I am not an immigrant. There are relatively few of us who can say this, but I am one of the Native Americans that can make that claim. I remember the waves of immigrants who have washed over this country, not all honoring the people already living here. Nor have all of us treated them well in return. For this, I repent.
I was raised in a Dutch immigrant family. I sat in church pews twice every Sunday with my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. As one family, we learned of God’s immeasurable love and call to show that love to the people of the world. I experienced what it means to be adopted in family and adopted by God. For this, I rejoice.
On Friday, January 27, President Trump called for a temporary halt to accepting thousands of refugees displaced by conflict — and in so doing, he potentially disrupts the clear and historic call of the church I serve and love. For this, I respond.
The Christian Reformed Church raised me to believe that following Jesus meant loving our neighbors as ourselves. It showed me how widely and inclusively Jesus defined our “neighbor.” It pushed me to measure my life based on the words of the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.”
And this community didn’t show me that in generalities: it did it specifically – by welcoming refugees.The first domestic program of World Renew was called the Good Samaritan Center. It began its ministry in Miami as a refuge for those fleeing persecution in Cuba.
We didn’t stop there. In the 1970s we welcomed people from Asia after the Vietnam War. In the 1980s, we welcomed those fleeing civil wars in Central America. In the 1990s, we welcomed Bosnians and Sudanese. Today, it is Burmese, Congolese, Rwandan, and Syrians. For decades, and from all over the globe, refugees have shaped, strengthened, changed, and blessed the Christian Reformed Church. We are a church that includes refugees. We are a church that welcomes refugees.
“…this community didn’t show me that in generalities: it did it specifically – by welcoming refugees.”
Refugee resettlement has become a difficult, even partisan issue. People are fearful and we understand how real those fears can be. We have also seen how stringently the United States government vets refugees prior to admittance into our country. This multi-year, multi-agency process has been a successful foundation of the church’s work in resettling refugees. We need not steer away from our calling now, in a time when we have such a great opportunity to care for the widow, the orphan, and the poor. We rejoice that our partner resettlement agencies have been flooded with offers to help; we want to walk alongside those who are seeking a new, peaceful beginning, away from the violence in their own countries.
It is time for our church, which marks itself by our history of hospitality, to use our voices for justice in this moment. Pray for President Trump to consider the poor. Urge the president to engage in dialogue with faith leaders and ministries who are at the heart of caring for the world’s displaced people.
Let our community keep doing what we’ve always done: discovering the face of Christ in “the stranger” who is seeking refuge. Matthew 25 makes clear that this is a mark of our faithfulness, that we should feed the hungry, quench their thirst, welcome the foreigner, clothe the exposed, tend to the sick, and befriend the prisoner.
I believe this is a clear, crucial time for the church. I hope we will answer the call to stand with refugees.