NOTE: This item was originally posted on September 30, 2015, well before the Executive Order regarding refugees issued by U.S. President Donald Trump on January 27, 2017. Therefore, the material below does NOT interact in any way with that Executive Order. Instead, this material seeks to lay out from Scripture the biblical responsibility with respect to refugees in ANY specific cultural or political situation. The authors of this material live and minister in the following countries: Australia, The Czech Republic, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, Scotland, South Africa, and the USA.
Some different perspectives are provided, as should be expected given the diversity of the Body of Christ. But there are clearly some constant themes which appear again and again and we urge all of our readers to take those themes seriously. This is surely one of those situations in which "the strengths of some may become the strengths of all in the service of Jesus Christ." We therefore commend these materials for the prayerful consideration of the Church of Jesus Christ, especially in light of President Trump's Executive Order.
African Realities of Displaced Refugees
P. J. (Flip) Buys
Rayton, South Africa
All of us are shocked and deeply concerned about the numbers of refugee migrants now flocking into Europe.
António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, writes in a report:
Global forced displacement has seen accelerated growth in 2014, once again reaching unprecedented levels. The year saw the highest displacement on record. By end-2014, 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. This is 8.3 million persons more than the year before (51.2 million) and the highest annual increase in a single year. [World at War, UNHCR Global Trends Forced Displacement 2014. Available at http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=556725e69&query=world at war ]
Through my personal travels and conversations with brothers and sisters in Africa I have the impression that the situation in Africa is actually much worse than what is now seen in Europe, but it does not receive the same global media coverage.
From South Sudan alone, more than 2 million people have been fleeing from the violent tribal wars and people are murdered and women are being raped. The outbreak of violence in South Sudan, which started in December 2013, triggered a major outflow into neighbouring countries. The overall number of South Sudanese refugees grew from 114,400 to 616,200 within a span of just 12 months. By the end of the year, those fleeing South Sudan found refuge predominantly in Ethiopia (251,800), Uganda (157,100), Sudan (115,500), and Kenya (89,200). As a result, South Sudan was the fifth largest source country of refugees worldwide. Besides those who have fled the country, there are 1,645,392 IDP’s (Internally Displaced People) in South Sudan.
The same trends are seen in Ethiopia, the northern parts of Uganda, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Libya and Zimbabwe.
Many people flocking into South Africa are actually economic refugees, especially the hundreds of thousands from Zimbabwe who have come to South Africa with the hope of finding employment and a better life after President Mugabe has destroyed the economy. His eviction of white farmers has led to unemployment of thousands of farm workers, hunger, and devastation.
Corrupt leaders and bad governance
Roeland van der Geer, European Union ambassador to South Africa, has said that one of the causes of the security crises in North Africa (Libya and Egypt) has been the lack of democracy and bad governance:
We lay the responsibility for what is happening in the countries of the Maghreb clearly in the hands of the leaders who were dictators and did not respect democracy.
Most of the world’s active wars have been fought on the continent of Africa during the past three decades. This has produced millions of refugees from South Sudan, Somali, Burundi and Rwanda.
These wars were mostly fuelled by financial greed and corruption of leaders. It has been revealed that the national debt of several African countries like Nigeria, DRC, Zimbabwe equals the money stolen by leaders and is now in banks in Switzerland, while many of the poor in those countries are becoming poorer and poorer while the economies of those countries have declined.
What can churches do?
1. Concerted prayer and intercession
Prayer for persecuted and displaced people is of the highest priority for churches who want to be part of God’s love and mercy for a broken world and millions of suffering and displaced people. Every church should receive and provide regular information to their members of the desperate needs of the suffering of refugees around the world and pray for them in public church services and public and private prayer meetings.
The Bible and church history provides many examples of the fact that God hears the prayers of His people. Countries and governments have been transformed and even replaced as answers to the prayers of God’s people.
2. Mercy ministries
The most important immediate support that churches can provide is mercy ministries. One example is the help that the Reformed Churches in South Africa gave to the Sudanese churches in South Sudan in 2014. (Both are denominational members of World Reformed Fellowship). A significant amount of money was raised and a delegation of the Reformed Churches in South Africa was sent to personally hand over the funds and encourage the recipients. They also sponsored pastors of South Sudan to attend a training workshop in trauma counselling and attended it with them in Nairobi in Kenya, and also visited displaced people in refugee camps in Kenya and South Sudan. Much more of this could be done.
3. Receiving refugees with Christian hospitality and logistic support
Many Christian churches are receiving displaced refugees and provide accommodation, food, clothing, education and logistical support to help refugees to get settled and assimilated in new countries and communities. This has led to refugees becoming Christians. Some even became missionaries who eventually returned to their own countries to preach the Gospel. I received a very encouraging report from Koos van Rooy who has been involved in 5 new Bible translation projects in vernacular local languages in Mozambique. Regarding the influence of returning refugees on church growth and restoration of communities, he says that, before the war between Frelimo and rebel forces, there were very few Protestant churches in northern Mozambique. During the war, many refugees came in contact with Christians in Zimbabwe and Malawi and came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. After the war, they returned to Mozambique and planted hundreds, if not thousands, of churches. The great challenge for the church now is to provide theological training for those churches.
4. Advocacy campaigns
In South Africa, xenophobia and violence against foreigners, affecting many refugees and asylum-seekers, is a major concern and has resulted in loss of lives, property damage and displacement.
In reaction to this, some churches arranged public campaigns in townships to openly speak out against it and call on communities accept and embrace strangers with love and support. With reference to passages like Leviticus 19:34 “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.” and Deuteronomy 24:14–15 “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the LORD, and you be guilty of sin.” Public speeches were made to appeal to communities to accept and support displaced refugees.
Perhaps more advocacy campaigns for justice, peace, religious freedom and good democratic governance, especially in the countries where refugees come from, should also be launched by churches.
5. Leadership development and theological education
In many of the countries where refugees come from there is a desperate need for good and sound theological education and leadership development.
It will be a long term investment for Reformed and Presbyterian churches to take hands and form partnerships in developing many more theological education (formal as well as non-formal) opportunities.
Dr. P. J. (Flip) Buys is International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship. He is an ordained minister of the Reformed Church in South Africa and was the founder of Mukhanyo Theological College, Masibambisane Community Development Corporation and Mukhanyo Christian Academy (a Christian private school focusing on quality education for orphans and vulnerable children).
Ye Who Are Weary, Come Home
D. Clair Davis
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. I John 3:16-17
“When you see someone in need”—where could that be? Where I live that’s not going to happen, we’re all upscale with no needy around. Could it mean, when you see them in the news? If that’s it, then just open your eyes and look. See thousands of refugee immigrants trying to get into England through the channel tunnel, Africans risking their lives on shaky boats to get to Greece of all places—and those Latinos wanting to come here.
Should we be helping needy people to come in, where they can get jobs and feed their families? That’s the American way, isn’t it? Those English dukes didn’t have their hearts set on moving here, but despised Welsh tenant farmers did, and so here I am.
Why do Latinos want to come here? To collect welfare? No, they come to work. There’s real work for them here, we ourselves don’t feel like hoeing veggies in the hot sun all day, but they’ll do it. If it’s really true that we should be eating fewer pork chops and loaded potatoes and a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables, without them it’s not going to happen. Who else will do it?
