A gospel response to the refugee crisis


For several days I’ve been considering writing a post about the refugee crisis that is currently gripping Europe (I call it a ‘refugee’ crisis, not a ‘migrant’ crisis as the press have been referring to it as, because the difference is significant!) However, having just seen a horrifying photograph of the corpse of a tiny Syrian child washed up on a Mediterranean beach, I’ve decided I need to write!

Thing is…I honestly don’t know what to say.

There are so many voices speaking into the situation right now – from those pleading for mercy to those screaming ‘bolt the gates’. I must confess that I was tempted to launch into an undignified rant about how our nation is selfish, mean and has lost it’s gospel heart. But I don’t want to merely be another voice amidst the cacophony of conflicting opinions. Neither do I want my words to wasted. Rather, I want to bring bigger and better words to bear than my own. I want to hear what God has to say about what’s going on.

I want to let the Bible speak.

Now, this is by no means a comprehensive study on what Scripture has to say about refugees, but it should be a good start. So here goes:

1. God is a refuge for refugees

God is described numerous in the Old Testament as a ‘Refuge’

“for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”
– Psalm 61 v 3

“Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge.”
– Psalm 143 v 9

This means that God is a safe place to run to when danger is all around. God Himself is the ultimate safe haven, the epitome of sanctuary. Therefore it comes as little surprise in Deuteronomy 10 when God expresses His heart as one of compassionate justice and gracious provision towards the poor and the wanderer:

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”
– v 17-18

In the verse that follows God is clear what that should mean for His people, and why:

“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
– v 19

In other words…

2. God wants His people to offer refuge to refugees

In Deuteronomy chapter 24 Moses unpacks further what it means for God’s redeemed people to act compassionately towards the disadvantaged and displaced:

“but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
– v 18-20

Justice for the refugee was literally etched into Jewish law and the teaching of the Old Testament boiled down to this: be gracious because you have received grace!  Little wonder then that merciful hospitality is a concept that righteous Job clearly grasped as he was able to state with integrity that:

“the sojourner has not lodged in the street;
I have opened my doors to the traveler”
– Job 31 v 32

I wonder if we could say the same in the UK right now?

3. Jesus came as a refugee

As we step into the New Testament, it’s worth stating this simple, but oft over-looked point – Jesus Christ was himself a refugee! When the Son of God was a tiny baby his parents had to flee to Egypt to protect Him from the murderous schemes of a tyrannical ruler:

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
– Matthew 2 v 13-15

As we see images on our screens of desperate parents clutching their little ones as they strive to reach safety and security in foreign lands, may we be struck again that this was the path our Saviour had to take. He truly is a Great High Priest who can sympathise with all our sorrows and weaknesses!

4. We ourselves were once aliens and strangers

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul reminds us that, like the Israelites of the Old Testament, we too we were aliens and strangers. Not in the physical or social sense, but in spiritual sense. However, mercifully we have received redemption, refuge and citizenship by God’s grace to us in Christ:

“remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”
– v 12-13 + 19

Peter further explained this in 1 Peter 2 v 9-10:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Thank God for His staggering mercy and grace! We really do need to keep this in mind as we consider the status of the suffering Syrians and other refugees as they flee to our shores.

5. We still are sojourners and exiles

I find it fascinating that following those verses lauding God’s mercy to us in saving us and making us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation etc. that Peter would then write these words:

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
– 1 Peter 2 v 11-12

Peter is reminding us that we were desperate sojourners…saved by grace from the tyranny of sin…but we are not home yet! Our citizenship is heaven and so we are not to get too comfortable here in this world. We are still sojourners, no longer in spiritual peril, but pilgrims on a divine journey to a better land. We must travel light and travel well as we seek to live lives that refract the glorious light of the gospel into a dark and desperate world.

