Refugees and the Gospel: A Call for More…from Everybody

refugeesWhen it comes to refugees, I would be surprised if you didn’t have a strong opinion. Maybe you are calling for a removal of the temporary ban on refugees, including those from Muslim countries. Or maybe you think a temporary ban on refugees from the seven Muslim countries is necessary for our country’s safety.

Both the “let them in now” and “temporary ban” positions, even in more nuanced forms, are short-sighted.

The “let them in now” position sees Old Testament scripture as a reflection of the heart of God. (enter “sojourner” into an online Bible search). This voice says we should embrace and defend sojourners by allowing immigrants and refugees from Muslim countries into the U.S. This concern is Biblical, Godly, and loving of neighbor…but still short-sighted in its application.

The issue isn’t that the “let them in now” voice is too extreme. Rather, it is not extreme enough. My concern for those of you voicing this position is not that you are voicing it. My concern is whether you will live it.

 

Will you live it?

Are you willing to not only let Muslim refugees into your country, but into your governments, neighborhoods and living rooms? If you’re willing, have you already? It is easy to voice a position on Facebook or in a protest, but more costly to show up and love someone, particularly if they’re not from your culture.

For six years I pastored in a church of refugees in St. Louis. Our part of the city was a relocation center for refugees fleeing from countries including Bosnia, Congo and Rwanda, Burma, Nepal and several in West Africa. The church was beautifully diverse as we reflected these demographics. We sang songs in seven+ languages, wrestled through cultural misunderstandings and focused ministry efforts in coming alongside refugees.

I learned that new refugees need much support and time from Americans to adjust to our country. One church member believed he was in New York City for five days after arriving in the U.S. from Burma. Just as I wouldn’t know the cities in his country, he didn’t even know there was a city named St. Louis and just assumed he was in the only U.S. city he knew. Refugees need friends to help them navigate a new country.

In South Florida, many immigrants and refugees are welcomed by already established groups from their homeland. But newer refugee communities need significantly more time and help. Sadly, many will never host an American in their home, nor visit an American’s home. And we aren’t even talking about Muslim refugees yet.

 

Unsettling shifts

While serving as a church outreach intern in the diverse boroughs of London, I shared the Gospel and dialogued with Muslim men from many countries, including the banned list. I listened to men speak articulately about the glories of an Islamic society to crowds in Hyde Park. And I learned that many Muslims (but not all by any means) have a fundamentally different way of approaching life than most Westerners. I wondered if these different frameworks were compatible as I saw cultural tensions rise throughout England. As more Muslim refugees come into our country, you may experience unsettling shifts. You will have to give up cultural space by sharing control of things, and that may make you uncomfortable.

The Gospel calls us to no less than raising our voices for the oppressed. But it definitely calls us to more. Advocacy with our voices is important, but loses its legitimacy if it isn’t followed by real action with our hands.

As followers of Jesus, let us serve refugees in practical ways. Commit to walk with a Muslim refugee and welcome them into your home. Work through the cultural misunderstandings and differences, even while your Western core values of individualism and freedom are called into question. Start now by connecting with an organization like Catholic Charities or World Relief (both have SFL branches) to volunteer with refugees not from your culture or by visiting a local mosque and inviting someone to eat in your home. The Gospel calls us to more.

 

Legitimate concerns

The “temporary ban” position is concerned with the rise of radical Islam across the globe, and allowing into this country those who want to harm it. Some counter that refugees from the seven banned countries have been involved in little terrorist activity in the U.S. While this may be true, try to understand the concern of the “temporary ban” voice.

Recently I was conversing with a friend from West Africa. He expressed concern that Boko Haram is terrorizing Nigeria. Christians are afraid to go to church for fear of it being bombed. While some say this is alarmist, many around the globe are rightfully alarmed because of experiences they or others have had with Muslim extremists. Let’s not label the “temporary ban” folks as racists or paranoid because of their concern. There are legitimate concerns when you do a little research on the current situation in West Africa and Europe.

 

Called to more

Though there are legitimate concerns, the Gospel calls us to more. Refugees around the globe need help now. How can we, as sinners who have been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus, close our hearts to those in such desperate need and immediate danger? If the advancement of the Gospel is our greatest priority, isn’t this an incredible opportunity to reach unreachable people? The Gospel calls us to more.

Even as Americans, can we as an immigrant nation close our borders to refugees? Recently Christian friends of mine visited a family of Syrian refugees that lived down the street from their church. They laughed with the father and played with the children. Communicating through the Google Translate app, the Syrian father spoke Arabic words into a phone. My friends looked at the screen after the app had processed his words. It read, “Thank you to all the American people.”

Friends, we have an incredible opportunity. Our primary allegiance is to Jesus and His Kingdom. Let’s look at this great need through Gospel lenses. The Gospel teaches us to sacrifice ourselves on behalf of our enemies, care for the stranger as family, and passionately pursue those who don’t know Christ. Let us lay down our comfort, safety, and self-righteousness for the sake of the Gospel. There is work to be done.

Read more about what Evangelical Leaders are saying HERE.

John Houmes pastors New City Fellowship in the Hollywood/Hallandale area. He also pastored a church of the same name in St. Louis from 2008-2014. You can find out more about New City at www.NewCityHH.com or visit Sundays at 10am at OB Johnson Park in Hallandale.

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3 Responses to “Refugees and the Gospel: A Call for More…from Everybody”

  1. Larry Baden

    Good thoughts, John. I am well familiar with the Saint Louis church, and have been working with and among refugees for 9 years. It’s immensely enriching, but also intensely difficult. Most Americans in our area who work with refugees burn out in two years. Some never get from words to action. A key requirement to lasting is a deep-rooted sense of carrying out God’s call and demonstrating God’s deep love for refugees, regardless of country of origin or religion. Thanks for your thoughts.

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