Last month I wrote the first of (hopefully) three blogs addressing current issues I see hindering the witness of the Church today. The first being our view on race which you can read here. The second, which I will be focusing on today, is our view of the foreigner.
Should America accept refugees?
Talk about a hotly debated and widely dividing subject!
It’s hard to turn on the news today without hearing something about immigration or refugees. From the Muslim Ban to the promise of a Wall, President Donald Trump and our current political climate have made the question of immigration and refugee resettlement a touchy topic.
I want to start by saying that my goal is NOT to take a political stance in this blog. In fact, if you get nothing else out of this blog, I hope you get this:
Our view of the foreigner is not to be left as a political issue to be debated but a spiritual issue to be addressed.
Let me break this down and explain what I mean.
The question, “Should America accept refugees?” is a real question. I understand, from a safety-based perspective the genuine caution of accepting refugees from Muslim countries. “Sure, 99% of them might have genuine reason to flee, but what about that 1% who seek harm? Are we to willingly allow these potential terrorists into our country with this potential risk?” I get the concern, and honestly, it’s legitimate.
But now let me show you why I believe this argument is completely antithetical to the call of a disciple of Jesus.
The hesitance to accept refugees stems from a foundation of fear, not faith; safety, not sacrifice.
Jesus makes it clear in His ministry that what we do for the least of these and foreigners, we are doing unto Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:31-46).
Every week, I tutor a refugee family in an area of Chicago called Little India. This neighborhood’s population is over 50% foreign born. Middle-Eastern, African, and Southeast Asian immigrants and refugees have grown to call these streets home.
Being in their homes and hearing their stories has broken and burdened my heart time and time again for the refugees worldwide still seeking asylum. Let me tell you one of their stories.
(Preface: I’m going to tell this in a first-person narrative because this is how I heard her story)
My name is Hadi*. I was born in Afghanistan to a Sunni Muslim family. I am from the Hazara people group which is hated by Shiite Muslims. When I was young, my family fled Afghanistan due to threats by other Muslim groups. We moved to Pakistan seeking safety only to find the conditions and treatment far worse than in Afghanistan. Where we lived, Shiite Muslims were the majority. Their hate for us was great and we couldn’t hide from them. From our pale skin and flatter noses, we were easily identified by Shiite Pakistanis as Sunni Muslims from the Hazara people group. The Shiite’s would stop cars, grab us Hazara, and shoot us without a word of reason. They would decapitate children in front of parents and kill any Hazara they could find. We had to leave again. After some time, we could finally flee the country and moved to Sri Lanka. We stayed there for thirteen years before we could finally move to the United States this past year to seek asylum and have freedom to walk the streets without fear of being killed by our enemies.
When I asked Hadi if she knew people affected by or killed by Shiite Muslims she answered, “Of course, all Hazara do.”
This is a real story reflecting real events in a real person’s life. Hearing this reminded me of the book I am Malala, an autobiography depicting life under radical terrorists and the pursuit of peacemaking. But this story was different. These weren’t words on a page; these were words spoken from the mouth of a woman who will never be able to forget the memories she experienced and witness in her years of persecution. Did I mention Hadi is my age?
Hadi’s story is powerful. But Hadi’s story is not unique. Visiting refugees and hearing their hurts renders similar stories of persecution they or others they know experienced forcing them to flee for their lives.
So, back to the original question:
Should America accept refugees?
Psych. I’m not going to answer that, remember!
Like I said, there is reason for governmental concern over potential danger that could arise with the acceptance of refugees (Although no act of mass terrorism has ever taken place in the United States by a refugee since the Refugee Act of 1980–don’t believe me? Read this).
I say “governmental concern” because I firmly believe this reason to be inadequate for Christians who desire to live a life like Jesus who sacrifice security and lived by faith not fear.
Immigrants fleeing the Middle-East are home to some of the most unreached and unengaged people groups in the world. For centuries, Syria has been one of the most difficult countries for Christian workers to enter. But now, Syrians are at our doorstep begging for basic needs, human rights, and religious answers. They are more open than ever before to hear the Gospel and enter a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord. (Side note: another great book on this is Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus).
Because of this, Christians should be the first to voice our support for refugees worldwide. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum of accepting refugees currently, we should be known for loving and caring for refugees already in our midst and being quick to support humanitarian aid and Christian movements reaching these asylum seekers with Jesus.
We should care deeply about this because we were once foreigners. We were seeking a home and seeking a life of freedom. We were slaves to an old way of life that left us longing for a life in a new land. Just as Israel was instructed to accept the foreigner in their midst because they were once foreigners in Egypt seeking freedom (Exodus 22:21), so we, who were once enemies of God were brought into His Kingdom and are instructed to love, care, and accept the foreigner (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:19; Matthew 25:31-46).
I believe the American church today has by and large missed this. Not all have, but many have overlooked the plight of millions in a quest to return to comfort and security. Allowing fear to rule our hearts and actions instead of faith, we have remained passive or silently supportive of Trump’s actions.
Again, I’m not writing this encouraging you to take a political stance on the issue, though it might lead to doing that, but I am writing to challenge you (and myself) to not forget Jesus’ words and show our support for refugees worldwide seeking freedom.
For church leaders, what are you doing to engage the refugees and immigrants in your community currently?
For all, what are you doing to seek out refugees and immigrants in your neighborhood, work place, or sphere of influence?
If you can’t think of any refugees around you, why is that? I highly doubt it’s because there are none within a reasonable distance from the places you regularly go. Are there steps you need to take to meet, care for, and share the love of Christ with refugees and immigrants?
For non-Christians, who care more about personal comfort and safety, accepting refugees might be a troubling idea, but for Christians who claim to follow the way of Christ, this question shouldn’t need to be asked. Christ didn’t call us to a life of comfort; He called us to life of sacrifice. Christ never promised safety, in fact, He told us we would be persecuted, mocked, and sent out as sheep among wolves.
This is why I believe clinging to a nationalistic “right” to safety is a sin. Christ calls us to sacrifice this right and love all people unconditionally, no matter the cost. Will we remain passive and let our lives be controlled by fear instead of faith or step out in faith to be a voice for refugees worldwide and welcome those already in our midst?
I pray God will challenge you as He continually is me, to forfeit our rights and sacrifice our safety for the furtherance of His Gospel to all people.
*Name changed for security reasons.