When global crisis meets the Canadian church: How will we respond?

Refugee children from Syria at a clinic in Ramtha, northern Jordan. Photo by Russell Watkins, Department for International Development.

Refugee children from Syria at a clinic in Ramtha, northern Jordan. Photo by Russell Watkins, Department for International Development.

Newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has opened Canada’s doors for 25,000 Syrian refugees by early next year. What seemed like a good thing to many people has suddenly become very contentious following the terrorist attacks in Paris November 13.

Many Canadians are confused and afraid. On the one hand we do not want to see the ongoing horrors that these families have had to face in their home nation, but on the other hand we are hesitant to bring so many Muslims into our country at a time when there is so much uncertainty. A November 18, 2015 Angus Reid Poll indicated that 54 percent of Canadians oppose the refugee resettlement plan.[1]

Where does the Canadian church fit into this difficult international crisis? Whether we agree with the refugee resettlement decision or not, we must consider that God is in control and that he is using it to accomplish his purpose.

A quick look at biblical history reminds us of times when there were involuntary movements of peoples which seemed tragic at that time, but resulted in great benefit to both the immigrants and the host nation. 

The story of Joseph is such a case in point. Sold as a slave, he rose to be the second highest man in all of Egypt. At the conclusion of the Joseph narrative, Joseph says, “As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)

Another example could be Saul’s persecution of the church in Acts 8 which eventually led to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.

Could it be that God is directing the immigration of Syrian refugees? Many of these refugees have no knowledge of Christ and have never met a Christian before. I am sure that most of them will have a distorted perception of what “Christians” are. However, this becomes a serendipitous opportunity for them to find refuge in places that may be considered “Christian” nations. 

So how should the Canadian church respond?

Now, more than ever, the church needs to be reminded of the central message of Jesus – to love one another. 

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out the 72 on their first short-term mission trip. They return and share their experiences and there is evidence of racial tension. In Luke 9:51ff we read of the Samaritans rejecting Jesus and his message. 

But then in Luke 10:25-37 we have the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. When confronted by the message in this story, we see that followers of Christ are to see the needs of others, have compassion on them, go to people in need, bind their wounds and use our own resources to care for them.

We are to love one another. 

There is ample biblical basis for a theology of immigration, instructing us to love one another, accept the sojourners among us, treat them well and invite them into our communities.[2] 

God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 was to make him a blessing – that all the nations of the world would be blessed through him. 1 Peter 2 and Ephesians 2 remind us that we were all strangers and aliens. We were all without a true home until God adopted us into his family, and his kingdom. We have a theological mandate to love the strangers among us and share the gospel with them.[3]

It is natural for us to have fears and concerns about how this refugee resettlement may impact or threaten the way we are accustomed to living, but followers of Christ are not to be overcome by fear. Jesus says, “Do not be anxious.” (Matthew 6:25-34) In essence, God is saying, “I take care of creation, I will take care of you.” 

It is not our responsibility, or God’s desire, that we work to preserve the present system of our society, but to allow it to grow and change and ultimately to reflect Christ. One day, a great multitude from every nation will stand before the throne of God and worship him. (Revelation 7:9). God’s ultimate plan involves all nations; we need to be thinking in terms of his goals and not our own.

Much of our fear may be overcome by learning more about the Syrian people and their plight. As we are able, we need to welcome the new people on the block. Refugees have usually lost everything. They need friends! 

This is a great opportunity for Christians to step forward and show what it means to be a follower of Christ and to love these ones as Christ has loved us. It is time to step up and pray for our new prime minister and prepare to welcome our new neighbours.

[1] Angus Reid, “Syrian Refugee Resettlement: Tight Timelines are Key Driver of Opposition to Ottawa’s New Year Plan,” Angus Reid Institute, n.d., accessed November 18, 2015, http://angusreid.org/refugee-resettlement/.

[2] Leviticus 19:33-34; Numbers 9:14.

[3] For a more complete presentation of this topic see: Craig C. Kraft, “From Paroikos to Parish: An Investigation of the Missiological Theme of Sojourners and Aliens in Scripture and its Relationship to the Church,” Journal of Asian Mission 16, no. 2 (October 2015): 33–49.

craigkraftCraig Kraft has served as executive director of Outreach Canada (OC) since 2008. Outreach Canada “was born out of a deep conviction that all people are lost without Christ and that God intends every believer to be involved in making disciples of all peoples in every nation. It . . . aims to cooperate with like-minded organizations and mission agencies in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The OC office is in Delta.

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