Refugees 101

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is someone who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

 

What’s broken

There has been a lot of ugly rhetoric about refugees in the past few years. In Canada, until recently, the national conversation was dominated by talk of “bogus refugees,” “queue jumpers,” and so-called “gold-plated health care” for refugees. In the United States, fear of Islamic State militants infiltrating the country disguised as refugees has led to a conversation without nuance and precision, full of broad statements about fear of Muslims and categorical grandstanding. We have often been guilty of scapegoating some of the most vulnerable people among us. We have often feared those who are perceived to be different from us, forgetting that every refugee--every one drowned in the Mediterranean, every refugee waiting for years and even decades in refugee camps, every person who is not able to return home because home has become a dangerous and unwelcoming place--is an imagebearer of God.

 

Why we care

Fear of refugees is far from the biblical ethic of “philoxenia,” or love for the other. You don’t have to dig deep in Scripture to find God’s call to welcome the stranger--from warnings that the way that we treat strangers reveal the state of our relationship with God (Malachi 3:5), to the call to practice hospitality (Romans 12:13), to God’s oft-repeated refrain to the Israelites: “Love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Jesus even said that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome him (Matthew 25)!

Jesus himself was a refugee, fleeing the violence of King Herod with his family for the unfamiliar landscape of Egypt (Matthew 2). When almighty God took on human flesh, he chose to come not as a king or as someone with worldly power, but as a vulnerable child who soon became a refugee. Can we see his face, his image, in the faces of refugees fleeing violence today?

In the words of Catholic refugee advocate Mary Jo Leddy, refugees may even remind us who we are and call us to be the church that Jesus calls us to be. We care because refugees are a blessing. We care because God calls us to care, over and over again. We care because refugees are people created in the image of our Creator.

 

What restoration looks like

When communities come together to welcome refugees, we see a foretaste of the kingdom of God. Christian Reformed people have heard the call to welcome the stranger, and our churches have been leaders in refugee resettlement for decades. With this beautiful legacy, we must continue to create communities of compassion and welcome, and to speak up for policies of hospitality.

Restoration looks like Karen children (from Myanmar and Thailand) caroling in Washington, Albertan Christians orienting Vietnamese refugees to grocery shopping in their new home, a Sudanese woman teaching lessons about friendship over tea, and church members driving an Iraqi Muslim family to a doctor's appointment.

For decades now, CRC members have discovered the face of Christ among those seeking refuge—and the story continues. Read stories of CRC congregations and members all around the U.S. and Canada welcoming, helping to resettle, and being blessed by refugees in our Welcoming Refugees project!