5. Hospitality should be a big deal for the church

Hospitality is at the heart of the Christian gospel which is essentially the story of a great and generous King who opens His heart, His home and His table to His enemies. By grace The Father rescues, restores, adopts and delights in us, granting us a share in His Son’s inheritance and says “what’s mine is yours!” Understanding the radical nature of God’s hospitality towards us is crucial if we are to understand…and obey…the teachings of the New Testament:

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
– Romans 12 v 12-13

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”
– 1 Peter 4 v 8-10

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
– Hebrews 3 v 1-3

The communion table reminds us of God’s divine hospitality towards those in need of grace.

Whatever the response of our government and the people of the UK to the refugee crisis, I want to state resolutely and unapologetically that the response of the church in the UK must be one of compassionate action. Closed borders and hard-line politics speak of closed minds and hard hearts. We must allow the crisis that is unfolding before our eyes right now to cause us to examine our own hearts as God’s people. We must pray fervently, petition politicians, give to charities and, whenever possible, offer a warm welcome, sincere friendship and gracious hospitality to those refugees who make it to our shores.

AND we must be willing to foot the bill.

This commends Christ to a watching, weary world.

6. We will be judged according to our hospitality

I’m going to close out this post with the words of Jesus:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
– Matthew 25 v 31-46

32 thoughts on “A gospel response to the refugee crisis

  1. thank you so much for writing this – it has been buzzing round my mind so much, and I would have written my own post on why Christians should respond to the refugee crisis if you hadn’t already done it so well! Thank you

  2. A really timely word. Like you, I have watched and prayed and, in my case, felt utterly helpless in the face of such a desperate and complex situation. I am fearful too – fearful, not so much about the impact on the UK of refugees ‘flooding’ in, but FOR the refugees themselves. I am fearful that there is a hostile element in the UK who could make their lives yet another living hell. I am fearful that, desperate as they are, they will fall into the hands of cruel and heartless ‘people traffickers’ and those who keep the weak and helpless in vile conditions in the ‘black market’ underground world of our cities. I fear such cruelties happening in this country, that I love, and I fear the dreadful shame of being associated with a country which might well fail to deal with it.
    But fear is just human weakness. Faith and love are greater than fear. As Christians, we know that to look our Lord in the face, we must accept all whom He accepts and love all those He loves. There just has to be a way to make this work – so I am praying that we find a way and that all our hearts are opened to give. After all, we have so much – we can all certainly spare a little – and as we reach out in hospitality, we will find ourselves immeasurably blessed: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6.38 NIV

  3. The thing is Dai, we are a Godless country so how can we help refugees when we can’t even help ourselves. The church has to get it’s act together and come out in boldness and in courage and preach the gospel and testify our faith as shown below in Matthew 9:35-38:

    ‘And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’

    Secularism has proven to be a screw up so unless we do something, this country will be in even more chaos

  4. Agree we need to preach the gospel in our nation Keiron, but I don’t think it’s either or. I think we should be burdened to see both happening – gospel word and gospel works!

  5. Yes this is true but what is our action? “Do not be merely hearers of the word”. The Polish church have opened up their homes and as a result the Polish government has opened it’s doors to allow a few refugees in because the church will house them and foot the bill? What about us?

  6. Hi Emma. Really valid question. I don’t think that we can overlook the importance of prayer as action (“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5v16). However, there is also much more that can be done. We can petition our MPs and ask them to pressure the government to allow refugees into the UK. Similarly our churches can let our MPs know that, like the Polish, we would be willing to welcome and provide hospitality for any refugees that make it to our area. I have been in touch with our own MP today to inform him of just that. Furthermore, we can support stuff which is actually happening on the ground here in South Wales. I will be posting about one ministry in Cardiff in particular that I have been privileged to be involved with and that we could be supporting financially and practically. We have a girl at Hill City who works with refugees and asylum seekers in Cardiff and she will be sharing this coming Sunday morning about the best ways we can be praying and offering practical support. Hope that helps.

  7. What happened with the family is a tragedy, however it is the way we respond to them that is to blame as it only exacerbates the issue.

