For part of his homework this week my son asked me about the difference between “migrant” and “refugee.” I explained that while all refugees are migrants not all migrants are refugees. That wasn’t really very helpful to him. So I said that we are migrants (or immigrants) because we have left our home country but we did so willingly. Refugees (are also migrants but) leave their home because they have to – in order to avoid violence, oppression, starvation or some other danger.
The refugee crisis is big news here in Europe. The shores are overwhelmed with people fleeing dangerous situations in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, parts of North Africa and elsewhere. As the tragedy unfolds many are risking their lives in order to reach the European Union. Yet there is no guarantee they will be safe once they arrive and unfortunately they aren’t getting a warm welcome.
As Christians we need to hear what the Bible says about such people – refugees and foreigners in our midst. Here are just five points to ponder:
1. Many figures in Scripture were refugees. The early patriarchs often had to leave home due to famine. The story of Ruth is all about displaced people. Even baby Jesus and his parents were refugees for a time in Egypt. Seeking refuge and safety is a theme throughout the Bible. At times I wonder how much has changed in the last few thousand years.
2. God loves refugees and gave commandments that they were to be cared for. Passages like Deuteronomy 10:18-19 are pretty clear: “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.”
3. In the Old Testament a portion of one’s income was to be given to those in need. See Leviticus 19:9-10: “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. I am the Lord your God.” When the phrase, “I am the Lord your God” is used it’s a reference to the second commandment. Do this – because I am God.
4. Jesus tells us in the gospels (Luke 10:25-27) to love our neighbours as ourselves. So, who is our neighbour? Take a guess. The parable Jesus tells doesn’t give us any excuses. It’s the foreigner.
5. When we get to heaven we will give an account of our actions towards those in need. “‘I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’” (Matthew 25:42-44)
Now all of this doesn’t really help us in developing a refugee policy or answering tough questions about who should or shouldn’t get refugee status. It doesn’t bring us to any quick conclusions about how this current crisis needs to be handled. And while it doesn’t spell out what the government should do, it does talk to us about our attitudes towards those in need. It does challenge us to do something when we see those in need.
“For whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40