Revd Phil Jump offers some reflections in response to the refugee crisis.
Our faith identity is rooted in stories of migration. Abraham left his home in Ur in response to God’s call and promise – and the story of Moses and the Exodus remains a defining narrative for Jews and Christians alike. God’s response to a people group who are being oppressed, threatened and mistreated is to commission leaders to take them to a place of safety. God wants people to have a home:
Exodus 3: 7 The LORD said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.
The Old Testament Exodus is a difficult story, because it involves taking the land by force – driving out people – perhaps with echoes of what is happening in some parts of the Middle East. But God makes clear that the nation he wants to establish is to be a nation of welcome – stories like that of Ruth underline this, but it is riven into the teachings of the Old Testament law – for example:
33 ‘“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not ill-treat them.34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your nativeborn. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
We are called to be a Holy people – a people who are visibly different – who live by different values – the values of God’s Kingdom. There are those who are uneasy about the migrant crisis – might we be worse off financially if we open our doors to others? Might this affect our sense of identity? We cannot answer these questions easily, but we are a HOLY PEOPLE – our first calling is to “seek the Kingdom of God” – God’s values and message are clear.
God’s people are called to respond differently:
Acts 2: 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
These verses describe the life of the early believers – we can see important elements of our faith identity within them:
- Devotional – they worshipped, prayed, learned and experienced the power of God together
- Missional – they attracted others and grew
But we cannot ignore a vital element that is intrinsic to their life as believers:
- Generosity and Hospitality. – they opened their homes, sold their property and took the values of God’s Kingdom seriously. We can’t avoid this – it’s not an optional extra, it lay at the heart of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. When we close our hearts to those in need, when our own self-interest is more important – we have lost sight of what it means to follow Jesus – Acts 2 offers us no alterative conclusion.
God’s People know the reality of persecution:
In Acts 1:8 – Jesus predicts that his followers will be witnesses throughout Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Although we often focus more on Matthew 28 – these words of commission are central to our evangelical identity.
In Acts 8:1 – we read of how this commission is fulfilled – The Early Christians become persecuted refugees, fleeing for their lives and seeking sanctuary wherever they can find it. How should those whose history is so rooted in persecution and migration respond when they are now in a position to offer safe havens and hospitality?
As a Baptist Community, of which I am a member, we are no strangers to this reality. The early Baptists fled from the United Kingdom and established themselves in Amsterdam and other parts of Europe where there was welcome and safety. We would not exist today as a Baptist People if there had not been those who were willing to offer havens if safety to our forebears. This is the background against which we are now called to respond – what does God require of us?