    The family had been in Turkey for a while. This would mean that they were in no immediate danger, as many Syrian refugees have settled in Turkey. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34118978

    During their time in Turkey, they made asylum applications to Canada but were turned down. Like many Syrians, they chose to cross into Greece and then on to the rest of Europe in search of a better life. They took a very risky gamble and this very sadly ended in tragedy.

    A better question we should be asking is what motivated them and many others to make such dangerous crossings? Perhaps the signals given by our politicians of pending acceptance of “refugees” is what drives many to chance it and undertake dangerous journeys?

    We should care for refugees and we must show compassion on our brothers and sisters. However that does not mean that we must uncritically accept any story we are told, and respond in a way that encourages further reckless action.

  8. if they are true refugees I could agree with you But I fear that most are adivisive attempt to screw Europe into taking in far to many muslims so that they can do untold damage to the countries that take them the Uk has I believe 8 million muslims that is far too many all the quote you put here are right for thoe who love the Lord they are in the main for the widows and children yes absolutely but for the men of muslim desenct No they are on a mission and we do have to be very careful for our own it is a big deal how we react, but when muslims start to rape your daughters, which they have already done in the uk I think we need to be very careful and I have to admit I really don’t know the answer

  9. Nobusu, I agree that it is not a simple issue and agree that Turkey was safer than Syria. But I don’t think we can really begin to imagine what desperate straits a family must be in to pay huge sums of money and risk their lives to seek refuge somewhere where they can make a life for themselves. Agree also that we must not allow ourselves to be duped by false stories, but surely Syria is a war zone and we should be willing to offer compassion to anyone fleeing a war zone.

  10. Harry, with respect I disagree with both the tone and the content of your comment. This is not a divisive attempt to screw up Europe with more muslims, as you say. The child who was pictured dead on that beach was from a town called Kobane – google it – you wouldn’t want to stay there either. This is not about Muslim vs non-muslim. It’s about compassion and humanity. In Syria right now Sunni muslims suffer at the hands of Shia militias. Shia suffer at the hands of ISIS. Kurds suffer full stop. And your comment about muslims raping our daughters is disturbing. Do muslims commit rape in the UK? Yes. Do non-muslims commit rape in the UK? Absolutely! That man who lost his wife and children at sea yesterday was not after our women, nor after our jobs, he was after a good life for his family. I don’t know if you are a Christian or not but I would encourage you to read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 11. The compassion of Jesus crosses cultural, sociological and religious boundaries. I pray you would see the men, women and children behind their religion. God bless you.

  11. I find myself in entire agreement with the original post with one omission..
    In talking of Muslims we are forgetting that a large proportion of Syrians and of refugees are our Christian brothers and sisters, to whom we have an even greater responsibility..
    Followers of Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch and there is, or until the IS crisis was, a large and ancient Christian Church in Syria.

  12. Thanks for the article. Was able to share some of it with friends. Allowing many refugees into our country is the right thing to do and may lead later on for us as believers to share the Gospel.

  13. Thank you, Dai, for this good initiative. You are quite right. And it should provide a wonderful opportunity for the Gospel, as it has done in the churches in Lebanon who have opened their doors to Syrian refugees. God seems to be at work in an unprecedented way among Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa. I have signed two petitions to get Cameroon to be more responsive to the crisis, but I “petition” God too to bring many of them to true faith, peace and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.

  14. This is such a timely reminder, thank you very much. May the Lord use His church to bless and aid many refugees at this time.

  15. Good article. My definition of a refugee- someone trying to escape a nasty situation. My definition of a migrant- someone attracted to what they perceive to be a better situation. May God give us wisdom to know the one from the other.

  16. I think it’s important to put a little perspective on this issue rather than jumping in feet first. Nobusu’s comment higher up is accurate – the family that has been pictured all over the news as having drowned weren’t traveling as refugees in a conventional sense of the term – they had been provided with a flat in Turkey, but had decided to risk all instead for chances of a better life in Europe. It was tragic, it was preventable, but it wasn’t because they were actually fleeing a direct threat to their lives.

