As the child of minister/missionary parents, I grew up having slightly different materials read to me than most of my peers. At bedtime, my mom used to read to my younger siblings and I from a series of books called Hero Tales, which consisted of true stories from the lives of missionaries and other Christian workers of the past, abridged for the benefit of children. There were fascinating accounts about Gladys Aylward, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hudson Taylor, and others who sacrificed greatly in their efforts to spread the message of Jesus.
As I grew a little older, I began to read lengthier biographies about some of these people. One in particular that I have returned to through the years is The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. In case you're unfamiliar with her story, Corrie was a Dutch woman who lived during the Nazis' rise and fall. As Holland became increasingly dangerous for Jewish people, she and her family, who were devout Christians, began to take in and hide Jews in their home. Eventually, Corrie and her family were caught and sent to concentration camps. When Corrie's father Casper, who was quite elderly, was told by a Nazi official that he could be released if he promised not to take in any more Jewish people, he replied, "If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door to anyone who knocks for help."
The Ten Boom family believed that all people were created in God's image and therefore were inherently valuable and equal. They also believed in a God whose love is so great that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For them, these beliefs were not just theoretical. They were willing to give up their personal safety and endanger their own lives to save the lives of others.
Although the setting and situations are different, God and His Word remain the same. The Bible clearly teaches us that all humans are valuable to God, and that at the greatest personal cost, He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Very rarely, Romans tells us, will a person die for someone else; yet God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Furthermore, we are shown in scripture that we who are followers of Jesus are to extend this same sacrificial love to others. 1 John 4 refers to Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf, telling us in verse 11, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." There is no caveat, no footnote accompanying this verse.
However, as I witness the attitudes that many of us have adopted towards refugees (and others who are in need), it often seems as if we think that the Bible should have made exceptions to those passages: "Love one another in the same sacrificial manner that Jesus loved you...unless your personal safety or comfort is called into question. Then, by all means, keep your distance."
Perhaps we think we have our reasons. We've all heard the arguments against allowing refugees into our countries, with comments such as, "They should stay in their own country and fight", "The safety of my children is more important", "But some of them are/may be terrorists!", and my personal favorite, "They can't really be refugees. They have cell phones and are seen here taking a selfie!" (As if the person making the comment would really leave their cell phone at home in the event that they were forced to run for their life.)
I lived in Greece for a year and a half, and in late August 2015, the team that I worked with and I drove up to the border between Greece and FYROM (also called Macedonia). We had heard that thousands of refugees had begun coming through the Greek border each day, so we went to see for ourselves. I'll never forget driving up to that border for the first time. We passed families with small children making their way towards it on the roads as we approached. When we finally stopped, there, spread out on the fields and train tracks before us, were thousands of men, women and children. They had the few belongings they could take with them, and had no shelter from the rain that had been present that week.
One of the first people that I had the chance to talk to, out of those thousands, was a young man about my own age from Syria. He described how he had been employed in a good job as an English teacher, when the militant Islamic army had tried to force him to join. He knew that he would either have to begin killing others for the army or be killed by them. He told me, "My life changed in a moment, and I had to decide: war, death, or escape. All I have now is the hope of a peaceful future somewhere in Europe." He described how being forced to flee his own country and being turned away from other Arab countries had made him feel as though he was no longer human. "You and your friends are the first people I have met on my journey that have treated me like a person," he told me.
As heartbreaking as his story was, I quickly learned over the coming months that it was not unique to him. I met many more men who had experienced the same thing. I met mothers and fathers - some of the mothers pregnant, some of the fathers carrying tiny babies, and many with several small children - who, after other family members had been killed, had realized that their only hope was to take their children and run. I hugged and prayed for little boys whose fathers had drowned the day before while crossing the sea on a flimsy plastic boat (another all-too common experience for thousands of refugees). I heard the stories of Christians who had fled persecution, knowing that they would be killed if they stayed in their home countries. I witnessed desperation up close when the border was closed to everyone except for three people groups, and thousands of refugees were stuck at an increasingly cold and dangerous camp for weeks.
Yet these same people, who had experienced all of this destruction and death, welcomed us around their campfires, helped us with organizing groups of people that would be crossing, picking up trash, passing out food, and much more. They shared their limited food with us (I'll never forget in mid December when a friend of ours from Iran exclaimed "potato party!" and proceeded to cook his potatoes on a fire and pass them out to us), laughed with us, took selfies with us, cried with us, and became our friend. Again and again I was amazed at the kindness, hospitality, resilience and love of the refugees I met.
After the terrorist attacks happened in Paris, I began getting concerned messages from time to time from friends. "Be careful," they would write. "One of the attackers came through the Greek camp you're at." I knew that their warnings came from a place of love and concern for me.
However, I can't help but contrast the mindset of so many of us with that of Corrie Ten Boom and her family. "Our safety is more important," we say (or think), while Corrie and others like her understood that loving like Jesus means sacrificing so that others may be safe, loved, and have life. Our position is in no way as dangerous as hers was, but the imperative placed on us is no different. We have before us the opportunity to extend love to people who, through no fault of their own, have been made outcasts and have had to endure horrors that few of us can fathom.
How are we going to respond?
You might not be able to get on a plane and go to a refugee camp, but I promise you that there are families near you that have immigrated here under difficult conditions. You can find ways to serve and befriend them. You can also give to organizations that are helping on the front lines, such as Convoy of Hope, the A21 Campaign, UNHCR, and others. Let's not be people who are silent and complacent while others are suffering. Let's be people who love through both words and actions.