13, NKJV).
The family escaped the threat of death and lived as foreigners until it was safe for them to return to their homeland.
Before God, there is no difference between the people of various tribes or groups. There is a oneness to the human race which transcends all categories that might separate us.
We will see as God sees when we no longer see refugees “foreigners,” when they no longer seem so different. We will see them as God’s children, as our neighbors.
(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)