As you are all aware, there are many ongoing conflicts throughout the world. These conflicts, especially the Syrian civil war, which I am most familiar with, do not only affect individual combatants or soldiers. Rather, these brutal struggles change entire communities’ ways of life. Women and children are killed by bombs. Whole economies are shut down because of violence, and families are scared to even walk outside their homes to get groceries at markets.
No wonder people are fleeing by the hundreds of thousands from such war-torn areas of the globe. For many, it is not merely a search for a better life; The very condition of their own survival depends upon fleeing these conflicts. These choices are rarely, if ever, made without being last resorts. As the European Union struggles to come to a unanimous solution, refugees will continue to be without the basic necessities of life: food and shelter. Because of the issue, I want to examine briefly a few ideas Christianity might be able to contribute to the discussion.
First of all, as a Judeo-Christian religion, Christianity locates its own origins within the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt (all historical questions aside). They too faced circumstances that were impossible to deal with, brutal slavery. Their survival and way of life depended upon fleeing the land of Egypt. One might even say that our own religion depended upon the support of refugees and their successful migration through the desert into more hospitable lands. God was clearly helping these refugees: miracle stories abound in the Exodus tradition, and the Jewish refugees relied upon divine assistance for their own basic needs. Before we judge too harshly those fleeing to other countries, even the USA, let us all remember that our own origins were birthed out of a refugee crisis.
Secondly, Jesus himself was a refugee! Soon after Jesus’ birth, King Herod, hearing reports of a threat to his own power, used military might to kill and terrorize thousands of families in order to secure his political strength. One doesn’t even need to look hard to see all of the glaring similarities between the situation of Jesus’ birth and many global conflicts today. In Matthew 2, we are told that Jesus’ family fled to Egypt in search of safety for their newly born son. Herod, hearing that a messiah was born (and all of the political connotations thereof) sent his soldiers all throughout the area of Bethlehem to kill every child under two years of age. This truly was a massacre, one which undoubtedly caused more than just Jesus’ own family to flee to safer lands.
Jesus, the Son of God, Immanuel, the Word made Flesh, was himself a refugee! This gives an entirely new meaning to his teachings that when we help those in need, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry, we are in actuality doing those acts of benevolence to Jesus himself.
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40.
Jesus’ own life and experience affirm the value of helping refugees. He knew exactly what fleeing conflict looked like, and what it meant for those involved.
Before we advocate for closing our borders and refusing help to those who need it the most, let us not forget that our own faith is founded upon, and by, refugees both in the Exodus tradition and Jesus’ own life. To know and to help a refugee just might even draw us closer to the divine. When we seek to understand the situation of the refugee today, we reach even a greater knowledge of God, who through Christ was a refugee. We cannot fully know Christ, unless we know the plight of the refugee.