Who is welcome in our country? Isn’t it, “give me your tired and your poor?” No, Irving Berlin, you gave us a cute song but it’s way off. Instead it’s always been, give us more people but only if they’re just like us. In the 19th century we didn’t want Southern Europeans especially Roman Catholics. A secret political party, the Know-Nothings, stirred that up. Up to 1965 we had immigration quotas for other countries, but none for Central and South America, since they were our neighbors. But that friendly welcome got canceled, which is why our welcome is so limited right now. The reason given back then was, too many Latinos threaten our “identity.”
It’s great to be where you know you belong. For God’s people there used to be only one place like that, that sliver of land at the eastern end of the Great Sea. If you weren’t there you were in miserable exile. But Christ is risen now, and the whole world needs to hear it, so everywhere in the world is where we are at home with God.
Does being a global citizen of the kingdom of Jesus help us understand the other USA kind of citizenship? Does our global Jesus identity help us understand the other kind? We’re brothers and sisters to people who eat weird food, who are more emotional, and who aren’t eager for a desk job—and sharing our love for Jesus is so much bigger than all of that put together. Come to think of it, let’s check out those Jesus pics we have hanging in Sunday School. Get rid of all those tall handsome blond ones. Yeah, let’s hear it for our short and dark Jewish Savior!
Of course our country isn’t “Christian,” and we’re “exiles” here. But it’s great to use our gospel mindset when we make “USA” decisions. Why shouldn’t we care for our brothers and sisters in Jesus any way we can? We don’t need to focus on how we can raise other people’s taxes to do it, we can think of how we want to make sacrifices ourselves. We should go around saying, taxes have to go up, ours too, so we can do all we can do to be a caring country. Nobody else says that—we don’t mind getting some attention, do we?
I think we ought to welcome Latinos, partly so we can eat more healthy veggies, but mostly because we know their need. Jesus meets our neediness, and we want to reflect his kindness and love for all needy others the best we can. When we welcome them ourselves, personally and up close, we can model and talk the gospel to them, can’t we?
How can we be welcoming? Laws have to change, 1965 must be rolled back. In the meantime we must make clear that if you’re already here and don’t have a DUI, we want you to stay, without any threat of being picked up and deported.
Next year’s election will be very big. We need more money in the government pot, so most of us will have to pay in more. There will be two Supreme Court nominations coming up, and since the court is going to make big decisions, it will take a president with wisdom and justice to pick the right ones. Religious freedom is in trouble, how can it be protected, also freedom of speech. But we see those needy folk too, some already here and many who want to come. That is very big too, and we need to pick the right people to do the right things.
Dr. D. Clair Davis is an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship and is Professor of Church History Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
“Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Europe
Dehra Dun, India
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) worldwide statistics for “refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people” up to 2013 end showed that for the first time, post WWII, the figures for such people had crossed the 50 million mark. The 10 countries that top the list of refugees are: Afghanistan (2,556,600); Syria (2,468,400); Somalia (1,121,700); Sudan (649,300); Congo (499,500); Myanmar (479,600); Iraq (401,400); Colombia 396,600, and Vietnam (314,100). These numbers are bound to increase with the crisis in Europe.
Since January 2014 to date the refugee influx into Europe has continued unabated. Current comparative figures for 2014 and 2015 published by UNHCR (January to June) reveal that each month the number of refugees arriving in Europe has increased in 2015. The refugee figure for June 2014 was 26,220, and for June 2015, 43,460. Despite tragedies and loss of life, refugees enter Europe mainly through two countries: Italy and Greece. According to the latest figures refugees are estimated as arriving up to 3000 per day. Politically, the reception in Europe has been mixed, while Germany and Sweden have probably been the most open to welcome refugees, others such as Austria and France have been cautious, while Hungary has closed its doors and has come under criticism for a blade wire fence erected on its borders. Socially too, the reaction has been mixed, while some Europeans welcomed the asylum seekers at train stations, others went on protests, fearing that this influx would open the door for Muslim terrorists to infiltrate Europe – by no means an impossibility.
The figures we are talking about are staggering. Germany alone is making preparations to re-settle 800,000 refugees. It has decided to ignore the Dublin Regulation (which expects the first European country that refugees reach to be responsible for processing their asylum applications), and take any refugees coming by way of other European countries. Britain, after some delay, is now ready to take about 40,000 asylum seekers. For the most part the magnanimity of the Europeans to help those affected by conflicts in their countries is commendable. Unfortunately, the US has been criticized for being unwilling to take more asylum seekers (the cut off for refugee intake for the US in 2014 was 70,000).
Who are these refugees? Most of the refugees coming into Europe are from countries torn by civil-war, Syria and Afghanistan being the most widely known. They risk their lives in the hope of beginning a new life in Europe or some Western country. Recent pictures of a three year old drowned when the boat he was travelling in with his family capsized, or the deserted van on an Austrian motorway, which became the grave of 71 persons trapped inside, are an indication of risks taken to flee to safety. Why do these people take such risks? It’s simply because living in their countries is no longer safe.
They are not stragglers who had no occupation in their own country; I recently read of a cardiologist among the refugees who pointed out two other fellow refugees, who were also doctors, and pleaded for some humane treatment. Since the magnitude of the crisis is beyond anything that Europe has experienced in recent years, there may be delays in the processing of immigration documents and offering of basic amenities. These delays have sometimes led to rioting by the refugees and met with swift retaliation by the local authorities. Why such problems? We need to understand that some of them never expected the inconveniences they experienced after reaching Europe. It is only a refugee who has been through the ordeals of seeking asylum who can understand the mind of a refugee.
What can we do? The first thing is we should get acquainted with what’s going on. We can no longer ignore what’s going on in the world. We should do what we can to assist those who are in need through churches and agencies who are in the region and are willing to help. The immediate need would be relief: food, clothing, and temporary shelter. Once this phase is over we could assist in rehabilitation. Finding them suitable occupations and places to live and work. None of these are very spiritual activities in themselves, but Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these by brothers, you did it to me.”
How can we fulfill our mission in this context? Remember that many, or most, of these people only have a twisted version of Christianity. Some of them may be indoctrinated in anti-Christian ideas; they probably may have heard throughout their lives how bad Christians are. Providentially, however, God has brought them to you. You have not had to raise money to go to some mission field; the field is at your doorstep. Do everything possible to reach out to these refugees and show the love of Christ through your life. They don’t need to hear the gospel now; they need to see the gospel through your lives: by what you do and do not do, by what you say, and do not say, in short, simply by being Christ’s hands and feet for the refugees.
On a personal note, I am a Sri Lankan by nationality. I married in 1979 and ever since have lived in India. I was fortunate to escape three decades of ethnic violence in my country that began in 1983. I know the desperation of people who face violence. I was posted in Sri Lanka to oversee Tsunami rehabilitation in 2007, which was also during the height of ethnic violence and insurgency. I had to travel weekly to one of the scariest regions in the war zone. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was real. The consciousness of death, the uncertainty of life, meeting people who had lost everything they had (by the war or because of the tsunami). In the midst of all this hopelessness, one beacon of hope stood out – the Church. In the Church, people of the two ethnic identities, worshipped the Lord and prayed together for peace and brotherhood. And the Lord answered their prayers.
