Have you ever been displaced, as in forced to leave your place? I have not.
I have moved, like 13, 14 times, but all of those were voluntary. No one removed me from my home. And I could keep most of my junk and move it with me.
There is a tragically different reality right now for stunning numbers of people.
There are currently somewhere around 80 million displaced people in the world. About 45 million of those are within the borders of their own nation, so about 35 million humans are refugees or asylum seekers.
Life “on the lam” means you are running from the law -- in other words, a criminal -- but a refugee is someone forced to flee due to persecution, war or violence. This is different from immigration. Someone colorfully summed it up: “An immigrant sees greener grass and decides to move. A refugee is standing on burning grass.”
So what happens to all these desperate and homeless people?
Only 37 countries accept refugees. There are 195 countries in the world.
Syria and Venezuela are the nations that produce the most refugees; and Turkey and Kenya are among the nations that host the most.
Refugees often spend years in resettlement camps. One of the largest of these, in Kenya, has a population of 180,000. That is a city, right? The UN oversees these camps and works with countries to provide for basic needs. The people go through a long process of approval and vetting, and then are assigned to a new country. Then NGOs -- non-government organizations -- do the resettling work. This is long-term work, involving housing, orientation, employment, language, cultural education, and s on.
In America, there are nine agencies that do this work. They include Catholic Charities, Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and World Relief. It is notable and laudable that most of these nine are Christian agencies. The followers of Jesus care for the least and the lost. Churches have a long history of caring and helping. It’s part of what we do.
Some may wonder why. If the general idea of loving your neighbors isn’t enough of a reason, the Bible is very specific about assisting such displaced people. The terms that we translate as immigrant/refugee/sojourner/stranger -- these terms occur 92 times in the Bible.
A sampling of these verses include:
- “You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
- “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to 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 (Leviticus 19:34).
- “God executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).
You get the idea.
When people are in trouble and on the move, we help. Some of you are likely aware that Jesus was a refugee. Read all about it in Matthew 2, when Joseph and Mary and Jesus had to flee persecution at the hands of King Herod.
Refugee resettlement is one of many undertakings by us Christ-followers. We feed the hungry, we build hospitals and nursing homes, we do prison ministry, we teach and love children, we gather in faith communities, we help refugees. Our mission, summed up in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, is massive. You personally don’t have to do all these things, but we together do humongous and outstanding works of love. Thanks, church!
My daughter-in-law Susie is employed by World Relief, the refugee arm of the evangelical churches. She has her hands full; and now with the arrival of thousands of new refugees -- our Afghan allies -- she will work double-time.
I encourage you to pray and act and give and advocate as the ambassadors of Jesus that we are. The world is filled with tragedies, and we get to also fill it with the loving response of Christ.
Chris Brekke is a retired pastor who served Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester for 13 years and Trinity Lutheran in West Concord for 10. He and his wife live in Roseville, Minn., where he keeps busy with volunteering, church and family. "From the Pulpit" features reflections from area religious leaders. To contribute, email us at email@example.com with "From the Pulpit" in the subject line.