Some years back, when I was working in a youth camp in Southern Poland, I was invited to attend the funeral of a certain old lady. She had come to the area some fifty years before, as an unwilling refugee. She was Jewish, and as a little girl had been taken with her whole family to Auschwitz. She saw her family killed there, but it was the last few days of the war in Poland, and the Nazi administration had decided to march all the surviving prisoners westwards, away from the advancing Russian armies. The long forced march snaked across the territory, and in a certain town, as they stopped to rest, the little girl was snatched from the line of prisoners and secreted by locals who had come offering food. The German guards saw something awry and opened fire on the locals, killing twelve or so. But the little girl was rescued and lived out her life among the people who had rescued her. The pastor who led the funeral was the man with whom our team were staying.
This true story strikes me like a parable about the cost of our care for refugees, the unhappy circumstances of their very presence in a foreign country, and the truth -amidst all the difficulties- of the sign in the picture above: Refugees are human beings.
As a Christian, I reach for the Bible to help me to sort out how I should respond to the current refugee crisis. And there, time and again the People of God are reminded that, deep down, they know how it feels to be a refugee, and so should respond out of that deep-seated fellow-feeling. Here’s a few Bible verses to help us think through these issues:
1. Treat Refugees the Way You Want to Be Treated
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
2. Provide Food for the Needy and the Foreigner
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. ” (Leviticus 19:9-10)
3. We Should Love Foreigners – After All, God Does Too
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)
4. Do Not Abuse Foreigners
“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
5. Fight for Justice for Foreigners Living Among You
“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 3:5)
6. Open Your Door to the Traveler
“No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler” (Job, discussing his devotion to God) (Job 31:32)
7. Invite the Stranger In
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “(Matthew 25:25-36)
8. Love Your Neighbor
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
9. Show Mercy to Your Neighbor
“He asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply, Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)
That last statement has always had the strongest influence in our lives. It formed the basis for our decision to take in Muslim children from Kosovo who had lost their families (to Serbian Christian forces) during that particular refugee crisis.
And once you decide to listen to the words of Jesus, then you decide to act like a parent, a friend, a neighbour, a fellow human being.