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30
Sep

Refugees

Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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Lord, you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled (Isaiah 25:4-5 NRSV).

You see their faces stained with the tears of suffering and sadness, their brow scarred with the marks of arduous journeying.

You connect with their minds soaked sour in horrific memories. You feel their heartbeat strumming in the key of hope and insisting it is not captivated by the lure of self delusion.

These are the refugees that some prefer to call migrants. Undoubtedly, some may be grasping primarily at the opportunity for a new beginning economically; but it appears most are fleeing the hopelessness of war-ravaged lands where communities have been ripped apart, families separated and human longings have been eclipsed by doom and gloom.

The unforgettable images of refugees flooding into Europe fill our pounding hearts with sadness.

In 1951, in the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations approved the Refugee Convention, which identifies a refugee as someone who, "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."

The Judeo-Christian faith has much to teach us on how to treat refugees. In the story of the Exodus, we meet a wandering people fleeing slavery and oppression. As defenseless aliens, God grants them a home. The clarion call of Deuteronomy 23:16 is for us to adopt the right attitude to those who flee from intolerable oppression: "They shall reside with you in your midst . . . and you shall not oppress him."

Matthew 2:13-15 implies that Jesus himself experienced what it means to be a refugee and, in his earthly life, our Lord models for us how to receive the oppressed and the excluded. He teaches us how to treat strangers among us and he refocuses our sights on the identity of the neighbor we are called to love. Our Lord appears incognito as a refugee and says "I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).

In these days when the people of God are still able to hear the voice of God's Son at the junction of "the crowded ways of life" amidst "the noise of selfish strife" threatening to drown out the cries of those who suffer, we need to affirm the words of Frank North's song: "From famished souls, from sorrow's stress, [God's] heart has never known recoil."

Let us offer the prayer prepared in 2007 by the National Council of Churches in Australia:

God bless our eyes, that we may recognize injustice and neglect.

God bless our ears, that we may hear the cries of the persecuted.

God bless our mouths, that we may speak words of welcome to newcomers.

God bless our shoulders, that we may bear the weight of providing protection and rebuilding lives.

God bless our hands, that we may work together with all people to establish just and lasting peace.

God bless our hearts, that we may be transformed into witnesses of truth, justice and love.

Beyond this, ought we not to receive refugees with open arms and exchange their vulnerability with ours?

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Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.

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