We are called to be salt and light in the world. The Lord also has told us, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” The crisis in Europe is an opportunity for us to show the love of Christ to those in need. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I am more. I am probably my brother’s only hope of salvation in and through Christ.
[For this article, I have consulted various sources on the crisis in Europe; the global and European statistics are taken from information published by UNHCR.]
Dr. Matthew Ebenezer is an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship and he serves on the WRF Board of Directors. He works at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Dehra Dun, India, where he teaches Church History and Practical Theology.
Crisis in Calais
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
We’ve all seen the images of The Jungle, the make-shift refugee camp in the sand dunes near Calais, France, where over three thousand refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan live in squalid conditions. The most compelling reports look closely at individuals, which puts a human face on the circumstances. The Guardian recently sent a reporter to look in on some of the refugees, and identify the different types of persons who come to the place, their past, their present lives and their aspirations. Much of it is heartbreaking. We see mothers trying to feed their children, diseased refugees, victims of exploitation, people with dashed hopes, and the like.
Why are they there? A large number of the refugees have fled countries where human rights abuses are rampant. They have heard that Europe is a paradise for persons in exile. They have often arrived after months of travel, by boat, by foot, in wagons. They have come to Calais because they found the reception in France to be a great disappointment, and are hoping to go further north to the United Kingdom, which, they have heard, is a far more welcoming place than others. However, under pressure from the British government, France has closed the way to escape across the English Channel. To give a measure of how desperate things are, several people have died trying to escape, including one who very nearly made it, walking through the Chunnel (meant for trains only).
The immigration calamity is arguably the largest crisis Europe has faced in at least a decade. What is to be done? Are there any biblical principles which can be adapted to Calais and other similar sites throughout Europe? While there is no magic wand to wave, several considerations deserve our attention.
(1) We ought to feel an instinctive sympathy for migrant people in need. There are scores, if not hundreds of calls in the Bible to care for the alien in our midst. Foreigners are put alongside the fatherless and the widow as deserving the same compassion and justice as anyone else (Jer. 22:3; Lev. 19:83; Ps. 82:3; Isa. 1:17, etc.). Aliens must benefit from the Sabbath regulations (Ex. 23:12). Their gleaning rights were strictly enforced (Lev. 23:22; Dt. 24:19; Mk. 2:23-28).
(2) Aid for refugees should be natural for us, but not naïvely applied. Timothy Keller argues for a layered approach to poverty relief. First, he notes that we should show mercy to anyone in need. The “Good Samaritan” did not pause to ask diagnostic questions, such as, why was the victim in such a mess, what circumstances led to his affliction, etc.? Rather, he just helped, and we just help the disenfranchised, because he is a victim in need, with no access to power. Closing the Red Cross center at Sangatte (near Clais) in 2002 was a huge mistake from this point of view. At the same time, more long-term, systemic changes are called for: “Counseling, encouragement, education, job training, grants of capital – all these and more are necessary to develop the poor.” This will move us from relief to transformation to reform. These three virtues need to be applied to the countries of origins, and not only to the host countries. It should come as no surprise, knowing something about human nature, that both the problems and their solutions are like the proverbial ball of wax.
(3) Applying laws that already exist. It happens that the European Economic Community has conventions in place in order to deal with immigration. They are set-out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2009). Though not perfect, they are surprisingly comprehensive. They include entry and residence conditions for migrants; procedures for obtaining long-term visas; the rights of immigrants in the EU countries: how to deal with illegal immigrants; legislation against human trafficking, etc. What is frustrating is that many of the countries that agreed to them refuse to acknowledge or apply these rules. Those who do end up paying the price for those who do not. These laws may not be infallible, but they have been agreed upon after painstaking negotiations. Romans 13, and other passages requiring compliance with recognized authorities should apply here.
(4) Failing a single, comprehensive solution, various acts of mercy, including health care, education and the like, ought to be sponsored. There are, for example, in Calais, a few small initiatives. Several worship centers have been organized which encourage refugees to come and pray and ask for spiritual help. One bold initiative is that of Zimarco Jones, an enthusiastic Nigerian who has founded a school in The Jungle. Among the skills promoted in Jones’ school are language arts. French is taught there in the hopes that a few refugees may end up in France after all. “My dream is to change this camp,” he says, “I want to make something different of this Jungle to show people that we are not what they are thinking.” And he decries the suggestion that human beings should be subject to the so-called law of the jungle. “For example, they say Jungle… we don’t live in a Jungle here.” These initiatives are good, but not nearly enough. Here is a great opportunity not only for NGOs but Christian missionaries of all kinds to get involved.
(5) Avoiding the temptation to extremism. In such a crisis it is easy to fall into knee-jerk solutions. On the far right, many Europeans are advocating a simple “just say no” answer to immigration. Keep them out; send them home; leave us alone, is their basic message. But this is to forget God’s plan for humanity from the beginning, which is to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Indeed, at some point, everyone, including the advocates of no immigration, came into their dwelling place from elsewhere. The National Front leaders in France, the Le Pen family, is from Morbihan, a part of Brittany which originally was populated by religious leaders from across the channel in Britain. And they in turn came from various Neolithic nomads. The opposite extreme is the “free migration” view that basically advocates few if any limits on immigration. While no doubt we should err on the side of generosity, ensuring persecuted peoples can find refuge in free countries, the extreme version of this policy becomes careless about the enormous problems facing the host countries: population explosion, lack of resources, clash of cultures, drain on the economy. Finding the balance may be the greatest challenge of all.
(6) A balance between generosity and security. Philippe Leclerc is a principal spokesman for the French HCR (Haut Commissariat pour les Réfugiés – High Commission for Refugees). Taking note of the success of France, along with Great Britain and Germany, in receiving record numbers of refugees, Leclerc says that the reason for their achievement is the guaranty of human rights by these countries, known the world around. Like the inscription on the Colossus of Rhodes and the Statue of Liberty, the French invite the world to "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” However, several crises have inspired a serious slowing down of immigration, beginning in 1974 with Jacques Chirac’s sharp response to unemployment, and now worries about terrorism, making even legal entry into France rather daunting. Each country needs to consider both of these values, and to try and avoid either romantically welcoming everyone or a fear-based justification of strictures in the name of security.
(7) The present crisis affords a good opportunity for France and Great Britain to engage in frank, productive negotiations. A number of Brits I have discussed this with feel that France disingenuously signs the documents and then proceeds to act without respecting them. And some French people I know feel that Great Britain has become too confrontational toward the refugees, and insensitive to the need for each country to share in their responsibilities. Whether or not there is any truth to either allegation, sitting down at the negotiating table is urgent. “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23)
Because of globalization the immigration crisis is only going to get worse. It certainly won’t be limited to Calais. Christians should be on the front lines in attempting to deal with this widespread problem. Where should they begin? Theologically, the only place to begin is in recognizing that Jesus Christ “immigrated” to our world from his heavenly base. “Though he was in the form of God [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing…” (Philippians 2:6). Paul urges us to be of this same mind (2:2). First, we should practice putting others first in the church. And in our neighborhoods, and in the work place, and in our families... But second we should study how such selflessness looks in our institutions, including our governments. We are not calling for an indiscriminate opening of the floodgates. Compassion needs to be genuine, but it has contours. The best way to discover these contours is with Bible in hand, side-by-side, in the rough-and-tumble of our fallen world, which is being redeemed by the Lord who has already overcome the world (John 16:33).
