(San Diego) WHY? That’s a simple question someone asked in response to my trip to Oakland on Monday. Why would I take the time and effort to attend a state-wide gathering of individuals and organizations committed to insuring the health and well-being of refugees and immigrants?
I think it is a fair question. Thanks for asking it! It provided me an opportunity to clarify why refugees and immigrants matter to me.
These are my reasons WHY I CARE ABOUT REFUGEES:
First, I care about refugees “for Christ’s sake”.
Not in the vain sense people use that phrase. On the flight to Oakland, I read a sentence that began with a two-word phrase, “Christ’s ministry…”. As Director of Christ Ministry Center, that resonated. Even before Christ’s ministry, Jesus was a refugee and an immigrant, fleeing with his parents to Egypt to escape Herod’s terror. Jesus was undocumented. Had he been denied entry into Egypt, heaven only knows the horrors he might have faced. “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19) Christ’s ministry began with his sermon in Nazareth when he read from the prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; heal the brokenhearted, announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.” From the get-go, Jesus identified his ministry was to be tied with the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden. For this, he was almost killed by his own hometown religious folk. Eventually it cost him his life. Then there was his way of making the Samaritans (foreigners) the heroes of his teachings: (The Good Samaritan, the Samaritan leper whom he healed, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, etc.) That didn’t win friends either. Rather than building dividing walls, Jesus smashed them down. “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, slave or free.”
Second, I care about refugees because of justice and mercy.
Justice is a legal term that means the rich and poor should have equal opportunities. But justice has spiritual importance. “O man, what is good. What does the LORD require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) Jesus criticized the religious for their rituals. “For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but ignore the important things—justice and mercy and faith.” (Matt 23:23). Justice and mercy are two sides of the same coin. “But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him—how can God’s love be within him?” (1 John 3:17) I care about refugees because to have NO mercy for them is NOT an option for Christians.
Third, I care about refugees because of time and eternity.
There are so many examples in history when religious folk stood on the wrong side of time. The church twisted itself into a pretzel to justify slavery for centuries. In our own American history, there have been too many examples of our turning away refugees and immigrants: Irish, Chinese, Catholics, Jews, Japanese, and on it goes to this day. Being on the wrong side of time is shameful. But being on the wrong side of eternity is catastrophic. Christ’s ministry ends with his profound image of Judgement Day in Matthew 25. The scene is that of a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, language and tribe. It is here the Lord separates the sheep from the goats: those who enter heaven and those who are cast into the outer darkness. There are six criteria for entering the pearly gates. One is how we welcome (or refuse) strangers. Many on that day will be surprised. I guess they will see what it feels like to be denied entry, but unfortunately it will be eternally too late. If they were uncomfortable welcoming strangers on earth, they probably wouldn’t be comfortable with “every nation, language and tribe” in heaven for eternity! Someone last week posted on Facebook that “even heaven has walls and gates”. But don’t miss the point: the gate of heaven is for those who opened their gates here on earth!
Fourth, finally and most importantly, I care about refugees because of Harry, my foster son, who is both a refugee and an immigrant.
This is intensely personal. Harry is a beautiful, loving and innocent baby. While I do not fear the thousands of immigrants I’ve had the honor of meeting, I confess I do fear for Harry’s future. Particularly in this polarized environment. Harry has reminded me every refugee is a precious child of God. Christ’s ministry was to stand beside and with those who had no standing, to speak for those who have no voice, and to love and care for those who are “poor, brokenhearted, captive, downtrodden and oppressed.” You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to know caring for refugees is essential to Christianity and discipleship. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart; and your neighbor as yourself.” Herein is the essential law and gospel. There are no greater commandments. I understand there is no more divisive word in our vocabulary than “immigration” (the “I” word). I fully understand, like Jesus, that caring for the poor, the exiled, will be costly. It may generate more enemies than friends. But I easily offset the lost friends with an enormously growing family who are as dear to me as my own blood. I further understand that I may be in a minority (but maybe not). Whether caring about refugees and immigrants is the popular opinion or not is not my concern. Here I take my stand with the refugee and immigrant, the widows and orphans, the poor and oppressed, and the despised and downtrodden. I stand with almost every religious figure, from Pope Francis to the Southern Baptists’ Dr. Russell Moore and every denomination and religion, who teach caring for refugees and sojourners is not negotiable. My integrity requires doing the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way, and at the right time. I care about refugees and immigrants, because it is right. Here, I gladly stand where Christ’s ministry stood, no matter what (or who) it costs. It’s what Jesus did. It’s what Jesus expects me to do, too. For Christ’s sake, Bill Jenkins