What is the Christian Response to Refugees?

This weekend, news channels and social media accounts across the United States were fixated on Donald Trump’s tweets about the Broadway musical Hamilton and Saturday Night Live.  At the same time, the BBC reported that the hospitals in Aleppo are no longer functional (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38039282).  A series of bombardments by the Syrian government have crippled their ability to give medical care.  

In an article on CNN, a resident of Aleppo described the city as “a holocaust”, with reports that barrel bombs containing chlorine gas have been dropped on neighborhoods, killing men, women, and children.  (http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/20/middleeast/syria-aleppo-airstrikes/index.html)  The bombardment has been described as the heaviest since the war in Syria began five years ago.

The past year has seen a multitude of devastating images arise from Syria.  In late 2015, the world was shocked by the photograph of 3 year old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a beach.  The young, Syrian refugee drowned while trying to reach Europe.

In August of 2016, the world again reacted in horror to the image of a five year old Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh coated in ash and blood.  The image was taken shortly after medics pulled Omran from the rubble of a building in Aleppo.  

The United Nations estimates that there are now over four million Syrian refugees, with an additional 7 million displaced but still residing within the country.  The numbers are the largest recorded by the UN since a 1992 exodus of Afghanistan generated 4.2 million refugees.

The subject of refugees and migrants became a hot topic in the United States over the course of the Presidential election.  President Elect Donald Trump referred to the refugees as a “Trojan Horse” that threatens our nation’s security.  Earlier in the year, Donald Trump Jr. compared refugees to Skittles, suggesting that you wouldn’t eat from a bowl of Skittles if you knew that even a few were poisoned.  

Beyond the Trump family, more than half of the governors in the United States have stated that they oppose resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states.

As a Christian, I find this troubling.

As a child, Jesus and his family fled from their home to escape religious persecution.  The Gospel of Matthew says that the Holy Family fled in the night to avoid the murderous wrath of Herod:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.” (Matthew 2:1-14)

I try to imagine what would have happened had Jesus arrived in Egypt only to be told that he was not welcome there or that his family’s presence represented a liability for the nation.

When we look at Syrian refugees, we should see the face of our Savior because Jesus literally lived the life of a refugee.  

As Christians, we have been given explicit instructions on how we are to treat the poor, the downcast, and the refugee.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

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.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (Matthew 25:34-43)

According to the scripture, when we see a child like Alan Kurdi or Omran Daqneesh, we are looking at the face of Jesus.  When we reject them or ignore the opportunity to help them out of fear or indifference, we are rejecting our Savior.    

May we have the courage to see Jesus in the faces of those suffering around the world.  May we not ignore Him as He calls for our help.