Jesus lived as a refugee

Newly arrived Sudanese refugees in February 2018 wait behind a wire fence at a reception center in Yida, South Sudan. While millions of South Sudanese flee their country in what the United Nations has called the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide, hundreds of thousands of people from neighboring Sudan have found an unlikely haven there from fighting at home. (Sam Mednick/Associated Press file)

 

Jesus Christ was a refugee in every sense of the word.

A refugee is someone forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, refugees cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.

Bosnia Herzegovina War Relief 1993
A Bosnian driver, part of an aid convoy to eastern Bosnia, locks his truck at Sarajevo’s airport in 1993. (Associated Press file)

This definition comes from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a United Nations agency based in Geneva, Switzerland, with the mandate to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.

Jesus fled, displaced when he returned

Jesus became a refugee during the time of the wise men, or magi. This happened long after his birth; the wise men do not belong in the manger scene.

When King Herod heard that wise men from the east visited Jerusalem to look for the child born king of the Jews, he was jealous. Herod asked the magi to tell him where Jesus was “so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

Right. When the magi left town without informing Herod about Jesus’ whereabouts, Herod was enraged and killed every child in and around Bethlehem 2 years old and younger. So, Jesus was a toddler when this happened.

But our future Savior was no longer in town. Before Herod’s massacre, an angel of the Lord told his dad, Joseph, to get out of Dodge and flee to Egypt with his young family because of the threat of violence.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph remained in Egypt until Herod died. Even after that, they were afraid to settle in Jesus’ hometown of Bethlehem, so they landed in Nazareth. This story is told in Matthew 2.

I don’t understand why many, if not most, conservative Christians in the United States are so opposed to immigration. Jesus was an immigrant. He and his family were forced to flee their homeland by night to escape persecution and death.

And while they did return to their home country, they did not feel safe in their hometown – which is the definition of a forcibly displaced family, according to UNHCR.

So, Jesus understands perfectly well the plight of immigrants, because he was one.

Refugees face strict scrutiny

Immigration, of course, is not a uniquely United States issue.

Greece Migrants
A man from Afghanistan on Oct. 5 repairs the front door of his makeshift tent after rainfall, at the Moria refugee and migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. At least 12,000 people — more than four times the site’s capacity — are housed in the camp. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

Two-thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well-founded.

https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/what-is-a-refugee/

The United States resettlement program is the largest in the world and the U.S. has been the global leader in resettling refugees since the 1970s – so this is not a new issue at all. Refugee resettlement to the U.S. is traditionally offered to the most vulnerable refugee cases including women and children at risk, women heads of households, the elderly, survivors of violence and torture, and those with acute medical needs.

The process of refugee resettlement to the U.S. is a lengthy and thorough process that takes about two years and involves numerous U.S. governmental agencies.

Refugees do not choose the country in which they would like to live. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, identifies the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement and then makes recommendations to select countries.

Once a refugee is recommended to the U.S. for resettlement, the U.S. government conducts a thorough vetting of each applicant. This process takes between 12 and 24 months and includes:

  • Screening by eight federal agencies including the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the FBI
  • Six security database checks and biometric security checks screened against U.S. federal databases
  • Medical screening
  • Three in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security officers

Since 1975, the U.S. has welcomed more than 3 million refugees from all over the world, and these refugees have built new lives for their families in all 50 states.

Refugees and their families have woven themselves into the fabric of American society. They are our neighbors, our friends and our colleagues. They are teachers, business owners and contribute positively to communities across the country.

https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/usa/

Noteworthy facts by region/country

Central African Republic

  • Since 2013, nearly 1 million men, women and children have fled their homes in desperation, seeking refuge within mosques and churches, as well as in neighboring countries (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and the Republic of the Congo).

Central America

  • In recent years, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have experienced a dramatic escalation in violence by organized criminal groups, locally called maras.
  • Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in the region.
  • The number of people fleeing for their lives from Central America has grown by ten times in the past five years.

Europe

  • The ongoing conflict and violence in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the world is causing large-scale displacement. Refugees are seeking safety beyond the immediate region.
  • Since 2015, more than 1.4 million people have taken their chances aboard unseaworthy boats and dinghies in a desperate attempt to reach Greece, Italy and Spain en route to Europe.

