“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).
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.