Monday, August 22, 2016

An Evangelical Christian speaks out about welcoming refugees into our community

This summer I received an email from my friend Steve Reed, an Evangelical Christian who intentionally moved into a low-income neighborhood in Sacramento with his wife Laura and works with refugees. I came to know the Reeds through Jill and deeply respect and appreciate his commitment to put into practice the radical teachings of Jesus.  For many years, he worked as a missionary in Latin America, and his goal was empowerment, not charity. This letter about an Afghan family that Steve knows and works with touched my heart and shows why we as Americans need to take seriously our biblical, and national, injunction to welcome strangers to our land. The Statue of Liberty proclaims: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.' The apostle Paul advises us:  "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13). If we open our hearts and minds to strangers, as Steve has done, we quickly learn they have much to teach and offer.

Dear Friends,

Greetings from home.  We have been traveling quite a bit.  Laura attended two lawyers' conferences and we went to our first couples retreat in over 37 years.  Our marriage is great but we felt it would be beneficial during this time of transition for both of us.  We spent seven days at the Quaker Center in the Santa Cruz mountains and the conference was amazing.
Wazir and his family are doing well.  The kids are learning English quickly.  They all attended summer school and continue to live right around the corner from us.  I want to share with you a story that Wazir shared with me. 
Wazir, his family, and several other Afghan families went out to Folsom Lake to spend the day.  I estimate that there were between 30-40 Afghans having a barbeque, swimming in the lake, and just hanging out.  As they were cooking their food (lamb kabobs) a man came up holding a $100 bill.  He said the food smelled so good and he wanted to know if he could buy some.  Wazir explained that they were Afghans, in their country they practice hospitality, and there was no way they would allow him to pay for it.  So Wazir  invited the man and his family to eat with them.  They all spent time eating together and the family thanked them and left. 
After about 15 minutes the man came back with his boat and gave boat rides to everyone who wanted a ride.  The kids loved it.  I know it was a great day for our Afghan friends.  I am also convinced it was a day that changed the life of the American family as they met a group of refugees from Afghanistan and shared this special time together.
There was another scenario that could have taken place and I am concerned it takes place way too often in this country.  The American family could have responded very differently to our friends who were from another country, speaking another language, whose women's heads were covered, and who were Muslims.  They could have ignored and possibly talked with anger against them.  They could have easily gone over to them and criticized them, wanting to know what they were doing in this country.  They could have left that day believing the very negative things we are hearing about Muslims, refugees and immigrants. 
Instead they got to know one another, listened to one another, and from what Wazir told me, everyone had a great time together.  The kids got to go on boat rides, the Americans ate great food, and reconciliation and peace took place in the context of civility and new friendships.
This is what we need to be as a people in a diverse country.  And even more, this is what we need to be as followers of Jesus Christ who Himself was an alien in Egypt.
I am very concerned that we are developing another scenario.  One that is based on fear and anger instead of love and respect.  One that is more prone to name calling instead of listening  and speaking with civility.
There is no question that there are huge divisions in this country based on our political, social, and life situations.  If I am a black evangelical follower of Jesus I most likely will be a supporter of the Democratic party.  If I am a white evangelical follower of Jesus I am most likely to be a supporter of the Republican platform.  The divisions are large and in my opinion are coming to the point of being malicious and even hateful at times within the Christian community.
I am very concerned that we are allowing politics to destroy the unity of the family of God.
The Bible teaches us, "All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other (John 13:35)."  The Bible also teaches us that  "There is no fear in love, love casts out all fear (John 4:18).  Paul teaches in Romans 12:14, "If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses."
Today, I am concerned that we as a church are allowing politics to divide us.  We are losing our civility as we call each other names and demean one another for secular causes.  The church, the family of God should be a place where we can dialogue with civility and respectfully listen to one another.  We should be able to share why we support Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson (Libertarian) or Jill Stein (Green Party and my choice) and not be afraid of being rejected or criticized.  There certainly will be disagreements and Christians will vote for different candidates, but it should never divide the body of Christ.
As I watch the conventions I see incredible excitement and passion...people volunteering with their time and giving their money with incredible energy.  I am not against this as this upcoming election is very important.  But in the reality of our lives as Christians, it is not nearly as important as our responsibility to proclaim the Kingdom of God and live our lives by the values of the Kingdom: sacrificial love and respect for others. 
I have no idea how the family with the boat on Folsom Lake felt about Muslims before they encountered Wazir and his friends.  I am sure the family was not Muslim.  But he reached out with dignity and respect and everyone had a great time.  I doubt that either group converted but reconciliation took place.
 I know that I want to be a person that treats everyone with dignity and respect.  I want to repent of my anger toward others with whom I do not agree.  I want to listen and try to understand those with whom I do not agree and hope others will afford me the same.  I do not want to speak in generalities that are full of fear and hate.  I simply want to show others the love and acceptance that Jesus has shown me.
Then the world will know that we are His followers and that is much more important than who wins the election or our political positions.  We seem to forget, "If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36.)"  Our freedom does not come from political systems but from Jesus Christ.  And if it does, no political system can take it from us.  That is what we need to get excited about.

I will continue to pray for our secular leaders as commanded in scripture.  But I will put my hope and trust in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and I pray that I live in harmony with the rest of the family of God.

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