Dr. William Edgar is an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship and Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, an organizational member of the WRF.
La Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana de México, ante la Migración
Amador López Hernández
Mexico City, Mexico
NOTE: An English translation is provided immediately after this article.
“La migración es el desplazamiento de personas del lugar en el que nacieron, para establecerse en otro sitio, por razones económicas y sociales. En 1930 una de cada diez personas vivían en una entidad diferente a la de su nacimiento; para el año 2000 esta proporción se duplicó, pues aproximadamente uno de cada cinco viven fuera de su lugar de origen”.
La migración no es un fenómeno nuevo, desde toda la historia de la humanidad se ha vivido. Diferentes razones son las que han dado lugar a ello, desde desastres naturales como terremotos o inundaciones, pobreza o persecución, hasta por razones de expansionismo (naciones invadiendo a otras), políticas o económicas. En las últimas décadas hemos visto como este fenómeno se ha incrementado principalmente del sur al norte o de los países más pobres a los ricos, atravesando las fronteras de nuestro país. Incluso ahora los cambios climáticos son un factor de migración, pues la sequía puede obligar a grupos humanos a desplazarse.
“Cuidar de los migrantes debe ser un valor social fundamental para el pueblo de Dios, este cuidado evoca la identidad misma de Israel desde sus orígenes. Abrahán es la historia migrante (Gn 12,1-10), Isaac y Jacob comparten esa identidad (Gn 26,1-6; Gn 46,1-4), los hijos de Israel emigran a Egipto (Éx 1,1-15,21) son los referentes históricos de la identidad migrante del pueblo de Dios. También nosotros, la iglesia de Dios, al igual que Israel somos migrantes en este mundo (Juan 17,16-18) por lo que tenemos que retomar la importancia del valor de la hospitalidad hacia los migrantes”.
Por lo que consideramos que la iglesia presbiteriana, siendo fiel a la Escritura, debe:
1. Reconocer que los inmigrantes son beneficiarios de todos los derechos que la Biblia otorga a los individuos (Éx 22,21; 23,9; 23,12), por lo que no podemos abusar de ellos, explotarlos, denigrarlos o maltratarlos. Incluso debemos procurar que sus derechos sean respetados (Mt 25,35).
2. Reconocer nuestras experiencias como migrantes como fundamento de amor a los extranjeros, la fórmula «porque + fuiste migrante + en Egipto» (Ex 22:20; 23:9; Lv 19:34; Dt 10:19) cimenta el contenido de las leyes, de modo que tanto la prohibición de la opresión, la explotación y el maltrato hacia los migrantes, así como el amor hacia ellos se apoya en nuestra propia experiencia como migrantes.
3. Identificar al extranjero como portador de bendición. En diversas ocasiones los migrantes fueron portadores de una bendición de Dios para sus anfitriones, Abraham hospedando a los tres desconocidos en quienes reconoce la presencia de Dios (Gn 18:1-16), la mujer sunamita que recibe al profeta Eliseo (2 Re 4:8-11). Job da testimonio de su hospitalidad con el forastero (Job 31:31-32). Y el mismo Jesús es visto como migrante por los dos caminantes a Emaus (Lc 24:18). Todos ellos recibieron la bendición de Dios por su amor a los migrantes.
Después de la Reforma protestante hubo una gran cantidad de desplazados a causa de las persecuciones. Las comunidades y ciudades protestantes se llegaron a convertir en refugios de los perseguidos siguiendo los principios de la Palabra.
“Como iglesia estamos llamados a compartir las buenas noticias de Salvación en Cristo Jesús a los migrantes, no solo con palabras sino con acciones. Compartir la palabra de esperanza y consuelo a aquellos que se encuentran fuera de sus hogares en el peregrinaje por nuestro país y en nuestras fronteras; nuestras iglesias deberían buscar los medios necesarios para ser un buen samaritano cuando el migrante es agredido, proveyendo apoyo moral, espiritual y material de acuerdo a sus recursos, para todos aquellos que se acerquen, y aun para los que no se acerquen pero que necesitan este apoyo como migrantes”.
Por lo anterior, como Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana de México nos pronunciamos a favor de que todas las Iglesias, congregaciones y misiones de nuestro campo, ubicadas en cualquiera de las dos grandes fronteras de nuestro país estemos trabajando en favor de los migrantes, nacionales y extranjeros, uniendo esfuerzos con los ministerios de misericordia y apoyo ya existentes en nuestra Iglesia que están haciendo el esfuerzo de apoyar a los miles de migrantes que llegan a las fronteras, sobre todo, a la norte y noroeste de nuestro campo, o desarrollando estos ministerios en donde aún no los hay; Buscando proveerles los primeros auxilios, como son alimentación, vestido, hospedaje, y sobretodo compartiéndoles el mensaje de esperanza de la Palabra de Dios, mostrándoles el amor de Cristo e invitándoles a encaminar sus pasos a llegar, por la gracia de Dios, a una Patria mejor; la Celestial. Amén.
Rev. Amador López Hernández is Moderator of the General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (a denominational member of the World Reformed Fellowship). Rev. Hernandez is also an individual member of the WRF and a member of the WRF Board of Directors
An English translation of the above article is immediately below. This translation provided by Dr. Paul Gilchrist, Executive Secretary Emeritus of the World Reformed Fellowship:
The National Presbyterian Church in Mexico, In the Face of Immigration
Amador López Hernández
Mexico City, Mexico
Immigration is the movement of people from where they were born, to settle elsewhere, for economic and social reasons. In 1930 one in ten people lived in a different birth entity; by 2000 that share had doubled, for about one in five live outside their place of origin.
Immigration is not a new phenomenon, since the history of mankind it has existed. There are different reasons that have led to this, from natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods, poverty or persecution, even for reasons of expansionism (invading other nations), political or economic. In recent decades we have seen this phenomenon has increased mainly from south to north or from poorer to richer countries, crossing the borders of our country. Even now climate change is a factor of migration, as the drought may force human groups displaced.
Taking care of immigrants should be a fundamental social value for the people of God, this carefully evokes the very identity of Israel since its inception. Abraham is the migrant story (Gen. 12.1 to 10), Isaac and Jacob share that identity (Gen. 26.1 to 6; Gen. 46.1-4), the Israelites migrated to Egypt (Ex 1.1 to 15 21) are the historical references of the immigrant identity of the people of God. We, the church of God, like Israel are immigrants in this world (John 17.16 to 18) so we need to regain the importance of the value of hospitality towards immigrants.
And we believe that the [National] Presbyterian Church [in Mexico], being faithful to Scripture, must:
1. Recognize that immigrants as recipients all the rights that the Bible gives individuals (Ex 22,21; 23,9; 23,12), so we can not abuse them, exploit, denigrate or mistreat them. Indeed, we should ensure that their rights are respected (Mt 25:35).
2. Recognize our experiences as migrants and foundation of love to foreigners, the formula "because you were migrants in Egypt" (Ex 22:20; 23: 9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19) cements the substance of the laws so that both the prohibition of oppression, exploitation and mistreatment of immigrants and love towards them is based on our own experience as migrants.
