*The following is part of a series called “A Changed Perspective” to challenge the way in which we view the world, culture, people, and places from a biblical perspective. Undoubtedly, for Christ followers to live in the world but not be of the world is a challenging task, but with humble spirits, teachable hearts, the Word of God, and His Spirit that lives within to guide and lead us, He allows us to be part of His redemptive work in the world around us.
The vast majority of this particular blog was written in 2016 as a personal reflection to the Syrian refugee crisis and our response as Christians living in America. Reflecting on this today in 2020, especially in light of recent tensions in our nation, it is apparent that one thing has not changed… the LIVES of all people matter, regardless of ethnicity, origin, language, or religion. May the Lord continue to cultivate in us a deep love for God as we seek first His kingdom, loving all those who He has placed in our midst, especially the most vulnerable. *Refugee data came from the UN Refugee Agency 2016 statistics.
For going on 16 years, I have been heavily invested in ministry to marginalized people and communities in Denver, Memphis, and now Billings. It is an odd thing for me to reflect on this reality, that a kid born and raised in the mountains of Wyoming would spend his entire adult life living and working in low-income communities. Just last night I had my four children loaded up in the truck as we drove through the South Side en route to my son’s karate class. As we drove my nine year old said, “Dad, the neighborhood is getting better. What will we do when the South Side is all fixed up? Go to another neighborhood?” I couldn’t help but smile. Along the way, he has been watching, listening, and learning as his mother and I have been burdened to serve those often overlooked, neglected, and forgotten. Throughout Scripture, it is clear that God is a god of justice, thus, we are to be a people who pursue justice. Here are a few examples:
“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3, NIV).
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NASB).
“Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another’” (Zechariah 7:9-10, NASB).
Recently it dawned on me that our culture (both in and out of the Church) has taken a turn for the better when it comes to work with people and communities in need. For example, there are many non-profits, government programs, and churches that specifically work to address such needs as homelessness, education in low-income communities, and providing quality healthcare to the uninsured, to name a few. While the work of CLDI and this call of incarnational living (living among and befriending those we serve) may still be a stretch for some, it is far more acceptable and widespread among many communities across the US. Thankfully, we have made a shift as many people are more aware of the needs within their own backyard and are willing to engage with a concern for social justice. Yet, there are still many unmet needs and much work to be done, thus the question begs to be asked: Who are among the most vulnerable today and how should we respond?
In response to my son’s question, I asked him a question I have been mulling over as I watched the Syrian refugee crisis unfold – What about the plight of the refugee living in America? Especially refugees coming from a predominately Muslim country such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria? They are women and children, the elderly and sick; perhaps the most vulnerable people throughout the world. My birth state (Wyoming) and current home state (Montana) are the only states in the US that currently do not have a state office to settle refugees. [i] Concerns surrounding refugees are loud and clear, expressing such reservations as safety, the vetting process, and not to mention the financial burden to tax payers. As followers of Jesus, we are responsible to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (as instructed in the Bible) and do it. Do what is just and right… do no wrong or violence to the alien… love kindness… do not oppress the stranger. We are witnessing in our world one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. According to a recent training by the Lutheran Family Services of the Rocky Mountains, there are approximately 18-19 million refugees in the world (a refugee being a person who has had to flee their home because of war or persecution) and another 43 million internally displaced persons (those who have had to flee their home but remain within the country’s borders). In all, there are approximately 65 million displaced persons in the world. In other words, 1 out of every 113 people in the world is in need of asylum. Additionally, the vast majority of these refugees are considered unreached and unengaged people groups as they have little to no access to the gospel in their homeland. And for those who are refugees, how long before they are granted refugee status and resettled in another country? On average, a refugee will spend 17 years in a refugee camp prior to being granted such status! So as followers of Jesus, burdened to seek justice among the vulnerable, and to take the gospel to all nations, what is our response?
Allow me to further stimulate your spirit by sharing a quote by Fouad Masri, a pastor born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon who has a passion to reach Muslims with the gospel. Please note that this book was published in 2011, well before the Syrian refugee crisis. Masri writes that “the church exists on earth to widely sow the message of Christ and reproduce itself again and again in new places and new ways. It is designed to multiply. In order to fulfill this purpose, the church must necessarily have a presence on earth, rather than just in heaven. We who have been saved from our sins eagerly anticipate eternity, where every tear will be wiped from every face. But meanwhile we remain in this life for a purpose – to share our eternal hope with others.
The nations urgently need to hear the life-transforming truth of Jesus. The news headlines bear ample testimony to the world’s disastrous condition: war, genocide, racism, slavery, sexual immorality, and greed run rampant in all societies. Our mission is to proclaim the word of faith and life: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). And, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We have a promise. Confession is the way we are saved and enter the family of Jesus. The church is the fellowship of those who are set apart by their confession.
If we simply endure this life without helping others understand and confess this truth, we will have failed our mission. Our life on earth and the opportunities we make and take – the way we interact with each person we meet and the way we conduct our lives before the watching world – it all leads to eternal consequences.
The church is a living and life-giving organism. But we are not operating to our full capacity; we are falling short of our purpose, especially with respect to Muslims… Today the church supports fewer than three missionary workers for every one million Muslims. If every Muslim were to hear Christ’s message, each worker would be responsible for getting the word out to roughly 300,000 Muslims! Is it any wonder that we’re not seeing great numbers of Muslims coming to Christ? We’ve barely given them a chance” (Masri 52-55, bold italics mine).[ii]
As Christ followers, we have an opportunity (and dare I say a God-mandated mission) to meaningfully love and engage all people, giving special concern to the vulnerable, and make disciples of all nations as they receive in word and deed the message of hope and redemption found through the person of Jesus Christ. By God’s orchestration, the Church has been designed to multiply and make known the life-transforming truth about Jesus to all people as He gathers people of every nation, tribe, and tongue unto Himself. Therefore, let us pray and consider – How will the Church respond to the vulnerable, both local and abroad? Will we see such people as refugees, regardless of whether they are Muslim or Christian, as people made in His image and likeness with a capacity to know the One who made them? How will you respond? Church, this is our mission; this is our privilege. Let us be a people who boldly and courageously love others well in the name of Christ such that they too may experience the grace, hope, and life you and I have experienced in Jesus.
[i] Shortly after writing this reflection, the International Refugee Committee opened an office in Missoula, Montana in 2016, thereby allowing a pathway for Montana to officially receive refugees.
[ii] Masri, Fouad. Ambassadors to Muslims. Colorado Springs: Book Villages, 2011.