Jesus Was a Refugee Would we have not accepted him?

“Given the tragic attacks in Jerusalem and the threats we have already seen, Egypt cannot participate in any program that will result in Jewish refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being resettled in Egypt,” Prefect Gaius Turranius said in the letter [to Caesar Augustus]. “Effective today, I am directing the Egypt Health & Human Services Commission’s Refugee Resettlement Program to not participate in the resettlement of any Jewish refugees in the State of Egypt. And I urge you, as Caesar, to halt your plans to allow Jews to be resettled anywhere in the Roman Empire.” [Adapted from Gov. Abbot’s letter to Presidnt Obama, found in this press release]

Thankfully this letter was never sent by Prefect Gaius Turranius, the person who served as Egypt’s governor when Jesus’ family fled Israel after Herod the Great went on a killing rampage in Jerusalem (Matthew 2.13-18).  Instead, it appears that Jesus and his family were able to find safety in Egypt for some time (estimates vary from a few months to three years).

refugee

“Escape to Egypt” by Sebastiano Ricci

But this letter (with the modern names, etc. added back in, of course) was sent in recent days from Texas’ governor to the US’s president, along with 30 other similar letters and declarations from other US governors.

That’s more than half of the states in the US!  More than half of the states in the US won’t accept people fleeing from the very threat is also feared within the US — ISIS, or the Islamic State.

Of course, ISIS is a horrible group that has committed numerous atrocities all over the world, one of which I’ve written about before.  And there is fear that some of those who are fleeing Syria are or will become a threat to America due to being radicalized.  And this fear may not be unfounded, since one of the suicide bombers in Paris was carrying a fake Syrian passport and apparently was himself on the run from the violence in the Middle East.

But none of this changes the fact that the Bible says some clear things about how to treat those who are refugees.  Let’s look at some of those passages (as found in this article at relevant.com):

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)

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)

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)

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

“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)

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. (1 Kings 8:41-44)

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)

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)

And add to all of these passages this passage from Matthew 2 that I referenced at the beginning of this blog:

When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. (Matthew 2.13-21)

 

Jesus Was a Refugee…So What?

What does all of this mean?  For those of us who follow Jesus, what are we to do with the clear injunctions from Scripture to care for those who seek asylum in the places where we life?  And what does it say to us that our savior and his family were people that were shown compassion when they became refugees themselves?

First, I’m not going to pretend that governing a city, state, or nation is simple.  Let’s be honest, I have a difficult time governing my own life sometimes!

I understand that there’s a balance to be struck between compassion and protection and that where politicians fall on that spectrum is based, in my opinion at least, on whatever may help them get re-elected to their current gig or help them position themselves well for their next gig.  Let’s not fool ourselves.  Politicians on both sides play to the emotions of their constituents in order to remain relevant, popular, and electable.

So, for a little while at least, let’s leave governing cities, states, and nations to one side and look at our lives as followers of Jesus instead.  We aren’t called to balance safety and compassion.  Nope.  Look back at the passages above and search for others that talk about how we are to treat foreigners.  The Scriptures are clear that God expects love and provision to be extended to refugees from those who claim him as their God.

On a personal level, as followers of Jesus, we have no other option, other than disobedience, of course.

So let’s not let fear, misinformation, possible ethnic prejudice, and political posturing prevent us from obeying God’s call to love the refugee.

But what does the fact that Jesus was a refugee add to this picture?

Here’s what I think: The fact that our savior was a refugee himself shows that he understands completely what it is like to leave everything behind because of terror.  He knows the long and hard roads that refugees face — roads full of danger, pain, and suffering.

And since Jesus was a refugee himself, as he leads his people to care for the refugees in their midst through the indwelling of the Spirit, he will know how to direct them to show true compassion.  It’s our job as followers of Jesus to respond to the Spirit: listening to him, learning from him, and obeying him.

I’m about to use a word I don’t use all that often: duty.  Caring for the refugees in our midst is our duty as followers of Jesus.  Leaving this duty undone is a grave disservice to current refugees and a slap in the face of our once-a-refugee-himself savior.

 

What about US History?