3. Identify the alien as bearer of blessing. On several occasions the immigrants were carriers of God's blessing to their hosts, Abraham hosted three strangers among whom he recognized the presence of God (Genesis 18: 1-16), the Shunammite woman received the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4 : 8-11). Job testifies of his hospitality to strangers (Job 31: 31-32). And Jesus himself is seen as a stranger by two walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:18). They all received the blessing of God for his love of immigrants.
After the Protestant Reformation there were a lot of people displaced by persecution. Protestant communities and cities became havens for the persecuted for following the principles of the Word.
As a church we are called to share the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus to immigrants, not only with words but with actions. Share the word of hope and comfort to those who are outside their homes in the pilgrimage to our country and within our borders; our churches should seek means to be a good Samaritan when the immigrant is assaulted, providing moral, spiritual and material support according to their resources, for those who come, and even for those who do not approach but need this support as immigrants.
Therefore, as National Presbyterian Church in Mexico we expect that all the Church, congregations and missions churches located wherever within the borders of our country should be working to assist immigrants, nationals and foreigners, joining forces with ministries of mercy and existing work in our churches who are making the effort to support the thousands of immigrants arriving within the borders, mainly to the north and northwest of our country, or developing ministries where yet there are none; seeking to provide first response: such as food, clothing, housing, and especially sharing the message of hope from the Word of God, showing the love of Christ and inviting them to direct their steps to reach, by the grace of God, to a better city, the Heavenly Jerusalem. Amen.
Rev. Amador López Hernández is Moderator of the General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (a denominational member of the World Reformed Fellowship). Rev. Hernandez is also an individual member of the WRF and a member of the WRF Board of Directors
Xenophobia, Hospitality, and the Refugee Crisis in Europe
Thomas K. Johnson
Prague, The Czech Republic
Do we only see laws and borders that need to be enforced, or do we also try to follow a higher humanitarian law that stands above national laws and borders?
Some 15 years ago I gave a lecture in a church in Moravia (Eastern Czech Republic) about the importance of hospitality for people who want to become Christian leaders. After considering Titus 1:8, that an elder must be hospitable, we read other relevant biblical texts, such as 1 Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” and Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” A young man in the class commented, “We Eastern Europeans have a hard time practicing hospitality because we are a little xenophobic. We are afraid of foreigners, people who are not like us.”
A light went on in my mind; I noticed that the New Testament Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia, which sounds like the exact opposite of xenophobia. The word xenophobia comes from the words xeno (stranger or foreign) and phobia (fear); philoxenia comes from the words philos (friend) and xenia (foreign). Hospitality in the Bible means to overcome xenophobia and treat a foreigner like a friend. This group of future church leaders recognized that to become godly leaders and practice Christian hospitality, they had to consciously overcome their xenophobia.
Recently, Martin Patzelt, a father of five and a member of the German parliament (CDU), invited some Eritrean refugees to stay in his home. This is how some Christians in Europe are responding to the waves of refugees, attempting to surpass the efforts of their governments. But the report says Mr. Patzelt has faced threats from xenophobic groups, such that he now needs police protection from frightened Germans, not from the foreigners in his home! This is what Christian leadership looks like. Hospitality is attempting to overcome xenophobia.
Notice I did not say there is no reason to be afraid. There are good reasons to be afraid of the results of hundreds of thousands or a million homeless and poor people flooding into Europe from across the Middle East and parts of Africa in a largely uncontrolled manner. There will be problems; xenophobia is not groundless paranoia. Some welfare systems, schools, and medical clinics may be overwhelmed.
Where will so many people live? Are there jobs for so many? Will there be riots? Will there be homeless people crowding the streets? What will be the effects on struggling economies? Are the refugees educated properly to be able to live and work in Europe? Might there be a terrorist among them? Might they bring their wars with them? Will there be so many Muslims that they begin to Islamize more parts of Europe? And will the influx of people renew Europe or will they overburden Europe to the point of disintegration?
I will not be surprised if the influx of refugees causes a transition in Europe as significant as the fall of communism. Europe did not choose to have this crisis, but Europe can choose how it responds to the crisis. And the response to the refugee crisis will set a moral direction for the future that will define the soul of Europe, including whether Europe is renewed or begins to disintegrate. The choice is xenophobia versus hospitality, each of which embodies a whole philosophy of life. Do we mostly see people as problems or do we mostly see people as gifts, even if they need help right now? Do we mostly live out of fear, or is it possible that love of neighbors, solidarity, can overcome fear? Do we only see laws and borders that need to be enforced, or do we also try to follow a higher humanitarian law that stands above national laws and borders? If Europe does not answer this set of questions correctly, it may go into decline; if the newcomers are properly welcomed, Europe may be reinvigorated.
The character of Europe today is partly the results of moral choices made after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution in 1989. In spite of inconsistencies, Western Europe made serious efforts to practice hospitality to their eastern neighbors who were trying to escape communism, even though there were good reasons to be afraid that millions of people educated under communism would not know how to live in democracies. The moral choices made by Western Europe after 1989 resulted from a philosophy of life, a system of ethics, which was brought to the situation, and the long history of Christianity in Europe contributed to this philosophy of life.
What profound tragedies lie behind the millions of refugees! Who was not moved by the picture of the little boy washed up dead on a beach? But what philosophy of life will Europe bring to its response? Xenophobia or hospitality?
NOTE: The above article was first published at Evangelical Focus:http://evangelicalfocus.com/blogs/984/Xenophobia_Hospitality_and_the_Refugee_Crisis_in_Europe
Prof. Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D., is an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship and Human Rights advisor to the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance. He is also a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America, a denominational member of the WRF.
Who Is My Neighbor? Reflections on Faith and the Refugee Crisis
Kin Yip Louie
As the race for the American presidency heats up, immigration policy once again becomes a hot topic among politicians, particularly among Republican politicians. In 2014, President Obama used his executive power to implement a program to grant certain illegal immigrants work permit and defer their deportation. Time seems right for some politicians to pound on Obama for being ‘soft’ on illegal immigrations, and to propose their own tough policies. On the other side of the globe, the several civil wars in the Middle East and North Africa have produced waves of refugees. Many of them risk their life to cross the Mediterranean Sea, creating a humanitarian crisis for European countries when their shabby boats sink. When the boats do arrive on the shore, those refugees lead to a political conundrum for the governments on southern Europe: should they be sent back to Africa? Should they be allowed (legally or illegally) to pass into other countries? The political safe option is to confine them in refugee camps. However, this merely postpone the day of final resolution.
In Hong Kong, the place where I live, the fall of Saigon in 1975 did create a severe refugee problem in the late 1970s; but that is ancient history to many of us today. A few years ago we do have a controversy concerning the right of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. According to the law, anyone who has legally resided in Hong Kong for seven years are entitled to apply for permanent resident status. Certain peoples are excluded from this privilege, and they include foreign students and foreign domestic workers. A few years ago, some lawyers appeal to the supreme court of Hong Kong, arguing that the exclusion of foreign domestic workers violates the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Those lawyers lost the case, and the controversy died down. Hong Kong people feel safe again, for the moment.
Both the refugee crisis and the issue of the rights of foreign workers involve complicated legal issues beyond my competence. I want merely to ask one question: is there a Christian perspective on how we should look at other peoples who have come to our homeland? What would a Christian perspective on global migration be like?