    On a practical level, if we want to cut death in the Mediterranean, the best (probably only) policy has to be that of turning back every single boat bound refugee without any exception. If you make the deed sufficiently pointless, no-one will do it (the Australians have adopted this policy for their similar problem – while it sounds heartless, the reality is that deaths from drowning by migrants attempting to reach Australia have virtually ceased).

    If we combined this policy with a genuinely compassionate policy of providing homes for the most needy, collected directly from refugee camps in the vicinity of Syria, we could probably solve this crisis fairly quickly.

    It’s worth noting in passing that all this has almost nothing to do with the camp of (mainly) young men in Calais who keep making the headlines for their attempts to get to the UK – that is a completely separate issue.

  17. OK, so we should help, & you made a couple of suggestions elsewhere. But …
    1. Is it ok to have our agenda driven by a picture in a newspaper? I mean they’ve been starving, shooting, barrel-bombing and nerve-gassing 3 year olds in Syria since about 2011, and no-one’s been rioting about it in my street.
    2. Evidence is growing that Syrians walking across Europe are the lucky ones and some at least are economic migrants. Should we help them, or the real unfortunates – the ones who’ve been languishing in refugee camps for years with no resources, no hope and no future?
    3. When the Syrians arrive, they won’t be living near us, ‘cos Christianity is profoundly middle class, and we live in the nice places with the rest of the chattering classes. Rather, the Syrians will be decanted into the poorest parts of our community, who don’t blog. You cool with that?
    4. Bombing some Mid-East state back to the Dark Ages, and then walking away works great for those of us with shares in arms companies, but – in a democracy – should we encourage our government to find a better way?
    5. We already can’t afford for e.g. to look after our own elderly people properly or pay and train their carers decently. For the Syrians, Osborne’s going to raid the Foriegn Aid budget initially, then I guess it’ll be down to ratepayers and the NHS to pick up the peices. But you say ‘we must be willing to foot the bill’. Who’s ‘we’, and how is that bill going to be picked up exactly?

  18. Hi Andy, thanks for your comments. Here’s my response:

    1. No, as Christians our agenda should be be driven by the gospel. However, photos like the one you refer to can help to make the crisis more real and urgent to us than it previously was. To me, that can only be a positive thing. It’s like William Wilberforce used to say after making politicians and other leaders aware of the slave trade: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

    2. Should definitely prioritise helping those in greatest need. However, when you look at what is left of Syria, it’s not as if it’s an easy life for anyone. That little boy who drowned was from the town of Kobane. If you are not aware of what happened in Kobane and what life is like there now, I suggest you research it – you and I would have left too!

    3. This comment suggests you know nothing about me, what I do or where I live! I live and serve on a Welsh valleys council estate in the most deprived ward in the county. Prior to this I lived on a large and very diverse council estate in east Cardiff. I would welcome the opportunity to welcome refugees into my community! So yes, I’m cool with that!

    4. Yes.

    5. What I was referring to when I said we must be willing to foot the bill was directed at Christians who seek to get engaged in helping refugees. I believe strongly that Christians should be willing to get involved at their own expense, rather than expecting the public sector to pay. We should be providing food, clothes, toys, shelter, counselling and training at our own expense. My family have put our names down to foster Syrian orphans. We are willing to do this at our own expense. We don’t expect the government or the local authority to provide us with funds. We are prepared to pay whatever it takes.

    Hope that answers your questions.

    God bless.

  19. Hi Mark. Thanks for your earlier comment. I am familiar with both the Sanctuary and Oasis. Was speaking with Karen from Bethel the other day about how we can help them with their forthcoming trip to ‘the Jungle’. Also we are grateful that one of the staff from Oasis is a member of our church family. She was shared with us last Sunday and it really helped us to know how to pray informed prayers for the current situation. God bless.

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