In Exodus 23:9, Moses says to the people of Israel:
9 “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt”
An extended version of this principle is found in Deuteronomy 26:5-11 when Moses describes the festival to be observed when the people enter the promised land.
5 “And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labour. 7 Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror,[a] with signs and wonders. 9 And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.”
Immigrants and those living among the people temporarily were to be protected and cared for. Indeed, they were to be welcomed to enjoy and share in the blessings of God’s provision in the land. The basis for this is that the people of Israel knew well the experience of the sojourners because they too had been strangers in a foreign land but had not been treated well, instead they had been oppressed and used as slaves.
No doubt you will be thinking of potential spiritual applications here but there is also a good ethic, a principle to draw on. Remember that God’s people the church are ingrafted into God’s people Israel (Romans 11) so in that respect Israel’s history and experience of oppression exile and slavery becomes our story too. Furthermore, Christians know what it means to live as exiles in a world that isn’t truly our home and where to serve the Gospel often means rejection, isolation and opposition. So our hearts should go out to the refugee.
I write this as we await the arrive of refugees from Afghanistan following the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. How will we respond? Are we ready? Over the past year there has been a campaign to encourage churches to be Hong Kong ready. We have been expecting arrivals from Hong Kong and churches have been encouraged to sign up to indicate their readiness to welcome arrivals. Apparently over 600 have done so. Will those same churches and more be willing to make a similar commitment to welcome Afghani refugees.
I must admit that I battle with a little cynicism of this. It is perhaps not to difficult to sign a form and put a banner on your website to say that refugees are welcome. And if those refugees come from a prosperous place like Hong Kong and some are already pre-disposed to Christianity then there’s even a possibility that you may end up with some new church member ready to start serving and dare I say it, tithing too. We can sign up to be Hong Kong ready with little cost to ourselves and to convince ourselves that we are doing our bit.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing that the UK church has been awake and prepared for HK arrivals and making them welcoming is a good thing. My point is not that we should neglect that but that we should also be ready to welcome Afghani refugees too. And we need to recognise that this will be harder. It is likely that refugees will arrive in already deprived areas where churches are small and where they are themselves struggling to attract the support they need for Gospel ministry. They will arrive with nothing and as I’ve said before, they’ll arrive suffering from the trauma they’ve experienced. They are going to need a lot of support and they won’t necessarily be looking to find it by clicking on a church website or attending a service. Yet these are people that God is bringing into our midst and we have both an obligation as fellow human beings to welcome and care as well as an obligation as believers to share the good news of Jesus.
I would like to encourage churches to partner together in this. If you are in an area where there are not likely to be many refugees, could you partner with a church that will be? This might mean praying, financially supporting and finding ways to lend manpower.
Refugees often need help in the following areas:
- Practical needs including food, clothing and furniture
- Advocacy when trying to make sense of the system.
- English lessons
- Emotional support including trauma counselling
- Spiritual engagement and the opportunity to hear the Gospel.
It is good that so many churches are saying they are Hong Kong ready. Let’s make sure we are Afghan ready too.