Three years ago I served as the pastor of an English speaking church in Nuremberg, Germany. It was a fascinating experience. The church was small, only 30 or so, and composed mostly of young adults starting their careers in Nuremberg. They came from Cameroon, South Africa, India, Japan, Ukraine, Poland, Ireland, UK and, of course Germany. There were even a couple from the United States. Nuremberg, once shrouded under the dark cloud of Nazi history, has emerged in the twenty-first century as a cosmopolitan city welcoming people from around the globe. We returned to Nuremberg last year to encourage the young believers we came to love on our first visit.
As a result of that experience, I have followed the recent refugee reports in Europe with special interest. I have been impressed with the way Germany and other European nations immediately opened their resources, their communities, their arms and their homes. According to ABC News, “Dozens of volunteers have been driving to Hungary and to the Serbian border, picking up refugees walking along the highway in the aim of helping them travel to Western Europe.” Universities are offering free classes to refugees. In Berlin more than 780 people have opened their homes for temporary shelter. The continued flow has become overwhelming.
I am always encouraged to see people reaching out to those who are different and desperate. There are, of course, dangers and risks, just as there were dangers and risks in Jesus’ Good Samaritan story. But the rewards far outweigh the costs.
In the United States, we are a nation of immigrants, refugees and their descendants. We all came from somewhere else, often from places suffering famine, disease and oppression. In the 1960s and 70s we welcomed refugees from Viet Nam. Forty years later they have built businesses and sent their children to college where some became doctors, lawyers and engineers. When we lived in Minnesota, we came to know and love the Hmong who fled slaughter in Laos following the fall of Vietnam. They came to the U.S. as animists. Today many are devoted followers of Christ. St. Paul has the largest Hmong church in the nation.
While some traditional churches in the U.S. are in decline, many immigrant churches are growing. Liberian Christians are breaking ground for a new building north of Minneapolis and in St, Paul a church composed of immigrants from Myanmar (formerly Burma) is growing so fast they are out of space.
The United States has agreed to receive 70,000 refugees in 2015. Some will respond to these new residents with fear and suspicion. But love, acceptance and generosity can overcome fear.
In every century and every generation there are refugees, the innocent who flee their homes for safety. Centuries ago, Isaiah wrote: “Cast your shadow like night at high noon; hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive. Let the outcasts of Moab stay with you. Be a hiding place for them from the destroyer.” (Isaiah 16:3-4)