Column – God’s Heart for Refugees

Published 8:13 pm Thursday, December 28, 2023

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I like to remind people that Jesus was a refugee too, whenever I’m talking about the current human matters of immigration and refugee care.  Born in a manger, hidden by His earthly parents in Egypt from murderous King Herod, Jesus was an emigrant, a traveler, a sojourner. So is every one of us.

Of course, aside from a small population of Native Americans, there is a very practical sense in which every one of us are immigrants. The greatest telling of the American story is one of migration. People fleeing poverty or persecution arriving at the distant shores of America in the hope of a more prosperous telling of their life’s story to future generations.

In 1883, Emma Lazarus penned a poem to help raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. In it, she included the lines that have become an eternal appeal to the highest virtues of our land. She wrote, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

The greatest achievement of America isn’t material wealth. The greatest commodity of export from America to the world isn’t material at all. Our most important export is hope. But you can’t give away what you don’t have. I’m afraid that the current turbulence and noise about immigration policies and foreign involvement is putting pressure on our highest virtues.

When we scoff at the refugee, the immigrant, the migrant, the stranger, are we forgetting that just a few generations ago, that may have been our great-grandparent?

If you, like me, are a follower of Jesus there are more pressing powerfully important concerns. The author and finisher of our faith was a refugee. Not only that, His life and love, His word and way, compel us to share compassion and kindness to refugees.  In the New Testament book of Hebrews 13:1-2, it says, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (ESV)

There is a political and policy component to the refugee crisis that must be addressed with wisdom globally. There is a personal spiritual component that must be addressed with great care personally if we are to keep the heart free from the ugliness of dehumanization common to our time.

People aren’t political issues. They’re people, many of whom fled home because, as Warsan Shire said, “Home was the mouth of a shark.”

My dear friend, fellow traveler on the lonely road, remember this. When you and I look into the eyes of the man working at Walmart who doesn’t speak English or the nervous kid in class who just showed up from Latin America, we may be looking into the eyes of our ancestors or the eyes of Angel.

We are looking into the eyes of fellow travelers, made in the image of God, deserving of compassion. God’s heart is for the refugee. Ours should be as well.

The Rev. Chris Surber is a former Suffolk pastor and founder of Supply and Multiply. He can be contacted at