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3 Reasons I Welcome Refugees (And 3 Ways You Can, Too)

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

Did you know nearly one in 100 people worldwide are displaced from their homes?

Refugees have become so much more than an Associated Press photo in my mind and my heart. For three years, I taught students at a refugee center in Uganda. I’ve played sports, shared meals, and exchanged emails and Facebook posts with them, and helped them develop products for their businesses. They’ve also shared their cooking with me, and hung out with my kids. Our kids have even played tag together.

The refugees are among some of the most resilient individuals I’ve ever met. They are courageous strugglers and hard workers.

They have so much to offer.

 

Why I Welcome Refugees

While my husband’s and my work has taken me away from the center, I still work diligently to welcome refugees into my own life here in America. Here’s why:

 

1. Refugees give back

I’ll be honest with you: Some of my students had never sat in a classroom prior to their seat at the refugee center. Their nations had been at unrest for too long. If you’re trying to stay alive, you usually aren’t sitting in school.

In Kampala, Uganda, I instructed in stuffy classrooms full of eager adult refugees from eight African nations. Many of these students, as adults, were learning to read for the first time. They were adjusting to a new culture and so many new ways of doing things. At least one of our Western-style bathrooms at the center had a printed poster: Please don’t stand on the seats. They were all learning English, business skills like computing or sewing or baking, and health skills.

And here’s what’s happened: In Kampala, 21 percent of refugees owned a business that employed other people—and 40 percent  of those employees were Ugandan nationals. Experts at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre looked at the situation in Uganda and called it “exceptional.” Though welcoming refugees into a developing nation is different from welcoming them into more developed  nations, experts concluded that when refugees are given the right to work and freedom of movement, “the results are extraordinary, both for the refugees and the host community.”

Not only that, but God has used refugee crises the world over to bring people into a relationship with Himself. Not only have I heard stories of Middle Eastern refugees converting to Christianity, but I have read of a revival in Danish churches caused by Iranian refugees seeking Jesus. These are only a small representation of the beauty God is working worldwide as God blesses not only the refugees—but blesses through the refugees.

 

2. God loves refugees

I believe the need that is before us, and God’s words about refugees, are too great for me to turn a blind eye. According to the UN in 2014, every 4.1 seconds, someone becomes a refugee or is internally displaced. 41 per cent of refugees are under 18.

If these stats scare you a bit, know that the chances of being killed by a refugee-turned-terrorist are actually one in 3.64 billion. (For perspective, your chances of being killed by a cow are greater; they kill 20 people per year.)

From personal experience, I understand exquisitely that taking in refugees is not always comfortable or safe. This was crystallized for me when refugees from Rwanda stayed with my family. As her toddler ran around without a diaper, as the smell of the liver she was frying filled my kitchen, as we strategized on how to help her find a job, I mulled over Isaiah 58.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice. . . ? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

God must have known exactly what He was asking of us in these questions.

The promises immediately following these two verses were also staggering: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (Isaiah 58:8-9)

I think these promises mean that not only would God reward us, but He would also change us as we take these burdens as our own. His heart would mold ours as we, like he did for us, welcome those who cannot immediately repay us.

 

 

3. Refugees change me

It is true: I am indelibly different. It continues to push my family from a we-give-all-our-old-clothes-to-Goodwill kind of generous, more toward His I-give-until-it-hurts-and-then-I-keep-going kind of generous. The needs are too great, the differences in our circumstances too vast, the faces in my mind too vivid and personal. I can no longer elbow “the poor” to the edges of my mind.

David’s words, when trying to stay a plague on Israel, still haunt my mind: “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). If God is passionate about the poor and their injustice—this God who came to preach good news to the poor, to set prisoners free—can I be content to throw them my old clothes?

So, since I have returned to America, I have determined that the poor should receive a generous slice of my time, my passion, my energy, my budget, even my career. In a land that is prosperous to the point of obesity (and I don’t exclude myself from this)—though I cannot hear the physical voices of refugees—I never want to forget them.

I will advocate for them, tell their stories, and sign petitions. My family will give generously. I will help the poor among me, wherever they are from. I will thank the Middle Eastern woman beside me in Arabic, offering her a kind smile. I will invite the Hispanic immigrant’s son over to play with mine, and I will tell them how thankful I am that they are a part of my community.

Refugees and I have far more in common than I thought. A friend recently reposted R. C. Sproul Jr.’s wise words: “If the lesson you get from Jesus hanging with sinners is you should hang more with sinners, you’re confused on who you are in the story.” And I continue to return to David Platt’s words on adoption—that we adopt not because we are the rescuers, but because we are the rescued.

Jesus took me when I was an alien—not just an alien, an enemy—and made me His daughter. He gave me liberty, skills, purpose, a future, a home. He gave me love. And really that—He—is why I welcome refugees.

 

 

How You Can Welcome Refugees

“Um. . . I’m not even sure I know any refugees. So what can I do?”

I’ll echo some of the suggestions from “A Sane Approach to the Refugee Crisis,” an article published in Christianity Today.

 

1. Intentionally, strategically love on refugees

One friend of mine, out jogging in America, felt a niggling to reach out to a pair of refugee women she ran by every day, whose children also went to her daughter’s school. When she did stop and talk with them, she found that one’s eyes were filled with tears; in light of the climate toward refugees, they were too afraid to walk alone. As the Church, we have a tremendous opportunity to care for these bereft families.

Refugees sometimes need help with the most basic services in our communities, like medical appointments or navigating paperwork; others would love help with English, reading, or job skills. Before we left for Uganda, my husband and 5-year-old distributed Christmas gifts to refugees.

