Advent Meditations: 8 – Jesus Was a Refugee

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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. – Matthew 2:13-15

I remember the first time I heard the words: I was 19 years old and worked with refugees in Hungary. We had organized a retreat, in which we took some of the refugees who attended the Bible studies we held at different refugee camps around the country to a “retreat center” in the Buda hills – if you could legitimately call that place a retreat center. It was pretty rough – but at least a step up from conditions at the refugee camps, which were former Russian army bases and workers camps which had been converted into shelters for thousands of refugees from Asia, Africa and the Balkan Peninsula.

A pastor from Oregon who had a heart for refugee ministry had come out for the weekend-long event. That first evening, as we sat down for Bible study, he began with these words: “Jesus was a refugee too.”

Jesus was a refugee too.

I had always known the story found in Matthew’s Gospel, of how, after Jesus was born, Herod the Great had ordered that all baby boys in Bethlehem under 2 years old be put to death, so that the one who had reportedly been born King of the Jews would not threaten his power. Having been tipped off to Herod’s plans, Joseph took his wife Mary and the young Jesus and fled by night to Egypt… where they stayed until Herod died.

No one is quite sure how long Jesus stayed in Egypt, but tradition says it was somewhere between 4-8 years. Jesus spent his early childhood, as a refugee, fleeing a murderous regime…

In fact, part of the mentality that the Jewish people were instructed to have in the Old Testament, was that they had once been “sojourners” (what we would call “refugees” or “migrants”) and therefore they should show love, mercy and kindness to foreigners (refugees and migrants) in their land.

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:19

King David was also at one point a refugee. In 1 Samuel 27 David was being targeted for assassination by a murderous King Saul. Ironically, the Philistines treated David better than the people of Israel did.

But here’s the point: part of the Christmas story is that when God became a man, he could have chosen to be born in comfort and to live a life of ease, but he didn’t. He chose to be born in a barn, to a teenage girl and a construction worker. He chose to become a refugee – to live in exile, despised and held in suspicion, treated as outsiders by those in the country they took refugee in.

Why?  So that he could relate to the poor.  So that he could even relate to the refugees.

When that pastor at our refugee retreat opened with those words: “Jesus was a refugee too,” suddenly he had everyone’s attention – and everyone wanted to know about this God, this Savior, who would become just like THEM. Who understood them, who could empathized with them, and who loved THEM.

Here’s the message of Christmas:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9

Loving the sojourner in your land: a great (and biblical!) way to celebrate Christmas this year.

 

Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis in Europe – and How You Can Help

Hungary has been in the news a lot lately because of the refugee crisis going on right now in Europe. Because my wife and I lived there for so long, many people have been asking for my opinion on what’s happening, so here goes:

What is happening right now is going to shape the future of Europe

This is something of historic proportions. Estimates range from 300,000 to over 1 million Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan migrants and refugees having entered already into Europe over the past several months. Countries like Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic are mostly homogeneous nations; they have had almost no muslim population to speak of. Until now, muslims in Europe have been based solely in the Western countries. That is now going to change.

I don’t believe that most of these migrants are muslim radicals; the great majority of them are people fleeing atrocities and horrible circumstances, which is very understandable. However, since the floodgates have opened up, there is no saying who all is coming into Europe right now, and I’m sure there is a mixed bag, with some of those radical elements being part of it, seeing a wide open door to Europe and taking the opportunity. Conspiracy theories are rampant as to the idea that this is a muslim invasion of Europe, but honestly, really radical muslims in Syria and Iraq who want an Islamic state would probably be most inclined to joining ISIS anyway, since that is what they want.

Long term solutions and short term responses

The long term solutions to this problem are certainly not something I’m qualified to give, but I would assume that peace and stability in Syria, and the defeat of ISIS is a big part of it.

The Dublin Agreement, which says that the first European Union country a migrant enters is responsible for registering them and then processing them is, in my opinion, unfair. It serves to protect the wealthy countries of North and West Europe and keep the burden on the poorer countries of Southern and Eastern Europe. I’m glad to see the Dublin Agreement being ignored and reconsidered. I do think the suggestion of Donald Tusk of Poland is fair, that the countries of the European Union should share the burden of these refugees. Some countries are not really affected by it, while others bear the brunt of it.

However, since the Dublin Agreement has been being ignored, with Austria and Germany accepting thousands of refugees who were “stuck” in Hungary, I expect even more refugees to come, as word of that spreads, and there is an apparent open door into Western Europe for anyone willing to make the journey. None of these people want to stay in Hungary. They are trying to go through Hungary into the wealthy countries of Western and Northern Europe.

In the short term, the response of Christians in Europe to the refugees has been amazing. I do believe that as Christians our calling is to love and serve those right in front of us, no matter their creed or nationality, and many of my friends and former colleagues in Hungary and Serbia are doing just that. Below I have included a link for how you can support their efforts.

The response of Hungarian citizens to the refugees in their country has been outstanding. They have treated them with love and respect. The video that was on the news yesterday of a Hungarian camerawoman at Röszke tripping and kicking refugees was despicable and not at all characteristic of the Hungarian people. This woman was filmed tripping a man carrying a child, so that he and the child fell, and later kicking a young refugee girl in the stomach as she tried to run by. It turns out this woman worked for a far-right wing news source, and even they didn’t approve of her actions and she was fired.

My wife Rosemary and I worked with refugees for years in Debrecen, Hungary – and what we found was that for many of these people from majority muslim countries, coming to Europe was the first time they had been exposed to Christianity and for most of them it was the first opportunity they had to hear the Gospel and read the Bible. We saw many people convert to Christianity, and I do believe that this may be a great opportunity for these muslim people to come to Europe and hear about Jesus. The work of Christians in loving them will make great strides towards this end. Pray that God would use this crisis as a way of bringing many of these people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

How you can help

Our friends at Calvary Chapel Bible College Europe in Vajta, Hungary – only a short drive from Röszke, the major flashpoint for refugees entering Hungary, are providing food and blankets, among other things, to the refugees who have been being kept at a temporary “camp” on the border, which is just a fenced off corn field, where refugees, including many children, are sleeping on the ground in increasingly cold temperatures. For the last few nights it has been 10 degrees Celsius / 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here is the link to where you can donate to support their efforts.

We also have friends in Szeged, Hungary, only a few kilometers from Röszke, and they have been very involved with the refugees as well. Here is a link to their blog where you can follow what they are doing.

Pray for the refugees and those serving them in the name of Jesus!