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Gospel Guide to Ministering to the Displaced

Ideal for those already acquainted with our thought process at Ammi Ruhama Community

The Christian’s response to the recent refugee crises has been varied–by that I mean that some are claiming that the Bible holds one teaching over another and I have heard some varied texts being used but it all comes down to two basic and legitimate teachings in the scriptures. Welcoming the stranger and honouring your authority. What I am going to try to do in this guide is to reconcile those two teachings to one another and to offer what I believe to be the gospel centred reality and response that we ought to have to those who are displaced. I have offered, by way of an introduction to this guide and to the terms I will be using, an index of questions one might ask of this guide along the way and a few brief and condensed answers which could be articles in and of themselves.
A. What Does it Mean to Be Gospel Centred?
Briefly, gospel centeredness is a way of life in which you are continually giving the gospel as the answer for the hope that is in you, it is your motivation for everything; where you live, the car you drive, the job you work, the store you buy your groceries–e v e r y t h i n g. Literally every sin you have ever committed in your whole life actively or passively has been because you didn’t have the gospel as the reason for acting out or passing up.
B. What is the Gospel?
Hold on…if the whole value of the gospel is caught up in that tiny (although significant) blip on the timeline of eternity of Jesus dying on the cross and raising from the dead three later how is that supposed to inform us of where to buy our groceries? This is the problem–many believers know what the gospel for salvation is but, like the Galatians, fail to see how the gospel translates to everyday life. The gospel, literally, the good news, that Jesus came to proclaim among the Jews, which they rejected, which was then extended to the gentiles is that the Kingdom of God has come. Jesus in effect is saying, “You know–God! The Father, the one who started all of this, I am the way back to Him, I’m the truth about who He is, and I am the life of one who is in full communion with the Father and without me–without going my way, without believing my truth and without the evidence of my life you cannot get to the Father.” But we have made the gospel a rote to save but not to sanctify. We have settled for biblical policies that pick and grab at scripture without preaching the whole counsel of God. The gospel then is the whole counsel of God; who He is, what He has done throughout all of scripture.
C. Answering in Story
When giving an answer for the hope that is in us, we are telling a story to ourselves and to our hearers the flow of which is Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. In other words, Something was right, now it’s wrong, it’s being made right and some day it will be permanently right.  The first two parts of the story pretty much everyone agrees with. Once there was perfection, and now look at the brokenness we see around us; ironically this is just starting to get good because now we have something we agree on: the world is broken and it’s like we couldn’t go wrong with telling the story of Jesus but sadly, when we sin, we fill in the  redemption and restoration parts of the story that are supposed to be the gospel story about how Jesus entered our brokenness and made a way to the Father through His death and resurrection and has ascended to the Father and will return again to make all permanently well again–we fill those parts of the story with lies of how more information about anything other than Jesus will make our lives better, we’ll be more loving and be more patient, make more money and live better lives and then we’ll pass that information on to our kids and when we finally have the ideal information transfer system no one will ever be hungry or hurtful again because they have the right information. If you’re like me and you’re reading what I just wrote it is difficult to come to terms with the information god being a lie. I  love information. I spent a good deal of my formative years drinking from the firehose of information that is the 12 mandatory years of information consumption (otherwise known as school) followed by 4 VERY expensive years of university. It is difficult to face your idols–personal or familial and bury them under a tree somewhere, never to be resurfaced. Mindfulness of the story we tell ourselves and others is essential when dealing with what we are about to delve into. The information god is alive and well in the arguments for allowing people to freely cross the border in search of refuge, the logic goes like this: the American people are treating immigrants badly because they think that they are all drug dealers and as Mr. President says, “bad hombres,” but if we can just show that their information is faulty then perhaps we can change their hearts to be more loving and caring about the travesty of justice currently happening. The heart behind this argument is genuine–people truly believe that as Rev. Jim Martin, Editor at Large for America Magazine said in a recent video when talking about why people hate migrants and refugees he says,

“I think the only solution is for people to come to know the stories of migrants and refugees”
-Rev. Jim Martin SJ

