To Love a Refugee

It’s a difficult situation. Vast numbers of refugees are fleeing war and terrorism, risking their lives in open boats, trudging across Europe, seeking safety. In response, many nations are stretching their own resources to accommodate them, allowing them into the country, scrambling to provide food, clothing, and shelter. Pictures of adorable but frightened children, held by exhausted mothers, fill the news. How can we not help them?

On the other hand, hidden in that mass of desperate humanity are radical Muslims with their guns and bombs, seeking to destroy us.

The U.S. has committed to receiving some of these refugees, but with every terrorist attack, the argument grows more strident—what if they turn out to be terrorists?

Some argue that, because we are a wealthy nation, we have a moral duty to receive as many of these people as possible. After all, aren’t they fleeing the same terrorists we fear? Others focus on the risks, and want to keep everyone out. They conclude that we can send help overseas, but don’t let any refugees come here—it’s too dangerous! Let other countries take that risk.

As a mother, grandmother, and a follower of Jesus, I can understand both points of view. I don’t want to be afraid every time I go to a mall, or a concert, or a Christmas party. I want my granddaughters to grow up in a safe world. And I want to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and offer a sanctuary to those without a home.

Not sure what to think, I turned to the Bible, reading all 146 verses that mention the word “foreigner.” (In some translations, the word is “alien.”) I discovered that, for the most part, these verses referred to people who were foreigners (such as the Israelites in Egypt), or they referred to those who were dealing with foreigners living in their midst.

The early Israelites were living as strangers in a strange land. They knew what it was like to be different, to not belong. It’s easy to imagine how much Abraham cherished God’s promise: “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8) Or, think how much the enslaved Jews longed to be rescued from Egypt.

Later, after they were established in the promised land, God would remind the them, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”(Exodus 23:9)

Now consider all the verses that instruct the Israelites how to treat the foreigner in their midst. God is very consistent—foreigners were to be loved. Does that still apply today?

  • Leviticus 19:9-10—“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.”
  • Leviticus 19—“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.”
  • Leviticus 24:22—“You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.”
  • Deuteronomy 10:18-19—“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords,…. He … loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”
  • Deuteronomy 24:17—“Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice….”
  • Deuteronomy 26:12-13—“When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

It seems pretty clear cut, doesn’t it? And lest you think this only applied during Old Testament times, go reread the parable of the Good Samaritan. Who is our neighbor?

(To be continued….)

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