Do not neglect to show hospitality to aliens, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews chapter 13, verse 2).
In recent months, the conversation around increasing New Zealand's quota for UNHCR refugees has gained exciting momentum. As someone who is close to the refugee community, I have been inspired to see so many individuals and groups taking a stand to 'do our bit' in providing a safe haven for some of the 50 million refugees around the world.
These are people who have been forced to flee their homeland in fear of persecution, torture or death. Often, they have taken incredibly painful and horrifying journeys to cross the border into a safe land.
A surprising observation I have made recently is the absence of the Christian voice contributing to this exciting conversation currently taking place in New Zealand. It begs two questions: firstly, why should Christians care about the conversation around New Zealand's acceptance and treatment of refugees, and secondly, what unique contribution do we have to offer it?
Christian thought and refugees
God's cry is resounding and consistent throughout the Bible: it is our Christian duty to love the alien.
Matthew chapter 2, verses 13â15 describe Jesus' own refugee journey as his parents were forced into Egypt to flee the persecution of Herod in their homeland. Even prior to that, the Israelites knew exactly how it felt to be an alien in another land, and God reminds them of this in His command for them to be merciful towards foreigners: 'the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God' (Leviticus chapter 19, verse 34).
Jesus's command to love thy neighbour is also relevant for us in deciding how to respond to the refugee crisis. Jesus' interaction with the Samaritan woman revolutionises our thinking of what it means to love our neighbour, particularly those who are foreign to us.
Can we truly ever proclaim that it is within our core belief system to close our borders to refugees? Is our acceptance and compassion towards people limited to those who are within direct reach?
When we view this issue through the lens of Jesus, it becomes unequivocally clear that our desire, as Christians, should be to welcome in the foreigner in need; to treat the alien as though they were angels on earth.
Not only should Christians be contributing to the current conversation around refugees, we should be a forefront of advocating for their acceptance and treatment within New Zealand. In my mind, this is not a matter of mere morality. It is a matter of thy Kingdom come.
Of course, in an ideal world, we would address the root causes of the refugee crises around the world; the reasons so many people are forced to flee their homelands. But in the absence of an easy or immediate solution, we must resist the urge to treat refugees as mere statistics.
Each of us will have a unique set of skills and passions which may draw you to serve in different areas of community, but we can at least contribute to the conversation around refugee issues. As Christians, we have something special to offer, in the way that we see the world and interact with those in need.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of things that we can do, small or big, to bring ourselves at the forefront of loving our neighbours.
1. Change the discourse
Refugees and Asylum Seekers are not economic migrants. They are people who have had the misfortune of experiencing extraordinary fear, persecution and torture. They have had no choice other than to flee their homelands and seek refugee elsewhere. It is important that we correct ourselves and others who ignorantly misrepresent the plight of refugees and their existence in our country. We must see refugees as Christ sees them.
2. Re-settle a family
As an individual, home group or group of friends, you could volunteer with the Red Cross and help to settle in a newly-arrived family. Training is for six weeks, one night a week and then you commit to six months of assisting a family as they adjust to New Zealand life. This is very rewarding as you build personal relationships with refugee families, but it is also a very practical way to help!
3. Be Inclusive!
Are there any people from a refugee background in your church? Connect with them and make them feel welcome. Invite them over for dinner and ask if there is anything they need support with. Build relationships Christ-loving relationships.
4. Volunteer as an English tutor
Volunteer with your local church or with English Language Partners teaching refugees English. This is vital for their integration, socially as well as finding employment.
5. Empower refugee-led or focused organisations
Volunteer your time or resources to organisations like ARCC (Auckland Refugee Community Coalition), Refugee Trauma Recovery, or Auckland Refugee Council.
Join the campaign to increase our refugee quota, write to our immigration ministers, your local MPs, the media etc.
Campaign not only for increased intake, but for improved services for refugees, particularly in the area of employment.
7. Get Global
Help address some of the root causes of the refugee crises by donating or volunteering your time to charities who are working in conflict zones and countries of oppressed minorities.
Let us entertain refugees as if we were entertaining angels. This is not only a command, but a calling, as we live out and witness God's love to mankind.
Bex Silver is from Auckland, New Zealand and currently works for World Vision. She has a Masters in International Development and is passionate about advocating for social justice through her writing.
Bex Silver's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bex-silver.html