The Foreigner Among You
Tom Petty once sang: "You don't have to live like a refugee." I'm sure this would be a welcome message to the thousands of men, women and children being forced from their homes in Syria and other places of unrest. They're looking for peace and protection, sanctuary, and they'll pretty much take it wherever they can find it. Europe, America, Jupiter… The Western world has responded, particularly European countries, by allowing many of these refugees entrance into their nations, and giving a much-needed respite for those fleeing oppression and genocide. Within the wave of weary, hungry, and frightened, though, there have also been violent opportunists. Agents of evil who would seize upon the moment, using open borders to bring destruction upon the communities that offer them shelter.
What, then, is a Christian of charity and wisdom to think? Do we call for courageous compassion, trusting God as we seek to follow his commands about providing for the poor? Or do we close our doors more tightly, securing our own families and communities from those who would seek to harm us? Common sense, some would say, directs us to protect ourselves - to look out for our own. But it's hard to avoid the straightforward message of the scripture, which tells us time and time again to receive those who need shelter, to clothe those who are naked, and to feed the hungry. Some passages are even more specific and immediate, such as Deuteronomy 10:18, "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."
Those of you that live in the first world have no immediate connection with the idea of being a "foreigner." But if you are a Christian, you do know something about living in a foreign land, don't you? I mean, aren't we far from our true home? Don't we often feel separated from the place our hearts long for, the place where things will be right?
Maybe that's the part of our souls that God is speaking to in this moment. Maybe he wants us, in our prayers and our actions, to speak, think, and act as fellow refugees. Maybe that's where we'll find empathy, connection, fellowship.
I don't know that we can protect ourselves from those who try to harm us and our loved ones - and I don't know that scripture says that's our job anyway. The bible I read calls the Lord as our "protector" and "provider", and commands us to be agents of his love. I wonder if we're mixing up our roles a bit, taking on responsibilities that aren't ours, and ignoring some that are.
But if there is to be any assurance of peace among the population of refugees that are moving from country to country, it must be found in changed hearts. This could be the greatest opportunity for evangelism we've ever seen? Could it be that the power of the gospel could change even the hearts of the agents of terror - the wolves in refugees' clothing? Could it be that we've fallen short of the Great Commission, and so God, in his great patience, is now bringing the nations to us?
"You don't have to live like a refugee." Tom's right, you don't. And you don't have to think like one. And you don't have to take care of one. And you don't have to preach the gospel to one. But don't be so sure God doesn't want you to.