When a foreigner resides among you

Posted on Posted in Dave Everson

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself. (Leviticus 19:33-34a)

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

Our nation and many others are debating their roles in caring for the refugees who are streaming out of the Middle East and Africa, especially Syria. Their plight is staggering and heart-wrenching. Our reluctance to welcome them stems from a fear that terrorists will hide among them.

I have no helpful new rhetoric to add to this debate. And it doesn’t matter. Words alone–even the prettiest ones–do so little to close the gap between what is and what ought to be.

A bunch of times, I’ve caught myself drafting concise little posts about the wrongness or rightness of various voices. But each time I’m stopped by the realization that no matter what I say, those millions of refugees will still be displaced or wandering without food, clothes, medicine, education, or homes.

The great scandal brewing for me and any American who dives into this debate is that we’ve made it about us: Which of us is most correct? How much risk are we willing to take on? Meanwhile, whether refugees wind up in America or some place else, our self-obsessed bickering is doing little to address their vulnerability or need.

As we studied in Matthew 25 this month, there are no bonus points for spiritual insight and no deductions for blindness. If there’s a test, it’s of our willingness to be moved by what we do see–to overlay redemption across the landscape, figure out how to shrink that what-is/what-should-be gap, then get down to work.

Terrorists of every stripe do tend to be opportunistic. It’s not far-fetched to believe some would try to use our hospitality against us. It is also true that the Old and New Testaments do unequivocally insist that God’s kingdom is a realm of hospitality and self-sacrifice, that its citizens’ hearts and hands are to be oriented toward the vulnerable, broken, and isolated, even at great cost to themselves.

Welcoming and serving refugees is a fundamentally Christian thing to do. So this week, I went looking for ways to do that. Here’s some of what I’ve found:[1]

Syrian Refugee Crisis

World Vision offers a sobering description of what is and a hopeful vision of what could be in the lives of Syria’s 12 million refugees, along with options–big ones, little ones, super practical ones–for getting involved in caring for refugees, even from afar.

The United Nations Refugee Agency is doing similar work and offering ways to help.

Refugees in Rochester

Our city is already hosting thousands of refugees. And there are a bunch of organizations who are both qualified and ready to accept your donations and your time in order to “treat refugees as our native-born.”

If you find you’re indeed moved to help, try one of these options. If you find you’re not moved to help, even in the smallest way, I urge you to spend a lot of time wondering why not. It might be the most significant spiritual exercise you’ve undertaken in a long time.


[1] Although I’ve been generally aware of these organizations, I do not currently work with or support any of them, so I cannot personally vouch for the work they do. The lists above emerged from my research on ways to help.

Photo Credits
Syrian refugees in Vienna: Josh Zakary; CC BY-NC 2.0