What role does caring for refugees have in American history?

Here are some brief highlights:

  • Many European settlers in the US were refugees themselves, fleeing persecution, natural disasters, poor economic situations, and war.
  • All throughout our history the US has been a beacon for the lost and the hurting in the world, even in very difficult and complicated times, such as in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War.  During that time around 125,000 Vietnamese made their way to the US [SOURCE], one of whom is a personal friend of mine!  And during the height of the Cold War, there must have been great fear about communism spreading in the US due to Vietnamese refugees, not to mention the potential security risk.  (Sound familiar?)
  • And for many years the US has had federal policies allowing for the migration of thousand of refugees into our country each year, many of whom are/were fleeing similar situations to that found in Syria.

It appears that the history of the US supports allowing for Syrian refugees to seek asylum here — plain and simple.

 

Now What?

The US is likely to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, who will be placed all throughout our country, including in the states whose governors don’t want them.

So, what are we to do as followers of Jesus?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Give.  Just think about it…currently half of Syria’s population has fled their homes.  That’s crazy!  So those of us who claim to follow Jesus can help by giving to one of the many organizations who are helping with the Syrian refugee crisis.  Here’s one I recommend: Texas Baptists Refugee Relief.  The Texas Baptists are giving aid to a network of churches in Lebanon, where 1.5 million Syrian refugees have resettled.  Many other groups are offering aid.  Research one that you like and give.
  2. Advocate.  If you are a follower of Jesus and are convicted by the truths of the Scriptures about how to treat the foreigners among us, write to your state and national politicians, asking them to enact policies to help bring aid and compassion to those seeking asylum in our land (especially if you happen to live in a state whose governor has tried to close its doors).
  3. Act.  There’s a good chance that some Syrian refugees are already living near you, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area.  Whether that’s true for you or not, talk with your pastor, community outreach person, and/or your missions person at your local church.  Ask them if your church has a plan to care for the refugees entering our country and potentially our cities.  Ask if they’d be willing for your church to serve as a host church for refugees.  Have them ask your church’s denomination or wider church network about next steps.  And, if the Lord is leading you, perhaps open your home, cook some food, or offer whatever other acts of love and hospitality that you can.
  4. Pray.  Pray for those who are fleeing the continuing war in Syria.  Pray for the health and safety of the refugees.  Pray for the followers of Jesus all over the face of the earth to rise up to this great challenge.  Pray that this crisis can be used by God in order for his church to share and embody the good news with and among people desperate for it.  And pray for God to use you as he sees fit.

 

Thanks so much for reading this!  You may not agree with me on every point, and that’s fine.  Either way, let’s follow our savior who was once a refugee as he leads us to love everyone, especially those who are most in need.

 

Cultural Assumptions

I learned something recently — it’s easy to make cultural assumptions.  The way this shows up in my life is that I assume my cultural norms are the cultural norms for everyone.

And assuming my cultural understanding is everyone else’s cultural understanding is a serious stumbling block to following Jesus actively in the real world.

Why?  What’s wrong with thinking one’s cultural norms are the cultural norms?

In order to answer this question, I want to tell you a story…

 

MEC Retreat

Me teaching at a college and young adult retreat.

 

A few weeks ago I had the great privilege of leading a retreat for college and young adults.  I really had a blast!  They coordinator of the retreat asked me to lead the group through a series on the seven churches from the first few chapters of the book of Revelation (the last book in the New Testament).

This was exciting for me because I had already done some work on the seven churches before, meaning that I could pull out my old notes and update them.  This is always a fun process for me.  It’s interesting to see how my thinking has changed and grown over the years.

But another reason why teaching this group was going to be exciting was the fact that everyone in the group was Egyptian or Palestinian.  I have several friends from Egypt (two of whom helped me score this opportunity!), so I felt ready to go!

I met with one of my Egyptian friends prior to the retreat and he gave me some helpful insights on the group and where they were coming from.  He reminded me that since the revolution in Egypt in 2011, many Egyptians, especially Egyptian Christians, have come to the United States.  In Southern California many of them find one another at the church that birthed this college and young adult group.  Therefore, according to my friend, their experience of the church, the gospel, and Jesus himself was very different from what I was used to.

