I was a stranger

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How many times have you found yourself talking about refugees over the past several months? 

. . . any potential risk he faced didn’t excuse him from his obligation to help—to love—others.

Maybe “debating” is the more appropriate word. Whether it is because of increased genuine concern or because it is a heated topic in both politics and the media, the refugee crisis in Europe has taken center stage. 

Earlier this year I attended a summit in Croatia to discuss this crisis with those on the front lines of its response. It was a great experience, connecting our ADRA teams with Adventist churches throughout Europe to find the best ways for all of us to continue serving this growing community of displaced families as effectively as possible.

Church members around the world are at the heart of our work—everything we do is made stronger by you—and we have all been blessed with amazing support from so many. But we have also faced a lot of resistance and even criticism for serving these men, women, and children who have been forced from their homes. 

As we met in Croatia, we discussed the overwhelming numbers, and those numbers have only grown since then. More than 1 million refugees have made their way to Europe from countries such as Syria, where the terror attacks we so desperately fear are a regular occurrence. While we fight to shield our children from risk, almost 90,000 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the European Union in 2015 alone. 

I believe with all of my heart that these are the very people the Lord has in mind when I read in Leviticus 19:33-34 that we must love them as ourselves. The passage says: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” 

Nothing made this message hit home for me more clearly than the story of a volunteer in Greece who was assisting a medical team in Lesbos. This man lost two close friends in the November 2015 terror attack in Paris, but the next morning he was back at work, knee-deep in the Mediterranean, welcoming refugees and making sure they received care. 

Losing friends to a terrorist’s bomb would be enough to make someone second guess these people that many in the world were already starting to fear. But this volunteer kept working. In his words, any potential risk he faced didn’t excuse him from his obligation to help—to love—others. 

As Christians, don’t we each have an obligation to love our brothers and sisters, regardless of the borders that separate us and the cultures that define us? Every time a bomb detonates in a Syrian neighbourhood, shouldn’t we be as outraged as when it happens in Paris? Every time the body of a refugee child washes up on the shore, shouldn’t we mourn as if it were one of our own? 

Another one of our favorite Bible passages at ADRA is Matthew 25. “I was hungry . . . I was thirsty . . .” No one thinks twice about meeting these needs. But what about that stranger in need of welcome? That need is just as critical.

I ask you today to look beyond the politics, beyond the outrageous social media posts, and even beyond your own fear. Make these strangers feel welcome, love these foreigners as yourselves, and open your heart to them.


How to get involved

Visit www.adra.org.au/refugees to learn the facts, read the stories, and learn more about the refugee crisis. While you’re there, take the pledge to support refugees and receive more information about how you, your church, or your school can make a difference for refugees.

Originally published at www.adventistreview.org.


Jonathan Duffy is president of ADRA International.