From Homer’s Odyssey to Virgil’s Aeneid, western classical tradition is familiar with the myth of a wandering hero searching for homeland. And all Christians know the stories of the wandering patriarchs and the migration of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan In the ancient world, people’s identity is defined more by their religion and blood relationship than by the political entity that they happen to reside in. People in those days often wander from place to place in search of food or better living condition. As long as the foreigners do not threaten the livelihood, they are usually welcomed to settle in some open space in the land. As the story of Ruth indicates, Israelites in those days can settle in Moabite land, while those returning from such sojourn are not ostracized as traitors of the Israel.
We live in a different world today, where the national state dominates our daily life. In many western countries, one pays sales tax (or value-added tax) in everyday mundane purchase. We also enjoy various government services in our daily life, such as education, medical services and the protection of the services. Consciously or unconsciously, we citizens of developed countries often regard our homeland as our clubhouse. We work hard to make this clubhouse rich, so that we can enjoy the excellent service provided by our clubhouse manager (the government).
Regarded from this perspective, it is natural that we see all potential immigrants as threats to our welfare. We welcome foreigners who can enrich our own clubhouse (tourists, investors etc.), but we are wary of intruders who may dilute our benefits. We build our clubhouse with hard work. So, why should others be allowed to enjoy our efforts?
I recognize that modern countries cannot have an open border, like the countries in the ancient world. In those days, population is sparse and travelling is difficult, making massive migration a rare event. In our days, people in different countries often live close to one another. A civil war next door can trigger massive border migration that is quite destructive to the existing social order. Even when there is no crisis, people from poorer nations often aspire to work in rich nations so that they can improve the livelihood of their family at their own country. Sometimes they will use illegal means to reach this purpose, which can bring a lot of harm to the host countries and to the illegal immigrants themselves. And then there are, of course, international criminal activities. Gone are the days when we can let the Abraham’s and the Ruth’s of world wander around to find their home.
I am mainly concerned about our attitude towards our homeland: is it a gift from God through which we can bless other nations, or is it something that is merely for our benefits? To put it more personally: why do I happen to be a citizen of a rich city called Hong Kong? Why were I not born in a poor and backward nation? Sheer good luck? Or is it a blessing that comes with a responsibility?
This is not merely altruism; this is also recognition that we are not playing a zero-sum game. Take a concrete example: to the relief of both the US and Mexico, the number of illegal migrants crossing into US has dropped significantly in recent years. The main reason is not better border enforcement, but better economic condition in Mexico today. The money from Mexican expatriates in US has helped the economic development of Mexico, while they do jobs that many native-born Americans find too arduous. Now that Mexicans are getting rich, not only does this ameliorate illegal immigration problem, it also provide another lucrative market for Apple Computer and various American firms.
We can cite other economic benefits of immigration, such as the need of the aging western for young and energetic workers. But I will leave this task to the economists. As a minister of the gospel, my main concern is with our Christian witness. As the African and Middle East refugees flock to Europe today, what kind of the Christian West will they find? Despite all the talk of secularization, Europe remains a Christendom in the eyes of many Muslims. Will they find a hostile and narcissistic Christendom that is bent on tormenting the Muslims (echoing the stereotype of the medieval Crusaders), or will they find humane and self-confident Christians that will walk the extra mile to help them stand on their feet again?
The Old Testament has repeatedly point to the imperative for Israelites to take care of the quartet of the vulnerable – widows, orphans, resident aliens and the poor. In the New Testament, the inclusiveness of the table of fellowship is a recurrent theme of Paul. In Christ, there are neither Jews nor Gentiles, Greek or barbarians, black or white, Americans or Chinese. And hospitality is explicitly named as an essential qualification of being a presbyter of the church. Why? Our God is the God of all peoples, and we have to learn to imitate Him in our love for other peoples.
All these do not translate immediately into some implementable immigration policy. As I have said before, the ancient world is very different from ours, and the Bible is not a handbook for solving today’s problem. Nonetheless, hospitality seems equally important when judged by the pressing needs today. I, for one, do not think that the problem of Islamic violence can be resolved by more the military power (i.e. violence) of the ‘good guys.’ Violence breeds more violence. The Muslim world needs her Reformation. And the best way to encourage that is for the western world to model kindness and inclusiveness. Those Muslims who have tasted the benevolence of the Christians will be our best evangelists among their brothers and sisters. Those Muslims who have experienced hostility from the western world can become our deadly enemies, whether they live in afar or near our backyard.
The world is getting smaller. All the more our world needs the Christian teaching of hospitality. Many Christians have fight valiantly for the lives of unborn babies, and their efforts are to be applauded. Perhaps Christians today should ask a similar question: what can we do to help the lives of millions of refugees in the world?
Dr. Kin Yip Louie is an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship and he serves on the WRF Board of Directors. He is also Associate Professor in Theological Studies at China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong.
Knocking on Australia’s Door: Christian Thinking About Asylum Seekers and Refugees
Dr. McClean is an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship and serves on the WRF Board of Directors. He is Vice Principal of Christ College in Sydney, Australia. He has provided a copy of the resource paper produced by the Gospel, Society, and Culture Committee of Presbyterian Church in Australia in New South Wales. That material is available in a separate .pdf file at this location - http://wrfnet.org/articles/2015/09/knocking-australia%E2%80%99s-door-christian-thinking-about-asylum-seekers-and-refugees#.VgFxSMuFMdU
Migrants and Refugees - A British Perspective
Migrants and refugees. Refugees and migrants. Boat people arriving in Italy by the hundred. Train people arriving in Munich by the ten thousand. Families seeking shelter on Greek islands, people stumbling along tracks in Serbia, young men tearing down fences in Calais. It seems as if a whole world is on the move, heading for the north of Europe. And dying on the way - in decrepit fishing boats, capsized inflatables, locked trucks, and under-sea tunnels. In Europe, cheering crowds and kind donors greet some. But there are protest marches, too. And much fear. Politicians seem similarly divided. Stirred by the agony of war and the desire for prosperity, multiplied by the power of the smartphone and social media, the human tide appears to be unending. What on earth are we to make of it? What on earth should or could we be doing about it?
Many Christians look to the Bible for insight – and find to their surprise that it is, from beginning to end, a story of migrants and a handbook for refugees. Adam and Eve expelled from Eden, Noah left wandering a deluged world, Abraham moving as a landless stranger through Canaan. A whole nation fleeing slavery and oppression in Egypt – and experiencing violence, thirst and hunger along the way. A refugee family in Moab, and a widow returning with a migrant daughter-in-law. David, persecuted, living in a cave and then a political refugee among the Philistines. Jeremiah dragged unwillingly by die-hard terrorists, from a war-torn land into Egypt. Ezra leading a vulnerable company across the desert to a new home in an ancient homeland. Jesus himself, a child fleeing into a foreign land from a murderous tyrant. Jesus understanding the vulnerability of the refugee – “Run! - don’t even stop to collect your belongings from the house, ...how terrible it will be for pregnant women and for mothers nursing their babies…and pray that your flight will not be in winter”. Peter’s address to the Christians who received his first Epistle: “I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the lands of Pontus, Galatia, etc,” And Revelation12, with its vivid, mysterious description of the church -woman who fled into the desert to escape the terrible dragon, and its reassurance that “God had prepared a place to give her care.” I repeat, the Bible is, from beginning to end, a story of migrants and a handbook for refugees. No wonder God’s people are told to “show love to the foreigners who come into your land”, for our God “shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing” (Deut 10:18f) But how do we show that care?
