The Nations At Our Doorsteps
By Kyle Patterson, originally published on (ThriveBuffalo.Tumblr.com)
This year the United States settled approximately 85,000 refugees from around the world into the inner cities of America. With Trump as President those stats may be changing but for now they represent the influx of nations into the United States, an opportunity of epic proportions for the Christian Church in the United States to put their faith into action and care for the foreigner among us.
According to World Relief, “The current refugee crisis in the Middle East is one of the greatest, most complex humanitarian crises of our generation. But being a part of the solution doesn’t need to be complex. World Relief is committed to providing practical steps that every individual and church can take to help and make a real, meaningful difference in the lives of refugees and the displaced.”
So no matter what happens in America politically, the unchanging truths of God’s word and what he commands and expects of his people can never and will never change. While we may not be able to control what happens with the borders of our country, we can control the response of our hearts in reaching out and meeting not only spiritual needs but the practical needs of those who find themselves displaced and hurting.
Practically speaking this may mean teaching English or providing transportation to and from medical appointments. Or helping them connect with a community of faith designed specifically for the refugee community, a task that Pastor Bob Tice of Riverrock Church has taken on himself. A native of Buffalo’s East Side, Dr. Tice is building a congregation full of refugees who have found Christ through his work among the poor of Buffalo. Their vision: an assembly of the nations in the city of Buffalo, a vision they have walked out since 2000.
In Leviticus 19:34 the Israelites were told, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
Jesus himself said, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
But is the church actively engaged with this population of our cities and if so what are we doing to meet the practical needs and more importantly the spiritual needs of these newcomers to America.
In 1980 the U.S. established its Resettlement Program for two main reasons:
- Provide humanitarian aid to those who need it most
- Serve as a catalyst to spark growth in the United State’s inner cities.
Buffalo as we know has been a needed recipient of this population growth receiving annually approximately 2,000 refugees annually. Refugee resettlement has been a key catalyst in helping Buffalo for the first time in recent history experience growth in its inner city.
Refugees have arrived in the City of Buffalo from countries like Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Eritrea, the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Liberia and Cuba.
In 2015 nations with the top population of refugees resettled in Buffalo included:
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told NPR news last year, “The presence of foreign-born residents of the city of Buffalo has increased by 95 percent” since 2006, says Mayor Byron Brown. “And that community feels that Buffalo has been a welcoming place.”
The nations are literally arriving on our doorstep due to global crisis and many believe it is the church’s responsibility to serve their needs. Stephen Mattson wrote this in Sojourners,
“Although there might be many political, financial, and logistical reasons for citizens to reject the influx of global refugees, there are no theological ones. It may be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and extremely hard, but Jesus wants us to care for these people — the poor, homeless, sick, persecuted, downtrodden, and oppressed.
These people: individuals deeply loved by God and created in God’s Divine image.
If Christians refuse to accept and help refugees, we are ignoring, misinterpreting, and even blatantly rejecting Jesus’s teachings and various texts throughout the Bible (Jeremiah 22:3-5; Zechariah 7:8-10; Isaiah 16:4; Matt. 25:34-40; Heb. 13:1-2; James 2:5).”
Mattson’s view is that if the church Rejects refugees, we are rejecting Christ himself.
The biblical basis for our concern comes from Scriptures such as “Blessed is the person who considers the poor” (Ps. 41:1). The predicament of refugees and the ministry we are required to have resembles the biblically depicted relationship between the Christian and widows and orphans. Scripture abounds with sensitivity to those in need.
Biblical concern for the poor and oppressed, the uprooted
A whole body of evidence in the Scripture demands that the children of God have a special preoccupation with the poor, oppressed, the sojourners, and the uprooted.
“The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself…” (Lev. 19:34; cf. Ex. 12:49; Dt. 1:16, 27:19; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5; Ezek. 47:22; Lev. 23:22; Dt. 26:19-21; Dt. 26:12-13).
On that basis we see the absolute need for the Christian to live their faith out by serving and caring for those who are poor, oppressed and without. The call of God is a resounding yes to embrace them, serve them, love them and lead them to Christ.
The Lausanne Movement says the local Church must define its outreach to the refugee and clarify its responsibility in serving, “Christians must clarify their responsibility to the refugees in the world. The local church also needs to realize the key role it can play in all areas of refugee ministry worldwide. Every group of Christian believers in the world should examine itself before Christ in response to this visible and tragic situation, to define its responsibilities and obligations. God will provide necessary resources for such ministry as Christians trust and obey him (2 Cor. 9:11).
The church will find refugees in varying situations:
(i) Still within the borders of their country of origin;
(ii) In another country, in transit, or in an encampment of refugees in the country of asylum;
(iii) Returned to the country of origin as repatriates;
(iv) Resettled in a new country.
All these situations present refugees with problems. Therefore, refugee ministry encompasses more than what can be done in a resettlement community or within the borders of a refugee camp. The local church is the key in refugee ministry as it co-operates with the national church, voluntary Christian agencies, and other concerned organizations.”
So while we can’t determine who will end up in our city, we can determine and resolve how we will treat those who do. And according to Scripture we are to treat each and every soul as if they were Christ himself, because in a very real way, they are and so are you, and so am I. Imagine that. We can also determine that we won’t respond in fear but in faith that the mission of God in that every nation would have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ would indeed have the opportunity to do so.
As politicians work on who to allow into our country and protect our country as they rightly need to, as Christians it is always our responsibility to reach out with the love of Christ regardless of the religious background of the refugees, or what country they come from. As Christians we can’t stand afar off in fear but must make the most of every and any opportunity to share the reason for the hope we have in Christ.