God cares for refugees, so should we: UK scholar

Christians must ask themselves if they are doing enough for refugees says a British specialist in church mission

Iraqi refugees fleeing Mosul, December 2016

PHOTO: Chris Shearer

By Stephen Cauchi

July 7 2017The plight of refugees is a major Biblical theme and Christians must ask whether they are doing enough to help those seeking asylum, a British specialist in church mission has told Ridley College.

“The life circumstances and experiences of many biblical characters have more in common with today’s refugees and asylum seekers than they do with ourselves,” said Tim Davy, a Redcliffe University research fellow and lecturer in Biblical studies and mission.

“Displacement and vulnerability are woven into the DNA of the Church’s story.”

Dr Davy said refugees were a theme of the Bible from Genesis through to Revelation.

“Think of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden, and the lives of Abraham, Moses and David.

“Think of the exile and dispersal of the early church, or John’s in Revelation on the exile island of Patmos.”

Dr Davy has led a number of mission trips and runs a research project at Redcliffe which helps local churches meet the needs of unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

He addressed Ridley College in late May on the topic of “Reading the Bible in light of the global refugee crisis.”

The current global refugee crisis was “staggering” and “unprecedented”, Dr Davy told Ridley, and particularly harsh on women and children refugees.

According to a UNICEF report, “nearly half the women and children interviewed had experienced sexual abuse during migration – often multiple times and in multiple locations.”

Of the world’s 21.3 million refugees, half were under the age of 18, he said.

Furthermore, many young people sought asylum by themselves, away from their families.

In Europe, 170,000 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in 2015 and 2016, with an estimated 10,000 unaccompanied asylum seeker children going missing.

Unfortunately, western attitudes to refugees were hardening, said Dr Davy.

“Contemporary life in the West seems to be increasingly marked by a suspicion or fear of “the other”… a self-absorption that leaves an inevitable vacuum of kindness, generosity and hospitality towards those unlike ourselves.”

Dr Davy mentioned five biblical passages relevant to the refugee crisis.

1.Deuteronomy 10:17-19, including “you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

“The call to show love and justice towards the marginalised is here depicted as a response both to God’s own character but also to Israel’s own “outsider” experience in Egypt.

2.Psalm 10:7-12, including “he lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent. His eyes watch in secret for his victims; like a lion in cover he lies in wait. He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.”

This psalm of distress, said Dr Davy, seemed particularly apt when describing those who exploited refugees.

3.2 Kings 5:1-4, including “bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

The account of the prophet Elisha curing the Syrian general Naaman of leprosy is well-known, said Dr Davy. What’s less well-known is that “the entire episode hangs on the words of a “trafficked” child.”

4.Matthew 2:13-15, including “(Joseph) rose and took the child (Jesus) and his mother (Mary) by night and departed to Egypt.”

The early life of Jesus, said Dr Davy, “has more parallels with a child of a refugee family fleeing ISIS than with most children born in the West.

“God met the pain of the world head on by entering into it as a helpless baby, dependent on two young parents who had to flee for their lives to another country.”

5.The book of Ruth, in which an Israelite family emigrates to Moab and a Moabite woman, Ruth, emigrates to Israel.

The UK Bible Society, said Dr Davy, co-funded a production of the story of Ruth with a secular theatre company. The co-director of the company said that the story "came to life" when the asylum community got involved in the production.

“As the women who’d been forced to flee their own countries walked past our picture board portraying famine, grief, displacement and alienation, they each remarked “that’s my story”.”  

Dr Davy said examining the Bible’s attitudes towards refugees could prompt Christians to ask some tough questions.

“Do we need to: repent of inattentiveness and apathy? Lament on behalf of those caught up in the refugee crisis? Renew our sense of hope in a God who transforms in the midst of utter desolation?

“Do we need to factor in more fully the early life of Jesus when we consider his earthly life?

“Can we find ways of advocating for the displaced and vulnerable? Ways of walking with and learning from the displaced and vulnerable?”