In a representative democracy, it is for our government to administer or change policy on immigration. And there are many complexities surrounding this flood of humanity. Illegal immigrants are at the mercy of ruthless gangs of people-smugglers while they travel, and of unscrupulous employers when they’ve arrived. Too many find that the land of their dreams is little more than slavery. A flood of poor migrants, receiving welfare and being given priority social housing, can arouse fears and prejudice, especially among the unemployed and previous groups of immigrants, who see them as rivals for scarce resources in an era of austerity. Second-generation refugees can be fertile ground for the spread of extremist and violent propaganda. Yet, at the same time, economists insist that immigration stimulates the nation’s prosperity and fills jobs that cannot otherwise be filled. Statisticians warn of many European countries with shrinking or ageing populations and record low birth-rates, for which immigration holds out the hope of improvement.
In recent years – and over past centuries – Britain has absorbed large numbers of refugees and migrants. Many have flourished here, and been successfully absorbed into British society. But that has not been achieved without stress or setbacks. In the latest annual statistics, net immigration stood at over 300,000 – the equivalent of a whole new city in one year. Is there a limit to the numbersthat can be received? Is there a rate of immigration that the nation’s resources and attitudes can cope with? Christians may feel that we have little influence over a modern, secular government – but we can think through such issues, pray for our leaders with a measure of understanding of the dilemmas they face, and also let them know our own compassionate concern for the afflicted and the outcast. And we can urge them to do what is right, not taking the path of cheap political expediency to please a strident media or even a prejudiced majority.
More immediately, we can obey God’s command to “give food and clothing” by contributing to charities and relief organisations. There are so many of these competing for our gifts. But here are a couple of guidelines you might like to consider:
- Look for a charity that has been around for a while and which works through trusted and experienced people and churches “on the ground”. That’s what TEAR Fund has tried to do over the past 50 years, working through local churches in places where there is need. That’s why the WRF encourages Christians and churches to network around the world and communicate with each other about their local needs. Such organisations probably won’t have the most impressive publicity or expensive adverts. But they will avoid many of the mistakes and the wastefulness that government aid and brash new charities often fall into.
- Look for a charity organisation that feeds souls as well as bodies – in other words, a gospel ministry. Migrants and refugees – many of them traumatised by war and violence – need more than food or clothing. They need to find inner peace, hope for the future – and perhaps grace to lift deep guilt from their consciences. In other words, they need the gospel. Many of them have problems that a sandwich –or even a house – can’t fix. In God’s mysterious purposes, upheavals in the lives of nations and individuals may be his way of opening them up to hear and receive a gospel that they’ve never heard before. It is not fashionable – even in some evangelical Christian circles – to bring together works of charity and the preaching of the gospel. But we serve the Saviour who both fed the 5,000 and proclaimed to them “I am the Bread of Life”.
You may have to look a little harder to find such ministries – but they are out there! For example, for nearly 200 years City Missions in Britain have been feeding homeless and hungry refugees from wars and pogroms and revolutions, and telling them the Good News of Jesus. Similar “Stadtmissionen” in Germany will be doing the same this week, around the railway stations of Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden. Rescue Missions in the USA do the same work of mercy and grace for migrants from Latin America. Such organisations – and there are many others, too – provide good channels for individuals and churches who want to do something to help.
And remember this – the refugee road is a two-way street.
A Bible School in the former Soviet Union reports that many of the young men trained as pastors in recent years, have migrated to the West and are now working as plumbers in the USA In contrast, a doctor and his family fled from a war-torn Islamic country, and reached Europe. But there something happened to them that they never expected. People who gave them food and shelter and practical help also told them about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They became Christians – and soon they turned around and travelled back to their troubled homeland, determined to give themselves to meet the needs of those who had not fled to Europe. Today they are providing medical help in an area that has very little provision, and they are living and speaking as Christians in a land where the Gospel has seldom been heard. You’ll not read of them in the newspapers or see them on the BBC News.
Refugees and migrants. Migrants and refugees. A messy crisis in a fallen world - but they one that touches the heart of God and his firm promise to bring blessing to all the families of the earth.
Dr. John Nicholls is an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship and a member of the WRF Board of Directors. He is also a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, a denominational member of the WRF.
Refugee Crisis or Refugee Opportunity?
The phrase “refugee crisis” dominates the media of Europe and the world since thousands of refugees flood the cities of Greece, Italy, Hungry, Germany and other European countries. The pictures transported by the media are shocking:
* A Syrian toddler, dead on a Turkish beach, after the boat in which his family was attempting to flee to Europe capsized at sea
* Desperate families crowding a Hungarian train station, their children sleeping on floors and sidewalks, fearing Hungary will intern them in sinister-sounding "camps"
* Greek tourism towns filling with tents and with humanitarian workers, to try to accommodate the rickety boats of refugees that arrive daily at the shores.
Today, more than 19 million people have been forced to flee their home countries because of war, persecution, and oppression, and, every day, an estimated 42,500 more join them. Many of them, though far from all, head for Europe, which is why the crisis there can appear most acute. ”
There are many ways to interpret the crisis. Political interpretations are helpful and should always be taken in consideration. But what about a Christian interpretation of the crisis? The church of Christ must ask her own questions and this means she must see beyond the obvious in order to respond missionally. Why do the many refugees come to the heartland of Christendom? Is the crisis a complicated political event, or more? Is God behind the scene even? As Christians, we know nothing happens on earth without God knowing it. Let´s imagine for a moment how He might see the situation.
First, God would send people in need first and foremost to His own people who have a culture of caring. His people who love God will surely love their needy neighbours. Where else should the needy flee if not to those who love them? The crisis turns into an amazing chance for the Christian church to show God’s love to all those people who know little to nothing about a God of love. Most of the refugees come from Islamic nations. The God they know does not love. What an opportunity for Christians to live out their faith and ultimately present to the refugees the God who loves them!
Secondly, where would God send the needy to, if not to places of well-being. Caring for the poor requires resources and a rich people willing to share. Who else is ready to share if not a church called to bear witness to the poor, sent as Jesus was sent (John 20:21)? Remember - Jesus was sent to proclaim the good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). Christian mission is also a mission to the poor! The European refugee crisis is actually an opportunity for Christians to share their lives as Jesus did and it therefore presents the church with an amazingly “ripe to harvest” (John 4:35).
Thirdly, how in the world do you change a church which has become affluent and fat, inward looking and caring for herself only. The Western Church has largely distanced herself from mission and missionary responsibility. Sure there are wonderful missionary minded churches who send their missionaries to the places of need and ignorance. Thanks be to God! But those churches are a tiny minority. The majority of Christians did not go to those who were without a witness or to those in despair; now God sends such people directly into her neighbourhood. The refugee crisis presents the potential for a missional renewal for the European Church as such. Historic examples for this are many. Just imagine the invasion of the Hungarian tribes 1000 years ago. They also did not know Jesus and they also threatened our European world. At the end the Hungarians became Christians and became a blessing not only to the church but also to the nations of Europe.
