Two sets of thoughts have come together in my mind during the past week. The first comes from an advance copy of Joe Castleberry’s latest book The New Pilgrims (review forthcoming). As he discusses the issue of immigration in relation to the United States, he reminds readers that in the Bible, the people of Israel are instructed to “not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). It is a simple sentence, yet carries great significance.
My second reflection has been about how my own family–in this case my grandmother’s–were refugees in Europe following the Second World War. Displaced from the Balkans and newly widowed, my great-grandmother took her four children to Germany, not quite knowing what would happen. They had to rely on others for protection and survival. They made it, but it was a harrowing time.
These two thoughts have come together in a way best represented by two images. The first (which I will not show here) is the image of a young child washed up on the shore of Turkey. He and his family were refugees from war in Syria, and in the process of the journey the boy paid the ultimate price. The second image is of a different type. It is from Germany in recent days. There, as people fleeing chaos have arrived in one of the leading countries of Europe, they have been welcomed and encouraged.
As we think about the deprivation that exists in our world and the reasons that whole families choose to uproot themselves and flee to the unknown, we get the briefest of glimpses at the lives of these refugees. In so doing, we might pause to reflect how they are not just “other people,” but in a very real sense us–our ancestors, descendants, or distant relatives–but for the alteration of a few specifics of birth and socio-political realities.
The imago Dei is there, and the call of God to the fatherless, the widow, the foreigner, and poor remains. Whether that refugee is entering a continent 3000 miles away or from countries in this hemisphere seeking safety within American borders, ought we not to consider our response? I can’t ignore the question, because my own flesh and blood were in their shoes just two short generations ago. And, but for the grace of God, we could all be in that place right now.