While we were in Uganda this summer a mother said to my wife that she would happily give her her child. We wondered how a mother could do that. Then we realised that why we wondered was that we have the luxury of wondering in a comfortable part of a safe city in a economically wealthy part of the world. That is the luxury that the parents at the vortex of the refugee crisis, who are risking everything for a better future, don’t have. They are not spongers. They are not trying to steal our jobs or health care. They are simply desperate to give their children a better life.
Some of us, for sometime, have been seeking places for Syrian refugees, in particular, getting into Britain and Northern Ireland. Today’s horrific photos of a dead refugee child washed up on a beach has wakened us up. We confess our too leisurely pace and know that it is time to step up the pressure on government and find a way to ease this crisis and give a life to those running from no life at all.
For the follower of Jesus this is a no brainer. It is simply what we do. Jesus said that those who would get into heaven were those who fed him, gave him a drink, gave him a room and clothes. When do we do this to him? When we do it to the least of these. So, the call is there to respond to the stranger, the homeless, the fleeing asylum seekers.
The Old Testament was also commanding a welcoming of the refugee. It is mentioned in Deuteronomy but expanded on in Leviticus. Leviticus chapter 19 verse 34 says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” The people of God knew what it was to live in another country and were to treat people well, remembering that they were not.
If the Old Testament people of God knew refugee, and indeed slavery status, then the New Testament starts with another such story. Jesus himself was a refugee. That Christmas story tells us that when the death squads hit the streets around Bethlehem Joseph and Mary were those parents heading somewhere else for safety. It is interesting to then take a wee side-look at why the death squads were sent. Herod was frightened that this baby would take away his place, his power, his comfort.
Are we in danger of becoming the Herod of the refugee story? When our own comfort eradicates our compassion for those in need we have lost something at the core of our humanity. There is no doubt that welcoming batch after batch of refugees into our country might threaten our wealth and comfort. It might be hard to sustain. Well actually it will be hard to sustain at the same standard of living that we are used to. However, for the Jesus follower our wealth at the cost of other people’s misery is something the prophets condemned.
So we need to act. This is what the people of God do. We don’t need to theologise it or think about it or make excuses. So what do we do? Well at a 4 Corners Festival event last February, Sinn Fein MLA, and recent Lord Mayor Of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir called us as Churches to support his attempts to get the Ireland and the UK to take Syrian refugees. He asked us to advocate for it and to be volunteers to help them settle into another culture. This will not be easy but it will be easier than dying as a child in the Mediterranean or watching your children and wife die. There is no such thing as easy from Genesis through to Revelation. Jesus did say, “take up your cross and follow me.” It is time.