Loving Refugees

None of the things God calls us to do are safe, in fact, almost all of his commands are dangerous. One, they require us to give of ourselves in ways that tear away our core ideas of value, security, and identity. Two, we become aware of the presence and grace of God which is overwhelming and troubling because he lovingly heals us of things we didn't know were sick, he touches wounds we didn’t know we had, and he showers us with grace that transforms.

Loving Our Neighbors, Including the Refugee

One of these dangerous commands is to love our neighbors as ourselves, including refugees and asylum seekers. Moses first delivers the command to love our neighbors, Jesus reiterates it through his words and life, and the Apostle Paul points to it’s utmost importance in Galatians 5:14: “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

But who is your neighbor? How far does that command go? What does that really look like? Surely, he only means the people in my sphere of influence! Jesus was asked this very question in Luke 10:

“But who is my neighbor?

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

In this parable, Jesus describes how we become neighbors who love our neighbors. We see them, we have compassion for their pain, we go to them, we touch them, we use our resources, and we take care of them. We take our finances. We cover their expenses.

But Jesus also shows us who our neighbors are: the attacked, the naked, the beaten, and the left for dead. Not only are we are called to love the vulnerable, they are also the distant. The Jewish man and the Samaritan stood on opposite spectrums of worldview, ethnic background, culture, and most deeply religion. And yet, Jesus gives this vivid story as the answer to: Who is my neighbor?

Jesus, out of love for us, demands we love our neighbors (all of them, even the most difficult and different). This often appears in our lives as caring for orphans (all of them, even the difficult and different), caring for the widow (all of them, even the difficult and the different), and welcoming the refugee or stranger (all of them, even the difficult and the different). God has intentionally called us to step into present and physical ways of loving the different and the other. This is how we learn to receive the love of God, love God in return, and love one-another.

Loving neighbors is also how we participate in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Jesus is the good Samaritan. God, seeing a broken, beaten, naked, isolated, and dying humanity, sent his son into the world. Jesus, forsaking heaven, came into our peril.

Jesus saw us, had compassion on us, came to us, and took our wounds on himself. Jesus paid the price with his death, reimbursing sin with his own victorious resurrection. When we forsake the command to love our neighbors, we are rejecting the story of Jesus saving the world.

I'm not a foreign policy expert and don't know what a secular government ought to do, but I know what the Church is called to do, and we don't need the government to do it: sacrificially love the refugee (the old, young, Muslim, Arab, Christian). This is how Christ came to us, even when we were opposed to him.

Loving the Refugee as the Image of God

“We ought to love refugees because they are our neighbors, but also because the Bible teaches us to value them since, like us, they are made in the image of God.” — Seeking Refuge

Who are the refugees, asylum seekers, and strangers in your neighborhood, city, or town? They are overlooked, unheard, isolated, and pushed to the fringes of your city’s culture. Your city daily welcomes refugees and immigrants who are hoping to build a life and experience freedom. They arrive from the most severe trauma, persecution, and hardship. Refugees leave everything behind including family and culture. After years in a camp, they come needing to learn a new language, build a résumé, get a job, and care for their children in the process. These are the people your city uses and ignores—the poor and powerless.

Jesus pursued the stranger because they were created in his image and he loved them. These people were welcomed into Jesus’ community as his beloved and as his disciples. I believe Jesus calls his people to not only meet needs (cloth, visit, and feed) but also welcome into relationship. Jesus healed people and fed them, but the most powerful expressions of his love for them was when he invited them to his dinner table.

One of the big challenges (and big opportunities) with this loving pursuit is how far the vulnerable are kept away from many in the church today. Tim Chester describes this reality well in his book Unreached:

“Friendship evangelism is great, but it does not enable the gospel to travel beyond our social networks, unless there are intentional attempts to build friendships with people who are not like us.”

John Mark Hobbins, of London City Mission, adds:

“Many people live in networks which take precedence over their address, and many churches have grown because of this. But the reality for many people living in social housing or in cheap- er housing is that their address is very likely to define their daily life.”

In other words, if you were to engage in a life of mission to the marginalized, you would have to plan it, prepare for it, and strategically change your life to create avenues of engagement. All of that just to break through social, economic, and physical geographic barriers and get to a place where you could share life with the oppressed. To love a refugee in your city you would likely have to shift your schedule, change your commute, and start a relationship without verbal communication.

Mission to refugees and asylum seekers requires a concerted and collective effort towards unlikely friendships and distant neighbors. Loving the vulnerable also requires communities: you have to work at it and do it together. This mission requires a giving of yourself and a loving of the other in your city.

Actually Loving Refugees as Neighbors

There are many ways to begin (you can read about how our community built relationship with a Burmese refugee family for some ideas). A few things you should know as you do a basic google search:

  • Every city has organizations to help settle refugees. They are underfunded and overworked. Their biggest need is people to show up and befriend refugees.
  • Every city has English classes for people trying to pass the citizenship test, and for people wanting to improve their work prospects.
  • Every city has children of refugees who need mentors, tutors, and friends to help them navigate a world and system their parents don’t understand.
  • Many refugees are at risk of human trafficking, entering the foster care system, scams, and a myriad of other abuses.
  • Financial help is an obvious way to begin loving people. World Vision is one of the best.
  • There’s a lot to learn, one of the best non-fiction books to understanding refugee care is: Seeking Refuge by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir.

Be Courageous in Faith

Christian ethic (loving God, loving neighbor, and loving one another) is profoundly based on God's care for us eternally. We can be brave with our love of the other because even if the worst happens, Jesus remains king, and we are heirs and citizens of heaven.

Our hope is in resurrection not in safe borders, immigration policy, or in our country’s desire to welcome refugees. Our hope is global because Christ’s power is globally working his redemption and restoration into every corner of society.

Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised?Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities, and Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com.