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Refugees. It’s a term that strikes fear in the hearts of some, and compassion in the hearts of others.

After World War II, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) became the first international entity to develop laws to protect the rights of refugees through the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, when 145 State parties came together and declared that never again would the international community turn its back on those forced to leave their homes when they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

And yet, our world is currently facing the worst refugee crisis in recorded history, surpassing those who sought refuge outside of their home countries during World War II. Currently there are over 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, and that number is rising at a rate of 1 person every 2 seconds.

Our world is also facing many more complex issues than those listed by the United Nations in 1951 and 1967 that lead to people being forced to seek refuge.

Please join me over the next Sundays to explore the reasons why people today are fleeing their homes and what the Bible says about caring for those who seek refuge.

War

This is the most obvious reason why people flee, right? But do we really understand how many people worldwide are threatened by war? There are certainly wars that catch our attention. Syria. Yemen. South Sudan.

The Global Conflict Tracker of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations is currently tracking 26 global conflicts. However, this is not an exhaustive list of global conflicts, but merely a list that they have determined to have impact on U.S. interests. In fact, the Global Peace Index for 2018 shows only twelve countries in the entire world without violent conflicts within its borders. Twelve.

Give counsel,
grant justice;
make your shade like night
at the height of noon;
hide the outcasts,
do not betray the fugitive;
let the outcasts of Moab
settle among you;
be a refuge to them
from the destroyer.

Isaiah 16:3-4

Biblical scholars disagree as to what conflict is occurring in this Oracle in Isaiah, but it is clear that the Moabites (historic enemies of the Israelites) are being driven from their homes and are in search of refuge. The message in verses 3 & 4 is also clear: God commands Israel to welcome these refugees into their community and to care for them.

John Calvin, from his commentary on Isaiah, states, “Let us therefore learn from this passage to be kind and dutiful to fugitives and exiles….no duty can be more pleasing or acceptable to God; and, on the other hand, nothing is more hateful or abominable in his sight than barbarity or cruelty. If we wish to obtain any alleviation of our calamities, let us be kind and compassionate, and not refuse assistance to the needy.”

What might showing kindness and compassion to those seeking refuge look like to you and/or your faith community today?

JJ Ten Clay

JJ TenClay spent four years in Italy as a missionary for the Reformed Church in America (RCA) working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. She returned to the United States in July 2018 and is now the Refugee Ministries Coordinator for RCA Global Missions. She is thankful to have seen the image of God reflected so diversely in the faces of those to whom--and with whom--she served abroad, and is excited to continue serving the RCA as it continues to develop a faithful response to the ongoing global refugee crisis.

13 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    This will be a welcome series. And of course, Calvin himself was a political refugee and a life-long refugee. John Calvin–undocumented alien!

  • Fred Mueller says:

    Who knew we had a “Refugees Ministries Coordinator?” Terse and right on, JJ. I will us it in my parish. Thank you for making my job easier.

    • JJ TenClay says:

      Thank you, Fred. Yes, the Refugee Ministries Coordinator is a brand new position, born out of the increased interest we have seen in the RCA over the past four years to more fully engage in care for displaced people. Feel free to contact me if you or your congregation would like to learn more!

  • Fred D Mueller says:

    use it, that is

  • Ruth Boven says:

    Thank you, JJ. Your knowledge and experience are important to the church in this time of crisis. I look forward to following the series.

  • George E says:

    No one answered your question!

    It would look like individual churches applying to refugee agencies like LIRS (www.lirs.org) and World Relief and Catholic Charities to sponsor refugee families for resettlement in their towns. It would look like church members working together to welcome, house, clothe, equip, and find jobs. It would look like church members hosting get-togethers with the refugees.

    • Tom Ackerman says:

      These are useful suggestions but inadequate for the current situation.

      I encourage you to read the column published by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times Sunday 9/23. (Link: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/trump-hasnt-gotten-his-wall-but-hes-building-one-around-us-nonetheless/). But please permit to quote the opening sentences:

      In normal times, which these are not, the offices of World Relief in Kent are bustling to help make new homes for an average of 25 refugees per week who are fleeing war and terrorism around the world. But this year, our busiest refugee resettlement office, in one of the most welcoming states for the displaced, has seen the flow slow to less than half that. “We’re hardly seeing anyone from African or Muslim countries anymore,” says Chitra Hanstad, director of World Relief Seattle. “Even after 9/11, when they stopped the refugee program for months, we still helped more people than this.”

      We as a community of Christians need to urge our government to change its policies regarding refugees and to make the United States accessible to those in need. And, to make an obvious point, this is not the same as advocating for “open borders”.

      • JJ TenClay says:

        Tom, I understand your concern about these suggestions being inadequate. We know that our world is facing a crisis of forcibly displaced people that is even greater than during and after WWII. We have a lot of work to do to care for those who are incredibly vulnerable as they flee their homes and seek refuge, and supporting refugee resettlement in the United States and Canada definitely should be part of the response. Thank you for joining in this discussion.

    • JJ TenClay says:

      Thank you, George. These are all great ideas. There truly are numerous ways individuals, congregations, classes, regional synods, etc. can engage in care of displaced people worldwide. The beautiful thing about the role of Refugee Ministries Coordinator is to help discern what this care may look like–and knowing that it will be different–for each and every entity.

  • Kathy Sneller Davelaar says:

    Thank you, JJ. Your knowledge and heart area great blessing.

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