Iraq 

  • More than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced across the country since the start of 2014 and more than 240,000 are refugees in other countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Germany.

South Sudan

  • Since December 2013, brutal conflict in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives and driven 3.3 million people from their homes. While an estimated 1.9 million people remain displaced inside the country, 2.2 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries in a desperate bid to reach safety.
  • Uganda currently hosts the most South Sudanese refugees, having taken in more than 1 million people.

Syria 

  • Lebanon Syrian Refugees
    A Syrian refugee who will stay in Lebanon cries in Beirut Dec. 3 as she says goodbye to a relative who is boarding a bus to take her home to Syria. Lebanon is hosting some 1 million Syrian refugees who fled their country after war broke out eight years ago. (Hussein Malla/The Associated Press)
  • Syrians continue to be the largest forcibly displaced population in the world, with 13 million people at the end of 2018. That’s more than half of the Syrian population.
  • More than 5 million people have fled Syria seeking safety in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. In Lebanon, where more than 1 million Syrian refugees reside, there are no formal refugee camps and about 70 percent of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line.
  • In Jordan, more than 660,000 Syrian refugees are trapped in exile. About 80 percent of them live outside camps, while more than 140,000 have found sanctuary at the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps. 93 percent of refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line.

Rohingya Refugee Emergency

  • As of April 2018, an estimated 671,000 Rohingya children, women and men have fled to Bangladesh escaping violence in Myanmar since Aug. 25, 2017.
  • The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. The vast majority of Rohingya refugees are women and children, including newborn babies. Many others are elderly people requiring additional aid and protection.

Ukraine

  • Two and a half years of conflict have left more than 1 million Ukrainians displaced from their homes, including 66,000 people with disabilities.
  • 300,000 others have sought asylum in neighboring countries.

Yemen

  • Fighting in Yemen, already one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, has severely compounded needs arising from long years of poverty and insecurity.
  • Nearly 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance. Those forced to flee their homes are especially at risk. More than 2 million people now languish in desperate conditions, away from home and deprived of basic needs. The situation is so dire that 1 million displaced Yemenis have lost hope and tried to return home, even though it is not yet safe.

https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/statistics/

Brotherhood and sisterhood

This is the life our Lord and Savior lived as a very young child. Jesus overcame that beginning as an outcast to lead the most productive life imaginable.

Today’s immigrants can follow a similar path. Very few are terrorists, which is all conservatives want to talk about. (Most “terrorists” are already in this country, by the way – and aren’t necessarily from other countries.)

I meet displaced people all the time. Most are from Puerto Rico thanks to Hurricane Maria, which isn’t the same as fleeing war or violence, but their homeland is unlivable nonetheless. Many of them are working and trying to better themselves. They just need a helping hand to get started.

That’s how the United States began. We all were immigrants, seeking a better life. It didn’t come easy. It didn’t come quickly. But our forefathers persevered, and here we are.

As did Jesus. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood in a non-traditional family. His dad was a carpenter who wasn’t around when Jesus became an adult. He had half-siblings.

Refugees didn’t have sanctuary or asylum programs in Jesus’ day, but he survived.

As Americans, we can do better. We must do better. We judge others far too quickly, and often wrongly. They are our brothers and sisters.

That’s terminology Christians should understand. If our faith truly means anything, let’s start living it.

Why faith matters, and the reason it often doesn’t

From right, Ren Dejun, Liao Qiang, Peng Ran and Ren Ruiting follow a hymnbook during a Sunday church service in Taipei, Taiwan.

That day (when Stephen was martyred) a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria … Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Acts 8:1,4

 

A few minutes after I read those words in my morning devotion, I opened the local newspaper I subscribe to. I was stunned to read an article on religious persecution happening as we speak, and another article from this country explaining that most Americans don’t care about faith issues.

“Christian family details crackdown on church in China,” the Page A2 headline read.

Liao Qiang, 49, had to flee China with five family members, including his 23-year-old daughter, Ren Ruiting, after “living under constant surveillance for the past seven months after authorities detained them and dozens of other members of their prominent but not government-sanctioned church in December.”

China’s ruling Communist Party has carried out a widespread crackdown on all religious institutions in recent years – not just Christian churches, but institutions of all faiths. It has bulldozed churches and mosques, the article states, and incarcerated more than 1 million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in what are termed “re-education centers.”

