A Biblical Perspective on Refugees (1/3)

A Biblical Perspective on Refugees (1/3)

A Response to Refugee Diaspora: Missions amid the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of our Times edited by Sam George and Miriam Adeney

Part 1: Refugees and Why Christians Should be Interested

Refugees in Summary

A refugee is an individual who is forced to leave their homeland or area of residence because of the presence or real threat of violence, persecution, or conflict in that place.

The countries which are currently producing the largest number of international refugees are Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Somalia.[1]  The nations which host the largest number of refugees are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, and Uganda.[2]  Data from the United Nations estimates that 2018 saw “over sixty-eight million forcibly displaced people in the world and of which over twenty-five million are categorized as refugees”[3].  The majority of these refugees are women and children and they are the same demographics which suffer the most from the insecurity, transit, trafficking, sexual assault, and lack of housing, education, and medical care which characterize the refugee experience.[4]

A Basis for Christian Concern for Refugees

Based on basic compassion, mercy, and the pursuit of justice alone it seems obvious that Christians should be interested and engaged in the support and care of refugees.  This is well supported by the weight of biblical evidence in this area: “the scale of statute laws, ethical exhortations, historical and theological motivations, and prophetic condemnations around this issue surely marks it as a major concern of biblical faith and life.”[5]  This concern extends not only to the desperation of their current refugee situation but also to the violence and injustice which forced them into that state.  These conditions are especially compelling when it is fellow Christians which find themselves seeking international refuge either because of religiously motivated persecution or community-wide insecurity.  This special concern is based on the inter-connectedness of the universal body of Christ where the suffering of one member affects all the other parts (1 Cor. 12:26) as well as direct biblical instruction (Gal. 6:10).[6]

Some may use these ideas to restrict the consideration of Christian involvement in the refugee crisis only to the benefit of Christian refugees.  It may also be argued by some that the social justice mandates are restricted to the old covenant.  These arguments do not account for the unchanging nature of God (James 1:17) and the commitment to love on a global scale demonstrated by God and commanded of his followers (Gen. 12:3, Matt. 24:14, 28:19, Mark 12:29-31).  Certainly, old covenant statues and new covenant applications are interconnected:

The God whom we meet in the Old Testament is the redeemer and covenant Lord of Israel, the giver and owner of their land and moral judge of all that happened there.  If this is the same God who is the sovereign Lord of all nations, creator of the whole earth, and moral judge of all human history, then it is legitimate to make responsible connections between the ethical standards and motivations contained in the Old Testament and Christian reflection on social, economic, and political realities today.[7]

This certainly applies to the unquestionable concern that God shows for the vulnerable foreigner and the numerous provisions placed within Israel’s covenant law for the just treatment and protection of outsiders living within their midst. 

In addition to the social concerns at play when considering the needs of refugee populations, there are also spiritual concerns which should also motivate the church to action.  The majority of refugees come from predominantly Muslim countries which often provide logistical difficulties for missionary access.  This is certainly true for three of the largest refugee sending nations: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.  Welcoming refugees is an opportunity for the global church to practice hospitality and demonstrate loving concern for their neighbors.  Since many refugees come from hard to reach areas, it is an excellent opportunity for evangelism to otherwise unreached populations.[8]

The results of refugee ministry are not restricted to benefiting refugees alone.  Many churches, especially those in Europe, have experienced significant revitalization by their involvement in ministering to refugees: “our faith is put into practice, our priorities are reordered, our love for the Master and the church is put in perspective, and our vision of the kingdom is magnified”.[9]  Refugees have become a blessing to many churches as the priority of evangelism is rekindled and members are stimulated to greater maturity in the faith by their relationships with believers from other cultures.  Therefore, welcoming and supporting refugees is an obedient response for believers as well as a source of blessing for all involved.[10]

[1] Sam George and Miriam Adeney, ed., Refugee Diaspora: Missions amid the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of our Times (Littleton, CO: William Carey Publishing, 2018), Location 1660, Kindle.

[2] “Human Rights: The Rights of Refugees, The Flight – Module 2,” edX, Amnesty International, accessed 24 April 2019, https://courses.edx.org/courses/course-v1:AmnestyInternationalX+Rights2x+2T2018/courseware/.

[3] George and Adeney, Refugee Diaspora, Location 471.

[4] George and Adeney, Refugee Diaspora, Location 482.

[5] George and Adeney, Refugee Diaspora, Location 2855.

[6] George and Adeney, Refugee Diaspora, Location 2248.

[7] George and Adeney, Refugee Diaspora, Location 2701.

[8] George and Adeney, Refugee Diaspora, Location 1523.

[9] George and Adeney, Refugee Diaspora, Location 1490.

[10] George and Adeney, Refugee Diaspora, Location 2599.

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