What is he saying? In effect, he is saying that wrong information is the reason for your sin. People act on their base beliefs–as Christians we claim to live according to what God has done to make us who we are and inform us how we ought to conduct ourselves–blessed to be a blessing and so on. To say that we sin by treating these people poorly because we are ill informed is to say that some people are in fact vermin and should be treated as such–oh, but not foreign migrants. This is where he and others have fallen short of the gospel in their presentation of the story of how redemption applies to the migrant crises currently happening. If your solution to sin doesn’t cover all sin (and all people), it’s a band aid and not a cure. There is an element of truth in the current argument that it is against the law to enter freely into any country you please and remain indefinitely and to intentionally antagonize the law in any respect is to show that we do not honour those whom God has placed in leadership (another belief some  Christians are loath to accept despite profuse biblical evidence). Here’s the bottom line, we do not do so well with displaced people in our own countries–our attention to sabbath living is short. We, generally speaking, are not bringing in the homeless into our own homes but cloister them into homeless shelters we outsource our obedience to care for the poor and the needy and support  so we don’t have to see them, offer them our bread or our beds or our attention, and the reasoning is much the same as with other migrants. “What if they stay? What if they harm me or my kids? What if they are socially awkward or have a drinking or drug problem?” If our homes are not as open as we might desire the border to be, than we cannot expect to be able to cope long term with what it would take to welcome the stranger no bars hold into our countries. I will be the first to say that my home is open, but it’s not THAT open. It’s something I have to work on before calling unbelievers to change their laws to conform to biblical standards.
Ministering to the Displaced
As mentioned before I want to offer a gospel centred approach to the Christians role in the migrant crises, but first a story:
Creation: Once we belonged somewhere, we were happy and healthy and surrounded by people who loved us,
But now because of war, or addiction, or abuse or our own personal failings we no longer have a place to call home.
We have a long journey ahead of us, but if we can just run away from all of this, leave it behind and go to that place where we see other people who look happy and healthy and are surrounded by people who love them.
Restoration: When we get there, we will make a life for ourselves, buy and sell, take husbands and wives and be fruitful and multiply and be happy and healthy and surrounded with people who love us until we die at  a ripe old age having restored  to ourselves what we once lost.
This is the story of a displaced person. They could be from Syria, or Gaza, or Mexico, or Detroit or Washington D.C. or right next door to you–or it could be you sitting there reading this article. It is very difficult reading this story and not feeling the same sense of loss and hopefulness for the future that is inherent in their story; but we must remove ourselves from the emotions and think first about who they are, not as a result of why they are here, but as a result of who they are to the Father. The reason we must do this, is because there is overwhelming evidence in the scriptures for the support of governments enforcing the rule of law in God’s name as His servants and a call for everyone everywhere to honour those who are in authority over them.
Honour Those in Authority
Biblical honour is rooted in proper identity, to honour someone who is in authority we must first consider who they are as a result of what God has done. First of all, they are in authority in some shape or form and according to Romans 13 it is God who put them there to be His servant to punish the wicked and to reward the good and  according to Daniel 2 it will be God who deposes them and sets up another ruler. Therefore, to give honour to someone, migrant or president, is to agree with the Father about who that person is; to recognize the weight that has been attributed to their name because of what the Father has done. Honour leads to respect; our own gift to that person of admission and recognition of their value and identity because of what the Father has done. Respect leads to submission as the recognition of God’s authority or blessing on that person,  to give them precedence over ourselves and assuming the towel of servitude we wash their feet in an effort to identify with Christ–coming full circle and honouring them through our submission.
In the case of illegal aliens and people who have become homeless due to a criminal record, we tell ourselves that felons are bad people who deserve to bear the full weight of their sin and be unhappy, unhealthy and to be separated from the people who love them. That if you can’t get through life without breaking man’s laws, we don’t want you anywhere near us, lest you make us unhappy and unhealthy and despoil our children and thus our mutual dream for a future surrounded by people who love us. The joke is that we do much of the same things to ensure our dream comes true at the fastest possible rate. We all harbour our acceptable sins that we have deemed collateral damage to achieving our goal of happiness and healthiness and to be surrounded by people who love us. We block people out who we deem to be unhelpful and even hurtful to that dream. We say things like, “you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life,” to filter out people we have deemed to be undesirable, hard to love and slow to improve. On the flip side of this excuse is the one breaking man’s laws to achieve their dream not as collateral damage but because they have deemed man’s laws to be unjust and that whatever it is that they doing is a basic human right. Most recently freedom to cross into any country in the world and claim refuge there from whatever it is you are running from–the impetus here is that whatever you are running from cannot enter so freely. So what about this can be redeemed by the gospel? I am giving general reasonings but if you noticed it, there is a clear agreement with the gospel in this excuse, that the one who sins deserves to bear the full weight of their sin. This is a universal truth proclaimed in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death,”. We all deserve to be unhappy, unhealthy and separated from the people we love–but we’re not. We have received grace, the Lord has sent rain on the righteous and the unrighteous and yet, calls us to honour those who are in authority over us.
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[b] whether it be to the emperor[c] as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants[d] of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV
Synthesizing Welcoming the Stranger & Honouring the Authority
When is the last time we considered honouring a homeless person, a migrant or a refugee by giving them respect and by submitting ourselves to them for their service because we recognize their worth in God? The reasoning behind honouring and serving the migrant and the refugee  by welcoming them is slightly different than that of honouring authority. It comes from a place of recognition of where you have been and where God has taken you now. To sum up what I believe to be the gospel answer to the migrant crises, I believe that the answer lies in knowing a trio of stories that all wrap into one another: God’s Story, Your Story, & the Story of the Displaced. God’s story, the gospel serves to interpret your story which serves to interpret the story of the displaced.
So what do we do as believers once we know these three stories? We obey what we know to be our role in this life–to make disciples; to share God’s story. The main tragedy in these people’s lives is not that they are unhappy or unhealthy or that they are separated from the people who love them, but that they are lost and dying and separated from the God who loves them and desperately desires that they return to fellowship with Him. Does that mean we don’t attempt to stop harmful policies set up by those who aren’t familiar with all three stories? No, but neither do we put hope in any other story that that of God’s story or alienate anyone who we have the responsibility to reach with the gospel, whether migrant or citizen. Only in right relationship with God will we be a people who welcome the stranger and serve the poor with a right heart and only in right relationship to God will those who have experienced this trauma be made whole again and be given hope that their joy is in the Lord, that they have been made more alive than they have ever been and that even if they never see their loved ones again, they have hope that the same God who lead them through this trial is able to call their loved ones to Himself and reconcile them to Himself so that when they come to the point in their lives when they are ready to die and stand before the judgement seat of Christ, they will be declared HOME.

7 responses to “Gospel Guide to Ministering to the Displaced”

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