Jesus Was a Refugee

Four biblical, Christ-like ways to respond to the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

Imagine your closest family member — perhaps your spouse or child — is a refugee trapped in poverty or war somewhere else in the world.


Would that affect how you feel about refugees and asylum seekers coming to your country? Because there are people in those situations across the globe. Here are just a few examples . . .

Exhibit A: Europe
This week, an abandoned chicken truck was found by the side of a motorway in Austria. Inside, 71 refugees from Syria, including four children, had suffocated to a slow, painful death.

Imagine if one of those refugees were your loved one, whose final moments were spent in rising panic.

Exhibit B: The United States
Tens of thousands of undocumented children fleeing gang violence in Central America (mainly in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have come into the United States through the Mexican border over the past few years.

Imagine if one of those undocumented children was yours, and each night you cried, sick with worry about his safety.

Exhibit C: Australia
The Australian government has imprisoned 87 women and children who were seeking asylum in Australia on the island of Nauru. A recent Senate Committee inquiry found that the Nauru Regional Processing Centre is rife with “child abuse, violence against asylum seekers, deprivation and sexual assault.” 

Imagine if one of those children behind prison bars was your own son or daughter, desperately waiting on you to help him or her get out.

*   *   *

My wife, Nay, fled the Khmer Rouge 35 years ago when she was a little girl. Her father had already been killed by the murderous regime there, and her young mother managed to escape with two young children in tow through the Cambodian jungle.

They cheated death with every step as they avoided landmines and eventually made it to a Thai refugee camp. In time, they were sponsored to New Zealand.

The thing is, I didn’t know that six-year-old refugee would become my wife. I didn’t know my mother-in-law and other folks who would become beloved extended family were suffering as refugees.

If I had, would I have done more? Would I have spoken out against anti-refugee rhetoric more strongly? Would I have made sure refugees were welcomed in New Zealand and their needs were well met?

Of course I would have. (And I am grateful that my parents were actively involved in sponsoring and caring for refugees throughout my childhood.)

There is something profoundly important about the fact that God’s own son walked this earth as an undocumented child refugee. This was no accident. It was part of the plan all along. He could have been born and lived as a prince, a wealthy landowner, or the Chief Priest. Instead, He chose to become a refugee. Take a look at these words from Matthew 2:13-15,

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. (emphasis added)

God’s heart is very much for the refugee. His own Son was a refugee. Jesus even reiterated that point, saying, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me in.” Whatever you do for refugees, you do for Him. He calls them his “little brothers” as a reminder that those who suffer are to be considered family (Matthew 25:40).

How, then, should you and I respond, practically speaking, to what seems like an overwhelming refugee crisis? There are four ways, I think, that would be biblical, Christ-like responses to the humanitarian crisis that is currently unfolding:

1. Speak truth to those in power.

Donald Trump wants to build a bigger wall between the United States and Mexico. This, on top of the 21,000 Border Patrol Agents already stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border and the $3.7 billion dollars per year spent supporting their efforts to shut out the poor and the desperate. (That is billions of dollars that could have otherwise been spent relieving poverty in the region.)

And Trump is seeing growing support among evangelical Christians. Not growing condemnation . . . growing support! That should not be the case.

Ironically, some of these undocumented children are actually named Jesus (as well as Jose, Pablo, and Juan). And still we are blind to what God says.

Where is the Christian outrage over presidential candidates who spout Bible verses with one breath and try to outdo each other with anti-immigrant (anti-Jesus) rhetoric with the next? Where is the Christian voice for our refugee brothers and sisters?

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

In Australia, a movement of Christian leaders called Love Makes a Way has emerged to speak truth to the Australian government on behalf of the asylum seekers being detained on Nauru island.

More than 200 Christian leaders have now been arrested across Australia for protesting the detainment of children asylum seekers. In the way of the ancient prophets, they use street theater and prophetic acts to call attention to the plight of those in detention. And they are not afraid to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to force the government to respond.

This is a beautiful example of speaking truth to power. You can also sign petitions, lobby your government to accept and support more refugees, speak out on social media against anti-refugee rhetoric, and raise the issue in your local church. However you do it, we need to speak truth to power.

2. Practice radical hospitality.

I’m grateful for the Christians who welcomed my wife into their homes and church. I’m grateful for the radical hospitality that was extended toward her family after they had suffered unspeakable pain. That love and acceptance made a massive difference in her life and faith journey. The people who took her in lived Leviticus 19:34,

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Meanwhile, in Germany, one small town was caught on video extending the radical welcome of Christ toward a busload of refugees arriving on their turf. Check it out for a major dose of inspiration.

3. Be a radical voice for non-violence and enemy-love.

This refugee crisis has not arisen in a vacuum. It didn’t come from nowhere. It emerged from decades of military intervention and violence — much of it by Western powers like the United States, England, and Australia.

Simply consider this question: Where does anger and bitterness — the things that lead to violence — come from? It comes from past hurts, fear of others, and being wounded. Those hurts and fears can only be healed by love, reconciliation, and forgiveness — not military strikes and violent suppression. Hatred cannot be transformed by the fist or at the end of the barrel of a gun.

If Christians don’t lead the way in this, who will? As followers of Jesus, we need to be a radical voice for non-violence and enemy-love. No matter what they do to us.

The way of the Prince of Peace is truly the only hope for the world now. I am not talking about passivity, but creativity. Radical love is this: laying down our lives for our enemies.

4. Lose your attachment to comfort and control.

Ultimately, when it comes down to the reality of welcoming refugees, you will come face to face with a lot of your deepest fears:

  • that your jobs might be taken
  • that your nation will change
  • that your community will look different
  • that resources will be spread more thinly
  • that you will no longer be part of a demographic majority
  • that Christians will no longer be a majority

What do these fears reflect but an unhealthy attachment to power, comfort, and control? We enjoy being the majority. We love the privilege that comes from being in power. We love having more than we need to meet our basic needs.

But is that what Jesus called us to prize? Rather, has He not called us to lay down our lives for others? To love our neighbor no matter the cost?

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)

Surely, this is a difficult calling. Only love can overcome fear. That is why I appeal to you on the basis of relationship and familial ties. What if that refugee child were your own flesh and blood? What if they were your own sons or daughters? What mountain would you not climb? What politician would you not lobby? What price would you not pay to see them brought to safety?

Only the kind of love we usually reserve for family can overcome the fear and selfishness that teaches us to close our doors and turn away from their plight. But Jesus calls us to a different way — the way of peace, radical welcome, and laying down our lives for others.

Will you allow that love to compel you towards action today?

This piece originally appeared on the author’s blog.

Image courtesy of Spectral-Design /

Craig Greenfield
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