“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”
After the Serbian invasion of Kosovo in 1998 approximately 50,000 refugees fled into neighbouring Macedonia. To accommodate this huge influx of people an airfield was turned into a tented camp providing shelter, food, sanitation and medical facilities resourced by NATO.
Walking through this camp one evening I met a man and his family who had been displaced. Father, pregnant mother and three children living in a large ridge tent. Previously they’d had a home, community, schooling, all the resources we take for granted: he was an architect. They were Roman Catholic, he recognised the cross on my lapel and in fluent English spoke to me. I visited him and his family several times.
I’m reminded of him and his family whenever I watch the news and listen to stories about refugees, asylum seekers; or perhaps the most emotive description: ‘illegal immigrants’. Seeing them in a large crowd they are anonymous, indefinable and perhaps to some threatening. Meet them as individuals or
families and they are human beings who have been driven from their homes, communities, employment; everything we would consider normal. Everything which contributes to a feeling of belonging and security.
God cares about the refugee, the foreigner, the displaced, orphans and widows. There is more in scripture about how we should treat them than about sexual morality. Deuteronomy has much to say about feeding and clothing, justice and employment with regard to the sojourner. The farmer is told not to go over a crop a second time when harvesting; he is to leave the gleanings of crops, olives, grapes etc. for the stranger that they might have food.
Perhaps the most challenging reference to how God views the treatment of refugees comes in Matthew 25:31f. where it speaks of the nations gathered before the Son of Man when he comes in his glory. Judgment based on behaviour towards the weak, dispossessed, hungry, the stranger.
There are too many references to mention here but scripture reveals a God whose heart is filled with compassion for the dispossessed and the lost. The gospel message is of a God reaching out to the lost, drawing the stranger to him, adopting him/ her into his family through the risen Christ. It is a passion we share; for we are his children and His Holy Spirit indwells us.
Sadly, there are western Governments, including the UK, who have revealed they don’t have this compassion or care. Driven by political self-interest they want to be seen to be tough on “illegal immigration” whilst at the same time claiming to be compassionate and caring. It is good and encouraging to hear church leaders criticising and speaking out against policies which are inhumane; sending immigrants to hostels in Rwanda is one example.
There is much to criticise about our society and much which can give us cause for concern. But, in the midst of it all see how individuals and communities are pulling together to provide for those in our midst and overseas who have great need. Perhaps, it’s in the darkest times we notice the divine light shining through; even among the secular and unbelieving. Our common humanity reflects the God who is our creator and in whose image we are made.ist