How to Love and Help Refugees
Pour some coffee, and travel with me. I invite you into a completely different world than your own for the next few minutes. A world I have recently brushed by but am still trying to wrap my heart around and asking Jesus to help me see it like He sees it.
Imagine you are living in a beautiful house on the outskirts of the city, in the neighborhood where you’ve always wanted to live. You got married last year after a long season of singleness, and you love getting to know your husband and settling into married life. You enjoy your job as a graphic artist, and your husband provides steady income with his glass artistry job. Your tight-knit family lives close by, and you never miss a dinner gathering or birthday celebration. The normal stress and pressures of life are present, but things have never felt more secure.
And then, in a matter of months, the dream starts slipping away. War and terrorism have come to your neighborhood. It no longer feels safe to be outside, and you don’t know whom you can trust. The bombs come closer, and the dream turns into a nightmare.
Then the phone rings, and the voice on the other end tells you your sister has been killed in an explosion and her two elementary-aged children will need a place to live. In the weeks that follow, your two brothers and uncle are kidnapped, and no one knows where they are. You hope against hope, but the silence is deafening. It’s exhausting to always be watching your back, but you can’t watch closely enough—the day comes when you are mobbed, beaten bloody, and left with wounds too deep to heal.
That evening, you and your husband decide it will be too late if you don’t leave tonight. Through soreness and hot tears, you pack a few things and hug your remaining family goodbye. In pain and disbelief, you shred your identifying documents to throw off those who want you dead, knowing this means you aren’t coming home. There is no rebuilding. Your home is no longer safe. There seems to be no safe place anywhere. You know you are headed for a journey fraught with danger, into waters many have died trying to cross, into a country that will misunderstand and despise you. But you must run for your life, trading the risk of the unknown for the certain death of the known.
A True Story
If you are anything like me, this reads more like a blockbuster trailer than reality. But this isn’t imagined. Instead, it’s the true story of an Iraqi woman I sat with less than a week ago in a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece. Heartbreakingly, her story represents an unprecedented 65 million people who have been displaced from their homes since the start of the refugee crisis in 2015. Millions of families and thousands of communities have been ripped apart. Over half of these displaced people are children, many of them unaccompanied, many of them horrifically taken advantage of in their vulnerability.
In the United States, the word “refugee” can evoke polarizing political positions, generalizations, mistrust, and fear. As a Jesus follower who spent the last few weeks sitting with them in their pain, I want to petition for a better way. To stay close as Jesus leads us into a lifestyle not constrained by fear or politics, free to love whomever He loves, even at cost to ourselves.
Let’s let the love of God revealed through Scripture be our chief influencer as we think about this crisis.
Why We Love
1. We love refugees because they are made in the image of God.
We intrinsically know this when we look into their eyes and hear their stories. They are just like us, with real families and dreams and fears. They feel real pain and cold and hunger. We know this deep in our hearts because God has put it there, just as He has stamped His image on every human being. Jesus was always recognizing and giving worth to people no one else saw—the “small” people, the underdogs, the people on the margins (Mark 5:25–34; John 4; Mark 10:13–16). This is what it means to be pro-life. Every life is precious, eternal, and worthy of dignity. We rejoice in understanding the character and beauty of God in broader ways through each person.
2. We love refugees because of the gospel.
When we truly understand the gospel, that we have a God of mercy and grace who came seeking people who deserved nothing, then we know no one can be excluded. If we are central in our view of the gospel, then we get to decide who is worthy. But if Jesus is at the center of our gospel, we don’t get to decide. We are all equal recipients of His grace.
He tells us to love the stranger and welcome the foreigner because that’s exactly what He has done for us (Matt. 25:35). While we were sinners, still outside the camp, that was when He loved us, died for us, and pursued us (Rom. 5:8).
3. We love refugees to fulfill the Great Commission.
In the flood of refugees moving into Europe, it has been said that the 10/40 window is moving to the West. Right now we have incredible access to people from “closed” countries. As I interacted with people from many different nations each day in the camp, I was amazed at the intentionality and love of God toward the refugees, even in their suffering. In Acts 17, Paul says that God sets up the boundaries of all people so that they have the best chance of feeling their way toward God. It’s almost as if He has opened up the gates of the Middle East, sending them to places where they will hear of Jesus, saying, “It’s time for you to feel your way toward Me.” And when they come, lost, lonely, and disoriented, it’s so important that we are there, ready to receive them with open arms.
We have such an opportunity to move into the gap and selflessly seek out and serve some of the most vulnerable people in the world right now. Jesus has left us with this privilege and responsibility. They are coming to us.
How to Help
Here are a few ways we can be ready and waiting with open arms:
- Educate yourself. Read books. Ask hard questions among your circle of friends, seek the truth, and be willing to be disrupted.
- Advocate. Urge our elected officials to work with welcoming communities in the United States.
- Volunteer. Welcome refugees and assist them in resettlement and assimilation.
As we move toward refugees, in spite of inconvenience, fear, heartbreak, and pain, we can trust that God is weaving a master plan and making all things new. We can trust He sees the sparrows that fall to the ground, He sees each refugee crossing the waters, and He sees you and me. Thinking about these truths fills us with compassion and gives us courage to take a step toward a broken world. Let’s go!
By Liza Hartman
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