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The human response to refugees

19 June 2021

The human response to refugees

Photo courtesy Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Welcoming and embracing those who arrive on our shores

Words Robert Donaldson

You won’t find the term ‘refugee’ mentioned anywhere in the Bible, but the Word of God has so much to say about people it refers to as ‘strangers’ and ‘foreigners’.

It talks about those who have been forced to leave their homes, their extended families, their communities, and so often their countries of origin and who, as a result, find themselves uprooted, displaced and very much lost and alone in a country whose culture, language and lifestyle is alien and, at times, hostile to and judgmental of them.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, more than 80 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes. About 40 million people are internally displaced of that incomprehensible number, forced to move within their own countries due to conflict. A further 26 million have fled to other countries as refugees, and more than half are under 18.

It may seem like a helpless scenario, but what is our responsibility as fellow humans to those who arrive on our doorsteps after being forced to abandon their homes and flee their communities?

The Word of God has so much to say about refugees and most of what it has to say is about our response to their plight. There can be little room for doubt about the Bible’s position when it comes to how we should treat the ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’. It states, strongly and unequivocally, that he or she should be welcomed, embraced and loved.

In the book of Leviticus, Moses makes it very clear about what we should do for those who are displaced and seeking refuge: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your nativeborn. Love them as yourself, for you were once foreigners in Egypt” (chapter 19, verses 33-34).

If we are faithful to God’s Word – to welcome the stranger and foreigner and work for justice – we have no choice. It is our responsibility to open our eyes to the ‘uprooted’ among us. Let us take to heart Paul’s words to the Hebrew Christians: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews chapter 13, verse 2).

I reckon there is something profoundly significant about the fact that God’s own son walked this earth as a child refugee.

This week is Refugee Week (World Refugee Day is 20 June), and while the Salvos, as a movement, are doing some positive things to ‘welcome refugees’, we are only scratching the surface. There is so much we can and need to do for them.

I want to challenge you to consider what you could do, personally, this week to welcome, embrace and love someone who has had to seek refuge in your neighbourhood. How you respond and interact with them will make a world of difference.

Hear the words of Jesus: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew chapter 25, verse 35).

Commissioner Robert Donaldson is the leader of The Salvation Army, Australia.




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