Yes the refugee crisis is a crisis, but for us Christians, it is more – it is a chance to prove our Christian love, to become witnesses to the refugees and, at the same time, to experience a deep transformation of our own churches. Seeing this situation as a spiritual opportunity will inspire involvement rather than complaints and fear.
Prof. Dr. Johannes Reimer is Professor of Missiology at the University of South Africa and the Theologische Hochschule Ewersbach in Germany. He is deeply involved in the Gesellschaft für Bildung und Forschung in Europa (GBFE, www.gbfe.org) and the author of a number of books on missions and evangelism.
One Pastor's Struggle with the Issue of Immigration
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Immigration is more than a theoretical, economic, or political issue for me. It’s on my doorstep. I pastor a center-city congregation in a bi-cultural city: San Antonio, Texas…..the 7th largest city in the US. San Antonio is the first big city north of the Mexican border which is 3 hours away by car. The US Interstate
highway system makes the "sign of the cross " just blocks from our congregation: I-35 running from Mexico to Minneapolis; I-10 running from Los Angeles to Miami. As such, San Antonio is literal trafficking hub, for both drugs and people. Six months ago, a top news story was about the thousands of children and youth from Guatemala and Honduras that were flooding across the border into the US. Many
are right here in our city. Some have come to First Presbyterian Church seeking help. Some even worship with us.
First Presbyterian Church is a Biblically orthodox, missions-driven congregation of the PCUSA. As a congregation historically known for its balance between personal evangelism and social justice, we cannot be silent, nor inactive regarding this volatile issue. It sets an integral part of the context of who we are, and what Christ has called us to do and be in regard to the least, the last, and the lost. It is part of the mission field that we cannot ignore and still be faithful to our mission statement of " Living To Make Jesus Visible ". We are the oldest Protestant congregation in the city, originating at just about the same time
Texas became a state (1846). Our history is one of immigrants. The church was planted by immigrants from the US into what was originally a part of Mexico……then becoming the Republic of Texas in 1836……then finally a part of the US. When it comes to immigrants and Texans, the reality is: them is us.
As a working pastor in the midst of an immigration crisis of displaced people, I approach the issue firstly from a pastoral and Biblical perspective. The immigrants are here, now, with dire needs of food, clothing, shelter, protection, etc. Now. There is nothing potential or theoretical about it. They're here. I am so proud of our congregation: men, women, boys ,and girls who--without prodding ( except from the Holy Spirit ) --put all politics aside and immediately met the flood of Honduran and Guatemalan refugees with the love and compassion of Christ……..coming alongside them not only with basic staples of life, but with the love of Jesus. We are a Reformed congregation with an emphasis on the sovereignty of God. We had a choice: we could look at this as an unfortunate turn of events which displaced thousands of children and youth from their families and native lands, and left a big burden on our doorstep, or—in God's strange providence--see this as the mission field being brought to us……..as an opportunity and privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It became for many of our people a situation of : "meet them with the Gospel of grace now….ask questions later."
When Jesus was a child , He became an immigrant in Egypt. Now He was in San Antonio, asking our congregation to live out Matthew 25. As a congregation that takes the Bible seriously as our primary authority as to what we are to believe and how we are to act, we could not bypass Hebrews 13:2, " Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Were some of these immigrants angels? I don't know. What we could discern was that, as we ministered alongside needy immigrants, we could see the Great Commission and the Great Commandment intersecting……..forming another cross that was being raised in the public square…….that Jesus might be high and lifted up.
At the same time, I do--I must--ask questions. One is theo-political: How does the sovereignty of an unbounded God inform the idea of nations having sovereign borders? I don't have definitive answer. I worry that our porous borders are being used by politicians merely to create an enlarged " voter base " by making immigrants dependent on governmental handouts. I know that I am not to make an idol out of the US, but shouldn't she have some sense of sovereignty as a nation with controlled borders….especially in a day and age of increasing global terrorism? The US is a nation of immigrants…….we are always receiving news immigrants and assimilating them into our land, but in ways carefully laid out in our immigration laws. Do we just let folks pour into our country over and against those laws? My theo-political gut says, " No ". Sometimes, I worry that I am not compassionate enough. Other times I worry that I'm a bleeding heart.
Another question is economic. I'll never forget my shock at seeing elders smoking cigarettes when I was a seminary intern in Charlotte, NC back in the late 70s. In the evangelical Presbyterian church which I had grown up in, no one smoked….at least not in public….let alone an elder. This was right about the time the Surgeon General ( Presbyterian Dr. C. Everett Koop ) had come out with his warning about the health risks of smoking…….a warning required by law to go onto the sides of every cigarette pack. I remember listening to those elders--college-educated, godly men--berate the Surgeon General's warning as a bunch of malarkey…….and it made no sense to me how they could do so until I connected the dots revealing that tobacco was a chief engine of the North Carolina economy. As a Southern Presbyterian, I had always taken pride in the insightful and robust Reformed theology of perhaps the PCUS's greatest theologian--James Henley Thornwell--while hiding my embarrassment that he was the chief champion of a "Biblical " argument FOR slavery during the mid-nineteenth century. As the direct great-grandson of Capt. James Madison Scates of the 40th Virginia, I've always said that the War Between the States was chiefly over states' rights………when deep down inside, I knew that that banner was being fueled by a desire to preserve "the peculiar institution". Without a slave-based economy, the South would crumble. My point is that, as a pastor, I have a hunch that nothing is as powerful an influence on our faith as is economics. It’s amazing how you and I will be gung-ho for Jesus…..until it hits our pocketbooks. Then we begin to rationalize…..which is to simply tell yourself rational lies. How many Bible-believing Christians make their decisions regarding immigration/immigrants based on their pocketbooks rather than Scripture? I'm not sure. I'm just raising the question.
But a third question that is always staring me in the face is the one of " sustainability " : How many immigrants can this great, affluent nation take in--and grant free health care, education, food, shelter, etc, etc-- before " The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs " can't lay any more eggs, and the whole system collapses, and everyone is impoverished? I'm not sure where that tipping point is, but shouldn't we be vitally concerned about where it might be? There is a limit to how well and how much First Presbyterian Church can faithfully, and sustainably, care for those in need around her. Jesus told the rich young ruler to give away all he had……and then follow Him. I've preached that text…….telling the congregation that Christ does not call every Christian to do that…..that this was a particular instance where Jesus was trying to liberate a man who had made an idol--a barrier to faithfulness--out of his possessions. Has the Lord called the US to a unique and compassionate roll amidst our needy 21st century world? I like to think so. So, how do we do that without " giving away the farm "……….and creating an internal national economic burden that is not sustainable in regard to immigration? How does that play out with the Church……and particular congregations like ours…..and with individual believers like you and me? I'm not exactly sure. I guess it all boils down to call: What is the Lord calling us, in our unique situations, to be and do with our resources in regard to the alien, the stranger, the immigrant? I'm not always sure. How does my sin deafen me to Christ's call? Bottom line, I'm forced to my knees………to pray Augustine's prayer, " Lord, give what you command."
Dr. Ron Scates is an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship and he serves on the WRF Board. He is also Interim Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in San Antonio, Texas.