HCC M&J Blog #5: God's Call to Care for Refugees

At Harbour City Church, one aspect of our Mercy Ministry is our desire to care for refugees and asylum seekers as God calls us to. This is particularly important because the Bible calls us as Christians to have a particular heart for refugees and asylum seekers, not as an add-on philosophy, but as you will see a calling that must be embraced as part of the Church's identity.

Refugee? Asylum Seeker?

refugee is someone who, because of war, conflict and persecution, must leave their home and seek asylum/refuge in a foreign country. Refugees, and the reasons why someone qualifies to be a refugee, are legally recognised by the United Nations and signatories to the UN Human Rights Conventions, of which Australia is an official signatory, fully acknowledging the commitment and responsibilities. Someone who is seeking refuge but has not had their application processed yet is defined as an asylum seeker. Essentially, every refugee has at some stage been an asylum seeker.

Refugees in the Bible

Does the Bible say anything about refugees? In fact, one might argue that the word refugee doesn’t textually appear in the Bible. However, Scripture shows  some very prominent examples of refugees.

In Genesis 42, we see Jacob (or Israel) and his family seeking refuge in Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. Furthermore, we see the Israelites are continuously called sojourners in Egypt—which is to say, they were strangers who were only ever passing through (Ex 22:21). They may have lived there, built houses there, but it was not their home. Moses fled Pharaoh’s wrath and likely death if he had stayed in Egypt—he sought refuge in Midian and called himself a sojourner,  living in a foreign land (Ex 2:22).

Sojourner, then, is a word that means someone who is a foreigner in a strange land, an alien without a home, an exile fleeing from harm. In other words, a refugee. The most prominent refugee in the Bible is Jesus himself. After the Magi’s visit following his birth, the murderous Herod sought out Jesus to kill him, so his father Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt:

"Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, 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. And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son."" (Mat 2:13-15 ESV)

We see therefore how Jesus was fundamentally a refugee in Egypt as his parents and him sought asylum from Herod's decree. As Christians, we consider ourselves as sojourners, for we are God’s people and our citizenship is in heaven, but we sojourn for a while in this world, and live lives profoundly different from those around us. (Phil 3:20). Peter also  writes:

"Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  (1Pet 2:10-11 ESV)

We see in the last verse that being spiritual refugees has practical ramifications for living in this world.

God's Intentions: Refugees on Earth as in Heaven

God insists that because his people were refugees, they should care for refugees. Recalling their status in Egypt as sojourners, he instructs them to love and care for aliens and stranger, the needy and the sojourners in their midst:

You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Exo 22:21 ESV)

God’s ideal nation has a place for the poor and the needy and the foreigners. More than that, sojourners should be cared for, and treated as equals:

"'Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' (Deu 27:19 ESV) 

That doesn’t just mean refugees get the benefits of legal protection. The law asked God’s people to provide for the poor and the needy, the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner (See Deut 24:19-22).

The Refugees and Us (the Church)

We live in first-world luxury, but refugees arrive in Australia with barely the clothes on their back.
Although the United Nations provides a legal status for refugees, we no longer live in Christendom (an age when Christian faith is prevalent and wholly accepted), and our secular government is unable and unwilling to provide for the refugees who arrive in Australia and Sydney (and deterring anyone seek asylum)

As Christians, we are called to love everyone: called to love our Lord, love our Christian family, and love to our neighbors. God does not call His church to be insular but I believe we need to show love especially for those who are needy. To refugees, we can extend material aid, in the form of food, clothes, and tangible gifts. We can extend practical aid: lifts to the doctor and help with English. We can extend love and care: showing them patience and company and friendship. All of that testifies to them of the love that Christ extended to us, and puts us in a perfect position to extend spiritual aid, and explain the reason for the love and hope that we have.

uthor: Haoran Un