I heard him but apparently his advice did not sink in for me…

 

Cultural Oops!

During one of the teaching sessions I was making a case I make often: Christians are perceived as judgmental and this is something that we need to make efforts to change.  Around the room I was receiving some nods of agreement and a few incredulous looks.  I shook off the latter and latched onto the former…I love affirmation after all!

Later, during the same session, I made the point again that Christians tend to be judgmental and Laura, one of the young women at the retreat, slid her hand up in the air.

“Can I respond?”

“Of course,” I answered.

“Well, in Egypt Christians are often hired to do jobs that require honesty, like a cashier.  In fact, among Muslims in Egypt, Christians are known for being honest, moral, and good people.”

“Hmm…,” was all that I could muster up to reply.

“So it may not be fair to assume that all Christians are judgmental.”

“You’re right Laura.  That was a mistake on my part.  I’m sorry…”

 

The First Moral of the Story

Why is it a problem to assume that one’s cultural norms are the cultural norms?

Because in so doing we can unintentionally and easily belittle and insult other people.  And, trust me, it is truly difficult to share and embody the good news of Jesus and his kingdom while being belittling and insulting!

What can we do to prevent committing a cultural faux-pas like I did?

Well, there are many things we can do:

  1. Learn about the cultural diversity around us.  Even if we live somewhere that seems to be more or less mono-cultural, every family has its own culture and the same sort of mistakes can happen at that level as well!  However, by educating ourselves about the people with whom we regularly come into contact, we may be little less likely to flub it up too bad from a cultural perspective.
  2. Beef up our filters.  If you’re like me and you talk as part of your daily and weekly routines, then it is likely that your filter needs to be changed!  Here’s what I mean: I can just talk and talk and talk without thinking much.  It’s in times like these that I find myself making the most cultural mistakes.
  3. Spend some time learning our cultural quotient and then to do something with this knowledge we gained.  We need to know our CQ — our cultural quotient.  There are some “official” ways of looking into this, but  an unofficial way would be to ask a trusted group of friends who you feel are more culturally savvy than you to give you an honest assessment of where you are.  Then the question is this: What will you do with this information?  What will I?

 

The Second Moral of the Story

Think about what Laura said to correct me — Christians in Egypt have a reputation for being honest and trustworthy.  But Christians in America, by and large, have a reputation for being judgmental.  What’s up with this?

The first way to think about it may be that people in America are giving us a bad rap and that we really aren’t all that judgmental.  But I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we know this isn’t true.  We make snide comments about the behaviors of our friends, family, and coworkers who are far from God, as if we do everything right.  We go on the warpath sometimes looking for ways to judge our national, state, and local political leaders.  And we give social media updates bemoaning the ungodly behavior of those crazy people in Hollywood.

We Christians are judgmental in America, by and large.

So a second way of thinking about it may be that Christians in Egypt are simply less judgmental than we are or that they are simply better known for things that they do well.  Either way, something must be different about them.  What is it?

Well, they worship the same Jesus American Christians do, they read the same Bible, they have similar community times, they pray in similar ways, etc., etc.  So what’s different?

Their context, that’s what’s different.  Here in America we believe (erroneously) that we live in a Christian nation and that everyone should abide by our rules, expectations, and assumptions.  But we don’t live in a Christian nation and many millions of Americans don’t even have a clue what our rules, expectations, and assumptions are!  The truth is that America is not a Christian nation and pretending like it is has done deep, deep damage to our credibility among those who are far from God.

Egypt is different, however.  Upwards of 90% of Egyptians are Muslim.  Egypt is clearly marked by an abiding presence of Islam.  And it is in that context (and an uncomfortable and scary context at times) that Christians in Egypt stand out.  Their kindness, generosity, joy, and honesty are obvious to many people.

 

So Laura was right — and the lessons we should learn from her are to do our best to be culturally aware and that those of us who follow Jesus in America need to work hard to become known for good things about us instead of bad things.

 

What do you think?  What can we learn from Laura’s insight?  Let me know in the comments below!