How many refugees in the Bible can you name? How about Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Lot, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Esau, and Joseph? That’s just those in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. There are plenty more throughout the Old Testament, including Moses, Ruth, David, Elijah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and Mary, Joseph, Peter and many others in the New Testament. And the central character of the whole Bible, Jesus himself, fled as a refugee to Egypt as a child. The Bible is full of people displaced by natural disaster, war, famine and persecution.
In fact, according to the book of Ephesians, all human beings are refugees of a spiritual kind, strangers to God’s provision, wandering exiles, excluded from citizenship with God’s people. That is, until Jesus welcomed us in. That was a costly welcome, but through Jesus’ death we were granted not just asylum but a permanent home in the family of God.
It is right, and a very Christian approach, to want to respond to the refugee crisis. The current European migrant crisis has already been named the worst of its kind since the Second World War. Thousands of people are risking their lives to escape war and persecution from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Over 2,700 people have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year. Many others have died using other perilous modes of transport.
With conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa showing little sign of improvement, how can we respond to relieve the suffering of those affected?
We could use our people power to lobby the decision makers. We could write to or email our MP, Ed Vaizey, the Prime Minister, or sign a petition. We could give to any number of charities working with displaced people, including TearFund, whose work with asylum seekers our churches will be supporting this Harvest through our donations and sales of Harvest produce. We could support a grassroots group such as ‘Jungle Books’, or even consider providing accommodation for those in need, e.g. via Citizens UK. And we could pray.
The refugee crisis will not go away soon. Refugees will always exist, and we will constantly be called upon to respond to those in need. God has not ignored our plight, paying a great price to welcome us. Nor should we ignore the plight of those in desperate need.
‘For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ … “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:35-36,40 (NLT).
Revd Dr Jonathan Mobey
Rector of Harwell and Chilton