The global refugee crisis is “not just a crisis in numbers; it is also a crisis of solidarity,” Ban Ki Moon, former United Nations secretary general, stated in the U.N.’s “Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015” report.
Jesus taught that when his people welcomed the stranger, they were welcoming him (Matthew 25:35).
The Spirit of God invites worshipping communities today to live out this counter story within the context of other narratives of suspicion and fear.
It takes energy and a deep commitment to live out the biblical model of a community that welcomes the stranger.
Communities of Christ-followers are invited into the joy of offering solidarity, kinship and affection to people who have been displaced.
Here are five practical ways in which worshipping communities can live and act in covenant love for refugees:
1. Churches can support refugees.
Asylum-seekers arrive having experienced tremendous loss. Christ-followers can offer newcomers the gift of friendship and a sense of family. It is a precious gift of time to just be there for the person.
Many churches are sponsoring refugees. This involves assuming the responsibility for settling and supporting refugees, including a financial commitment, and building new relationships of trust and affection.
We recall that life for most refugees now is full of deep loneliness and a sense of not belonging.
2. We can work toward relationships of mutuality.
We can learn from our new neighbors – lessons about generosity, resilience, grief and courage in facing danger. As we welcome refugees, we too are transformed through these friendships.
3. We can help others move through their fears toward welcoming the refugee.
We can find ways to invite our friends, family and acquaintances into these new relationships so that they too can meet the stranger as a person.
We can also help them understand the process refugees go through – the rigorous security checks that are in place, far beyond the routine checking that regular visitors undergo.
For while we certainly want to guard against terrorism, we shouldn’t penalize those arriving who are often victims themselves of terrorism.
4. Churches who sponsor or support refugees need to manage their expectations.
We should realize, for example, that our new friends may not end up joining our church, even if they are Christians. Some will take longer than others to embrace their new home.
We cannot predict or control what their lives will look like. We are simply responsible to offer our friendship and to provide some stepping stones for newcomers.
5. Congregations may consider advocating at a political level in regard to decisions that impact on refugee resettlement.
Advocacy can take various shapes. Some pastors have addressed refugee policy in their preaching. My own church held a service of lament over harsh Canadian refugee legislation. Some churches have written bulk letters to their local Members of Parliament.
One pressing area for advocacy is the need for speedy family reunification. Years of separation can cause massive emotional wounds on family members who are separated from loved ones.
Christ invites each of us to soften the boundaries of our life in order to let other people come into our world. As we do, we can expect to be transformed in unexpected ways.
Mark Glanville is a pastor-scholar who ministers at Grandview Calvary Church, Vancouver, and is on the teaching faculty at the Missional Training Center, Phoenix (MissionalTraining.org). A version of this article first appeared in Mosaic Magazine, Winter 2017 issue. Reprinted by permission of Canadian Baptist Ministries. Glanville’s writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @markrglanville.
Editor’s note: This is the second article in a two-part series. Part one is available here.