As the refugee crisis continues to unfold, I fear that most people, including those in our churches, are paying very little, if any, attention to it. They don’t have a heart for refugees. Or if we are paying attention, we’re looking at this crisis through the lens of political punditry and partisan debates. We regard whether or not we should allow a relatively small amount of refugees into our land.
It is a sure sign of American self-centeredness that we have taken the suffering of millions of people and turned it into an issue that is all about us.
Having a Heart for Refugees Goes Beyond Policy Positions
My aim in addressing the refugee crisis is not to propose a particular political position for our country. But to say to the church that the way so many of us think and talk about refugees today seems to spring from a foundation of fear, not of faith. Our opinions, conversations, and discussions flow from a view of the world that is far more American than it is biblical. They concern more with the preservation of our country than it is with the accomplishment of the Great Commission. And this must change.
The needs around us in the world are too great, our gospel is too good, and our times are too urgent for you and I to sit back and settle for endless conversations and constant quarrels over small things that don’t matter. We need to lift our eyes to what matters, namely, a world where God is orchestrating the movement of peoples so that they might know Him. And there are unprecedented opportunities to take the gospel to them!
There are families in tents right now whose hearts are longing for hope, whose ears are waiting to hear just some semblance of good news.
No Stranger to Suffering
Just think about the beauty of the gospel—the good news of a God who actually identifies with the refugee. The God who came as a baby boy and then, in the first story we have about Him after His birth, he flees to Egypt. Like a refugee, a murderous king drove Jesus to a foreign country by a murderous king (Matthew 2:13–15).
Our God is not distant from us. He is not detached from our pain, nor is He a stranger to suffering. He has not left the outcast and the oppressed alone. Instead, He has come to us and conquered sin for us at the cross. This is the greatest news in the world, and refugees need to hear it.
Stories on a Heart for the Refugee
Doors are open right now that have never been open—among Syrians and Afghans, Iraqis and Kurds, and many others who are open to hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One Syrian woman said to a Christian missionary, “I’m tired of being tied to a religion that doesn’t offer me hope. I want to be a new person.” That very day this woman, her husband, and a friend placed their faith in Christ. They were baptized outside the refugee camp.
Radicals in Iraq killed the family of two Kurdish brothers. This includes killing their parents right in front of their eyes. They said, “We don’t want to be Muslim anymore. We want to follow Jesus.”
A Palestinian-born man who was raised in Syria because of conflict in Palestine became separated from his wife and children, not being sure when or how he would reunite with them. He saw one of our missionaries distributing water and so he pulled him aside and asked him two questions: “Do you speak Arabic?” and “Can you tell me how to become a Christian?”
I could go on and on with story after story, but the point is simple: unprecedented opportunities abound for the spread of the gospel among people who’ve never heard it until now. So instead of sitting back and spending all our time debating whether or not a few refugees can come to us, the time is now for a lot of us to go to them!
Looking for Home
The time is now to enlarge our horizons, adjust our models, change our paradigms, and expand our strategies to send thousands upon thousands more missionaries into a world of urgent spiritual and physical need.
Some might ask, “Aren’t there risks in sending thousands more people around the world, especially to places where refugees are living and even fleeing?” And the answer is, “Of course there are.” But where in the world did we get the idea that Christianity is devoid of risk? It is only an Americanized Christianity that prioritizes security in this world over the proclamation of God’s Word.
For those who follow Jesus, self is no longer our God, and safety is no longer our concern. Don’t forget that as long as we are here in this world, we all find ourselves in a foreign land. We are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) who long for a “better country” (Hebrews 11:16). We’re migrants here, migrants who are waiting and working in anticipation of the day when sin and suffering will be no more when wars and refugees no longer exist.
On that day we will not join together as sojourners or exiles anymore, but rather as sons and daughters, and we will give our God the glory He is due.
This article is adapted from an address at the Chicago Summit 2015.