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Today is Week 2 of a 5-week series of Sunday reflections on refugees and the Christian case for caring for those seeking refuge. Last week we reflected on war. This week we will focus on persecution.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines the legal definition of refugee based on five categories of persecution. The person requesting international protection must prove that she or he has a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Not fear of war, not fear of natural disaster, but fear of persecution.
Fear of persecution, via God appearing to Joseph in a dream, is what convinced Joseph and Mary to flee Bethlehem to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod’s death. Jesus’ formative years as a child were spent as a political and religious refugee.
I have often wondered how much that experience of being a refugee shaped Jesus’ ministry on earth. How it contributed to Jesus feeling isolated from those with whom he lived and interacted. How it fed his compassion for those who are “the least of these” in our world, and the passion with which he instructed his followers on the importance of caring for the marginalized.
Of course, one of the fathers of our Reformed faith, John Calvin, was also a refugee. He fled his home country of France out of fear of persecution due to his association with Reformed thinkers (more specifically, those who opposed the Roman Catholic faith), and resettled in Geneva, Switzerland. However, his first period of living in Geneva was filled with conflict, and he was asked to leave due to theological conflicts with other city leaders. He then took refuge in Strasbourg for three years, where he ministered mostly to fellow French refugees, before returning to Geneva.[A side note of interest for me is that both the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and most of John Calvin’s ministry in exile from France occurred in Geneva. Thank you, Switzerland, for your historic care of the refugee.]
Why should we as Christians care for refugees? Because our Savior was a refugee. Because the father of our Reformed faith was a refugee. Because 68.5 million people in our world today have been forced to leave their homes—and like Jesus and Calvin—many have a well-founded fear of persecution. And because both Jesus and Calvin instruct us to care for refugees.