We have always thought of ourselves as a nation of courage and hope. Few statements reflect our identity better than the quote affixed to the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” There is something sacred about Ellis Island, the entry point for so many who came in response to the beacon of life and liberty. Most of us are descendants of those who came.
Facing severe persecution in the civil wars that swept across Liberia, thousands fled to the United States in the last decade. A few weeks ago I attended the building dedication for Ebenezer Liberian Church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. More than a thousand people showed up. They filled the auditorium and spilled over into corridors and classrooms. I was inspired by their hymns, songs and testimonies to God's goodness and grace.
Four decades ago I visited Vietnamese refugee camps in central Texas. Most were “boat people” who fled persecution and poverty after the fall of South Vietnam. We picked them up with buses and brought them to our church, even though most spoke little English. A few members in our church resented their presence, but most reached out with the compassion of Christ. Today more than 1.5 million Vietnamese call America home. The largest Christian Vietnamese church has over 4,000 members and the number of Vietnamese Christians is growing.
In Minnesota I met Hmong Christian leaders. The Hmong were Animists from the hill country of Laos and close allies to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. They fled brutal persecution and sought refuge in America. More than ¼ million now live in the U.S. Many have embraced Christ. There are now more than 140 Hmong Christian churches in the United States, most in Minnesota, Wisconsin and California. Their children are attending college and moving into professional ranks.
Today the oppression in Syria represents the world’s greatest refugee crisis. 11 million Syrians, more than half of them children, have fled the brutal attacks by ISIS. Most of them are Muslim. But many Christian organizations are reaching out to these refugees providing shelter, blankets, water, food and comfort. Virtually every denomination is represented as well as para-church groups like Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision.
When Jesus introduced himself to the synagogue in his hometown at Nazareth, he infuriated the crowd by stating that God loved the Syrians. He reminded them that Elisha healed a Syrian leper when there were many lepers in Israel. They were so enraged they tried to throw Jesus off a high cliff. (Luke 4:16-30).
We are always afraid and suspicious of people who are different than we are. But “perfect love casts out fear.” Isaiah says, “Hide the fugitives, do not betray the refugees. Let the fugitives stay with you; be their shelter from the destroyer. The oppressor will come to an end, and destruction will cease; the aggressor will vanish from the land.” (Isaiah 16:3-4).