Qiang and his family fled to nearby Taiwan, where they are free to worship as they choose. They attended a public worship service this week for the first time in seven months.

Persecution forces church growth

In the book of Acts and in China, persecution forced the church to scatter.

While the government leaders in both circumstances were trying to suppress faith, and especially Christianity (in Acts), the opposite happened. Faith spread.

Sometimes it takes persecution to grow our faith.

We often ask why bad things happen to good people. We wonder why we struggle in various parts of our lives. We wonder whether God has abandoned us.

Actually, God may be drawing us closer to Him through our struggles. We don’t really know what persecution is in this country – not to the point where believers are martyred or active churches are bulldozed.

Perhaps that day is coming.

Apathy kills the church

The other article I read in the local paper? On Page A5: “Poll: Americans tend to go it alone (Most don’t seek clerical advice)”

That poll blames technology for many Americans’ choice not to seek advice. Since we can Google information on literally any subject, this article says, we don’t see the need to seek advice from clergy (or anyone else, for that matter).

The poll also blames the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church for reducing clergy interaction with that institution.

“At the same time,” the article concludes, “more Americans describe religion as unimportant in their lives, and church membership and service attendance have declined. Gallup polling shows about half of Americans said they attended religious services within the past week in the mid-1950s, while just about a third say they did now.”

Our response

What does faith mean, anyway? Is it worth dying for, as Stephen did? Is it worth being forced from home to parts unknown, as happened to the early New Testament Church and is still happening in China and other parts of the world today?

For U.S. residents, faith in God costs very little. Perhaps that’s the main reason why it doesn’t mean much to most of us.

Every so often I ask myself, “Do I have to hit rock bottom before I can find God?”

I’ve never done drugs or been arrested. I grew up in a stable home. I’ve always had at least a little money in the bank. I’ve always been healthy.

And yet …

When our family made an out-of-state move before my ninth-grade year, I discovered that I was missing something emotionally. I had a low self-esteem and nothing to lean on.

Eventually, I discovered that Jesus Christ could – and did – fill that void in my life.

So, in a sense, yes, I did hit rock bottom. Not outwardly, not materially, but spiritually, I did.

As with the early disciples and the family in China, I was forced to make a decision. My physical life wasn’t at stake, but my spiritual life was.

If something important to you is forcibly taken away, how would you respond?

When a loved one dies or an emergency strikes, how do you respond?

Do you blame God, or do you turn to Him?

That’s not a theoretical question.

Places where faith grows

Perhaps that’s why most people who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior do so as children. Young people – age 15 and younger – are still searching for meaning in life. Their values aren’t set yet. If you grow up in a Christian home you have a better chance to accept that faith yourself. There are exceptions, of course. And if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, you can find such a faith in other places as well.

Perhaps a catastrophic event will force your hand. Perhaps that’s what it must take.

That’s why Christianity’s growth is explosive in China and Africa, but not the United States.

 

Christianity’s ‘explosive growth’ in China – and the official pushback

https://www.inkstonenews.com/china/christianity-protestant-church/article/2133812

Christianity is not illegal in China, but it has faced a long history of suppression and official distrust ever since missionaries began arriving with European and American merchants hundreds of years ago.

 

Christianity’s future lies in Africa

https://sojo.net/articles/christianitys-future-lies-africa

The continent (Africa) has become the epicenter in the fight against extreme poverty and inequality, housing over half of the world’s people who are living in the quicksand of extreme poverty. Conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, the impacts of climate change, among other challenges, have long stunted Africa’s growth and suffocated human flourishing …

Less than 20 percent of evangelical pastors have received seminary training, which poses both a challenge and an opportunity … But a revitalized and more vibrant evangelical church that is increasingly committed to both evangelism and holistic transformation will be an essential force in overcoming these and other challenges.

Our impersonal, judgmental lives

Is the United States becoming a Third-World country? Extreme poverty, conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, climate change … These topics dominate discussion boards today, don’t they?

But how much of these discussions are personal? We talk in the third person all the time. Most of us don’t know what extreme poverty looks like. Corruption: have we experienced it personally? Climate change? Illicit financial flows?

These issues matter, of course, but until they become personal, they remain debate topics and nothing more.

After all, Americans prefer to live alone. We can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.

Just don’t ask me to think deeply about any subject.