Refugees in Our Midst: Wars, Natural Disasters, Hunger, and Persecution Produce Refugees

More than 65 million displaced people, including 21 million refugees, fled their home countries in 2015, according to the Migration Policy Institute. In 2016, nearly 85,000 refugees resettled in the United States. They came from Syria, the Near East, South Asia, Africa, Latin America, and other places worldwide. Consider the countries where our missionaries are serving. Many of those, such as Ukraine, are flooded with refugees, forcing missionaries to revisit strategies and form new avenues of ministry and evangelism. The sheer numbers are overwhelming. What are citizens of receiving countries supposed to do?

If we flashed back to biblical days, both Old and New Testaments, we would read of refugees from countries such as Egypt, Moab, Babylon, and others. Perhaps one of the greatest movements of refugees in history was Moses’ leading the Israelites out of the land of Egypt and eventually into the Promised Land. Whether the plights of refugees existed more than 2,000 years ago or today, the Bible has some very specific words for those who find refugees in their midst.

Immigration in Scripture

The Hebrew word ger means “sojourners” or “immigrants” and is used 92 times in the Old Testament. God’s word to His people always centered on welcome, fair treatment, and opportunities for livelihood. Over and over again the following mandate is expressed in Scripture: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:33–34).

God not only mandated fair treatment but also promised judgment for those who took advantage of foreigners, along with widows, the fatherless, the poor, and the needy. Read Deuteronomy 24:14–15 for an example.

Who Were Some of the Immigrants in Scripture?

• Joseph was sold into slavery in a foreign nation. Later his family joined him, fleeing drought and hunger (Gen. 37:1–50:26).

• Moses led his people out of Egypt to flee a tyrannical government, hard labor, and persecution (Ex. 1–12:42).

• Ruth migrated from Moab to Israel for family unity (Ruth 1:16–18).

• The people of Israel and Judah were deported to Babylon, most living there for 70 years and longer (2 Chron. 28:17; 36:15–21).

• Mary and Joseph were forced to leave their country and live in Egypt with their son, Jesus, due to dangerous threats from a tyrant king (Matt. 2:13–15).

The problems of evil are no less today. Slavery due to human trafficking is at an all-time high. Droughts have forced thousands to look to other countries for food and water. Poverty drives family members to work in foreign countries and send money home. Evil dictators still exist, making life unbearable for those they rule.

What Is Our Response?

Hebrews 13:2 tells us plainly, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” What might happen if we reworded “refugees in our midst” to “angels in our midst”?

For an excellent list of biblical references to immigrants and refugees, go to ucc.org/justice_immigration_worship_biblical-references-to.

Dianne Swaim writes from North Little Rock, Arkansas, and may be reached at dianneswaim@att.net.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared as part of the My Refugee Response series in Missions Mosaic (September 2017).

 

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