The world stage is changing rapidly. In the wake of the ever increasing destabilization of the Middle East, and the humanitarian crisis in Syria, millions of refugees are looking for safe haven. They are fleeing their homes for their lives. To date, the Canadian government has resettled over 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, with 1200 arriving in my city, Edmonton, alone.
Compounded with this crisis is the possibility of further violent acts by terrorist groups who aim to use the refugee crises as an opportunity to export more sympathizers to western countries. Alongside the threat of religiously motivated terror attacks is the threat of abuse. Reports have come in of Syrian migrants sexually assaulting Canadian women in the communities they’ve settled into, a recent assault being in my city, Edmonton, where a Syrian refugee was charged with six counts of sexual assault on girls under the age of 16. Any Canadian citizen has a right to be legitimately concerned.
Regardless of the legitimate security concerns surrounding the refugee policies that the government has adopted, the local church needs to respond with the heart of a sojourner. While some may indeed be enemies who seek our harm, we should not respond with fear, racism, or bigotry, but in line with our identity as citizens of both Canada and heaven. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
We are told several times in God’s Word about what our attitude should be toward foreigners, since we ourselves are the ultimate foreigners. We see this from the OT, where God identifies with His own people as strangers and sojourners on earth (Lev 25:23), to the NT, where the Apostle Peter refers to the church as aliens and sojourners to abstain from earthly passions and live according to heavenly passions (1 Peter 2:11, 12). We are not at home here. We have the heart of the sojourner. “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exod 23:9).
So, how should we respond? I’d like to suggest three ways.
Pray for God to open their hearts and eyes to Christ. Acts of kindness can be powerful, but the Word of God is sharper than any double edged sword (Heb 4:12). Many refugees are coming from Islamic backgrounds and are blinded by false religion. They are blinded by social, familial, political, emotional and spiritual backgrounds so that they cannot see the bankruptcy of their religion, and the false hope of Islam. But the Spirit of God can grant repentance and renewal to spiritual dead hearts.
Also, we cannot be blind to the real threats, so we need to pray fervently that God would graciously protect our country, our city, and our church. There will always be those who would seek to take advantage of compassion and care for nefarious purpose. Their motive isn’t an escape clause to our God given call to love our enemies and seek to show them compassion. While we cannot do the job of our government or law enforcement, we can pray for them (1 Tim 2:1-4). Let’s do so diligently. I’m inclined to think that if the church prayed more for the government she’d need to protest less.
We are instructed by God’s Word that we are to love the foreigner among us. We have no right before God to show partiality. “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 19:33-34) We need to remember that God loves the sojourner. “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deu 10:17-19) We should be confident that God does love the Syrian refugees, and He will execute justice for the truly fatherless, and the true widow. We should seek to be His servants, providing food and clothing to the sojourner as we are able.
While many well-meaning Christians desire to reach Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ we must understand that for most of them to embrace Christ is to lose their family, their home, their social structure, and perhaps their life. While Christ is worth immeasurably more, as His people, His church, there are implications for us to wrestle with. We need to be ready to embrace them as a new community, a new family, and a new social structure. This will require sacrificially giving up our privacy and preferences. It’s no secret that one of our weaknesses as westerners is our individualism, and tendency to compartmentalize our lives. Opening up our lives and churches will be inconvenient. We can’t expect refugees (or anyone else, for that matter) to be embraced by a new community by simply attending programs and Sunday services.
I remember several years ago, during a youth outreach in Toronto, a youth worker was sharing the gospel with a young Muslim teen. This young Muslim expressed genuine interest. During the conversation the young man earnestly asked the youth worker what he had in place of what he would lose when he came to Christ. The youth worker asked what he meant. The young Muslim teen said, ‘If I come to Christ, I will lose my family, my home, my food, my job and my whole social group. What do you have in place?’ The youth worker was speechless. He thought for a minute about how his church in its current condition could replace all of what this young teen would lose. ‘Programs.’ He thought, ‘We have programs,’ but didn’t dare to say a word.
If we’re speaking to the sojourner about eternal life in Christ we must be willing to share our lives with them, or we really have no business calling them to Christ (1 Cor 11:1; 1 Thess 2:8). Discipleship is inescapably relational. As the church of Christ, we must be more than a weekly event, but a people. That is our identity in Christ, God’s household, sharing the life and mission of Christ (1 Peter 2:9-10). There’s much to say about how we practically function as the church in community. For now, let’s remember that we too are sojourners, with our true citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20); let us welcome the sojourner prayerfully, graciously and sacrificially.