What refugee communities live in your area? (Perhaps your church is already connected!) You’re a Google search away from finding organizations already helping those near you. And if you’re freaked out about the language barrier, remember that kindness can be expressed through simple service; through washing someone’s feet in any form.

 

2. Donate

A practical way to help is by donating to vetted organizations who provide for refugees’ tangible needs—particularly career training. I’m partial to Refuge and Hope, because I see them helping refugees develop their God-given abilities and talents, empowering them to become vital, well-rounded, thriving members of a community. World Relief is one of the few organizations that have permission to help with resettling Syrian refugees in the U.S. There are many other organizations that are involved in refugee work. Spend some time reading up about these organizations and the work that they do, and support the ones that engage the causes that grab your heart and mind.

 

3. Pray for them

Perhaps this seems like a no-brainer—but even as I sit and type this, I realize how little I’ve prayed about the current crisis. Prayer is one of the most critical and powerful forms of loving the poor; of taking them and their needs into our hearts, lending our imaginations to their realities, and pleading for God’s intervention on their behalf. Pray that:

  • the Church will richly, sacrificially extend God’s love and protection
  • refugees will be led to Christ
  • refugees will be protected, and for the protection and wisdom of host countries
  • God will show you personally how to respond

I count over 70 references made by the Bible to foreigners and refugees. God identifies Himself as the God of the orphan, the widow, and the alien. I want us, too, as His followers, to be famous for this. Wanna help?

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

Is Justice Worth It?

Title: Is Justice Worth It?
Description:
Is seeking justice a futile effort? Our friend Micah Bournes uses his picturesque voice to share with us what it means to suffer, identify, and commune with others in the pursuit of authentic justice – all in two minutes. Definitely worth your watch.

ODJ: justice and snacks

July 21, 2015 

READ: Psalm 99:1-5 

Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established fairness. You have acted with justice and righteousness throughout Israel (v.4).

They say that justice is blind, but recent research suggests that justice likes to snack as well! In 2010 a team of researchers tracked the rulings of eight judges during 1,100 parole-board hearings over 10 months. Nearly 65 percent of the prisoners were granted parole during hearings held right after the judges had eaten breakfast. Over the next few hours, the chances of getting a favourable parole hearing plummeted. But the prisoners’ chances of parole increased to 65 percent again after the judges’ mid-morning snack or lunch.

Let’s face it; human justice is flawed. So it’s good to know that the God of the universe doesn’t base His rulings on having had mid-morning snacks or lunch.

The psalmist called for all people to praise God’s awesome and great name, for He’s the Creator of the universe—the One exalted above the nations (Psalm 99:3). They were to praise His name because He is Lord and King and is sovereign in His rule over the world. But not only were they to praise Him because of His sovereign ways, but also because He is righteous and just in His judgement of humanity.

The Lord loves justice, has established fairness, is perfectly righteous and is the source of impartial and unbiased judgements (vv.4-5). No matter the time of day, God is wholly absorbed with what’s right.

Through Jesus, we’re recipients of God’s righteousness. No matter the time of day, we can live out His just and merciful ways by His power. May we seek His strength and courage to defend the weak, vindicate those who have no human champions and be wholly absorbed with doing what’s right in our world where justice is flawed. Justice received is justice shared. No snack required.

——Marvin Williams

365-day-plan: Matthew 15:32–16:12

MORE
Read Matthew 25:34-36 and James 2:17 to see the marks of someone who is just. 
NEXT
Besides living in a fallen world, what are some other reasons why human justice is flawed? What are some specific ways you can think, speak and behave justly this week? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODJ: unfair

June 30, 2015 

READ: Psalm 37:1-20 

Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes (v.7).

Which of these two questions causes you to squirm the most: Why do seemingly honourable people suffer? or Why do the people who do bad things prosper? I wrestle with both of them. For instance, it makes we wonder why people who strike unethical deals and cheat on their contracts seem to get away with their schemes and even prosper, while people who are seeking to live for Jesus struggle to pay their bills.

Psalm 37 has some answers for life’s tough questions. It’s one of the many ‘wisdom psalms’ in the Bible (others include Psalms 1,14,25,34,49,73), which address the issues and doubts that can arise in life. These psalms are ancient songs that provide wisdom for how to process life’s questions and confusion even when things aren’t going well (v.30).

David, in Psalm 37, deals with the unfairness and injustices of life. He looks ahead and warns of the bitter future for those who choose to live life apart from God. “For like grass, they soon fade away. Like spring flowers, they soon wither” (v.2). David wants us to understand that there will be accountability in the next life when we chose to live for self in this one. Those who do so “have no future” (v.38).

By contrast, the life rescued by God is able to focus on His ultimate justice instead of life’s apparent inequities. David encourages the child of God to be still in His presence, wait patiently for Him to act and continue to live in Him and His grace (vv.3-8,27).

Why? Because He “holds them by the hand” (vv.23-24). What great encouragement when we feel life is unfair! Not only is God with us, but He promises that we can find salvation and shelter in Him (vv.28-29).

—K.T. Sim

365-day-plan: Matthew 5:31-48

MORE
Read Psalm 73 and see how Asaph struggled with the perplexing issue of the prosperity of the wicked. What was his conclusion (v.17), and how is it similar to David’s conclusion in Psalm 37? 
NEXT
Consider the wisdom of Psalm 37:16. Why do you agree or disagree with this instruction? What unfair events in your life do you need to bring to Jesus in prayer today? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)