Biblically speaking, there have been refugees since the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, until the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation on the Isle of Patmos. The Bible is full of refugee narratives, of both men and women.
War has left the world with displaced peoples to fend for their lives in foreign countries. The world is buzzing with opinions about Syrian refugees, and Western nations are being pressed with the question of whether they should admit Syrian refugees, and if so, which ones and how many.
To date, there are around 65.3 million displaced people worldwide—21.3 million of them are refugees, according to statistics from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most of them are fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria.
Looking specifically at Europe, roughly a million refugees entered the European Union (EU) in 2016. I have just returned to the U.S. from living in Germany for three years, and it is estimated that Chancellor Angela Merkel has let in over one million refugees. Women and children are among these people seeking refuge in Europe. The eastern Mediterranean and western Balkans route of refugees out of Syria into Europe is long, dangerous, and arduous for women and children. According to the UNHCR, as of January 15, 2016, just over 55% of those arriving [to Europe] are women and children, as compared to only 27% in June 2015.
As Christians, instead of starting the discussion on what we hear around us in the news or from politicians—I think we should first pray to God to give us wisdom and discernment about refugees as individuals. Then we need to ask ourselves a few personal questions. Last, we need to lift our leaders in prayer; praying that they make the best possible decisions as they decide on, or vote on how many displaced people should be let into their nations.
Made in the image of God
When God states in Genesis 1: 26-28 that all humans, men and women, are made in His image, He is saying that it is a privilege for all people to be considered and treated as human, and that they should not be limited to any sort of class. According to M. Daniel Carroll R., a Mennonite professor, “The implications for immigration [refugees] are immense, because it makes plain that outsiders also are created in the divine image. The image of God allows the conversation to be framed around a core belief in immigrants [refugees] as people, created with value and with the capacity to impact society positively.”
Women refugees in the Bible
“The more one studies this topic, the more it becomes evident that the Old Testament is in part a collection of stories of migration and displaced peoples.” — M. Daniel Carroll R.
And since many of these refugees coming to Germany are women, it is good to remember that there are many women refugees listed in the Bible. Eve was the first refugee, banished from the Garden of Paradise. The Israelites in the Old Testament, who wandered in the wilderness, at least half were women. Queen Esther was a refugee in the land of Suza. The mother of Jesus, Mary, was a refugee in Egypt. Two of the women listed in the genealogy of Jesus were refugees—Rahab and Ruth. And 1st Century Christian women like Priscilla, a tentmaker and evangelist, was a woman.
What has God said about refugees?
When the Israelites won battles, and took the leftover loot from their win, they often had captives. There were non-Israelite people that exited Egypt with the Israelites and found refuge with them in the wilderness, and who entered the Promised Land with them as well.
The refugees among them had certain privileges, they were granted gleaning rights at harvest time. They had to be paid a fair wage on time. They were granted equal treatment before the law. They were also granted the right to take part in Israel’s rituals and religious life.
“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
— Deuteronomy 10: 18-19, ESV
You find similar wording in the books of Jeremiah and Zechariah. God has a heart for the slave and the refugee. He also has no favorites. The Israelites were a refuge seeking, sojourning people and He also reminds them of that in the book of Leviticus.
But refugees who lived among the Israelites had to assimilate, they had to convert to the faith of Israel, learn how to perform rituals, and speak Hebrew. They had to tithe. They too rested on the Sabbath. And prophets were able to weigh in on the oppressive treatment of refugees.
Why would God allow for refugees to live among His people? God looked at Abraham and saw his heart, and saw that it was safe to make a nation from Abraham and Sarah. God wanted His own special people, His possession to be different from the other pagan peoples who surrounded Abraham and Sarah. God allowed for refugees so that they would be a witness to the surrounding peoples of the character of God and the fundamental values that make for a healthy society, because God was their leader and protector.
For Christians, we have been called to go into it the world and love it by being the hands and feet of Jesus, and sometimes that means letting in a group of displaced people to take refuge in our nations. After our governments have taken the necessary security measures to vet Syrians, Iraqis, Afghani, and other refuge-seeking people, Christians need to remember their Bible history and embrace them, which means offering food, time, resources and help to men, women and children that have been caught in the middle of war.