In Canada, refugees find love and hope
ST. CATHARINES, Ontario — Ten-year-old Mohammed and his sister Miriam,…
An Iraqi refugee who serves as a Christian missionary in the heavily Arab community of Dearborn, Mich.
Canadian church members who adopted a Syrian refugee family with six children.
President Donald TrumpAn Illinois minister who prays with loved ones of undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
All voice strong opinions on President Donald Trump’s push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and temporarily bar refugees from seven countries deemed terrorism threats.
The Christian Chronicle invited them and others to share their perspectives on how to balance compassion for immigrants with concern for national security.
The responses below have been edited for length and clarity.
Al-Aethawi, a former Muslim, came to the United States in 2011 after converting to Christianity. The one-time Iraqi soldier and engineer speaks across the nation — at congregations and Christian universities — on understanding Islam and sharing Jesus with Muslims.
The wall isn’t just a Mexico border wall intended to crack down on illegal immigration — even though this is the officially declared purpose behind it.
Former Muslim Wissam Al-Aethawi shows photos of his baptism in a hotel bathtub in Kurdistan in northern Iraq. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)Many people who rooted for the wall didn’t have illegal immigration in mind. The wall is a whole policy and culture that is the result of an unfounded fear of foreigners. It’s not about South American immigrants; it is intended to give the false sense of security against everything that is different.
History tells us about a few other walls that were built for similar reasons but that did not make the world safer at all. In fact, one certain wall comes to mind that had made the world so intimidating that people on both sides agreed that it was necessary to tear it down.
Christians feel that they need to be part of making the decision about the wall or about the total sum of the immigration laws. But the truth is that true Christians have never been the ones who actively shaped political history throughout the New Testament age.
Related: The long road from Baghdad
The Bible is not the only source that is expected, as some may think, to answer the question of whether or not America should continue to embrace immigrants and refugees (although the Bible clearly tells us how to deal with the refugees when they come). There is the moral obligation of the U.S. There are the security and economical concerns, to name a few.
Finally, remember that I came seeking asylum in the U.S. when I was officially Muslim (even though I had already converted to Christ). In fact, my Iraqi identification card still reads that I’m Muslim. All the Lord’s work through the Arab Christian ministry could not have happened had the U.S. not admitted an Iraqi Muslim asylum seeker — and that’s one reason why I’m personally concerned about this wall.
Some of the Canadian church members who worked to sponsor a Syrian refugee family include, front row from left, Linda Smith, Marcia Cramp and Jim Dickie. In the back row are Jori Warren, Earl Warren, Linda Minter, Bruce Minter, Noel Walker and Julie Walker. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Warren is a member of the Tintern Church of Christ in Ontario, which joined with the nearby Beamsville Church of Christ to sponsor the resettlement of a Syrian family — who are Muslim — to their community south of Toronto. Walker preaches for the Tintern church.
Warren: We were blessed to be a part of bringing a Syrian family to Canada. It was the biggest blessing we could have been given. My husband did not go to the airport to pick them up, but the first time he met the family, the 4-year-old ran right over to him and gave him a big kiss on the lips. She instantly had his heart, and he had a new purpose. Through this process, this family has been a ray of sunshine for us.
The thing that has probably had the biggest impact on me is being able to meet Muslims — this family and their whole community — which I would never have done without them. They are all the most loving, helpful, caring, happy group that I have met.
ILLUSTRATION BY DAN McGREGORFor people who have been through so much, they are not angry, bitter or vindictive but are still loving. They are not at all what I had anticipated. People do not realize how much they have to offer new immigrants, and we are the ones who have gained so much in the process.
Walker: When I first met the father, I quickly learned that he loves his son and his daughters very deeply — in the same manner that you or I would. I later heard him tell the story (through an interpreter) about when his apartment was struck by a missile in November 2011. His worst fears about the civil war in Syria were confirmed. His youngest daughter was only a few weeks old at that time, and he realized that his family was not going to be safe during this conflict, even if they stayed in their apartment. He immediately packed up and moved to Lebanon and began the process of seeking asylum in Canada.
He is a loving dad and a hard worker. Since moving to Canada one year ago, he has diligently applied himself to learning English. Before he even finished his first year in Canada, he had already secured himself a job. He calls us “his family.” We are “his church,” even though he isn’t a Christian (at least not yet).
We are still getting to know them, and they are getting to know Jesus through us. The whole family volunteered to help during last summer’s Vacation Bible School, and it was a delight to see them working with us and learning about Jesus at the same time. I can’t wait to see where this story will lead.
If Canada had failed to respond to this refugee crisis, he would still be sharing a barn with three other families outside a refugee camp in Beirut with no hope. We would have never had the chance to meet him and his family.
Church of Christ minister Bobby Lawson prays at a vigil at a federal deportation center west of Chicago. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Lawson, minister for the Park Forest Church of Christ in Matteson, Ill., offers prayers and other support to families at a federal deportation center west of Chicago.
I do believe that nations have a right to secure their borders. In times when terrorists cross borders to attack others, it is wise to have secure borders, even though no border can ever be totally secure. Perhaps a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will help serve that purpose. It is also possible that it will help in the war on drugs and stand against gangs and cartels that cross our border too easily.
Another possible benefit is that by making illegal entry into the U.S. more difficult, the flow of immigrants from Central America through Mexico will slow down. Many immigrants from those countries suffer horribly as they travel through Mexico.
Bobby Lawson, minister for the Park Forest Church of Christ in Matteson, Ill., south of Chicago, prays with an undocumented immigrant’s relatives outside a deportation center. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)Another benefit could be an interruption in sex-slave trafficking. I see these as possible positives in building this wall.
Having stated that, I think it is incumbent upon all disciples of Jesus to see beyond this and see the harm the wall will also inflict upon people. The wall will not only keep out people who want to do evil here, it will also keep out good people trying to escape dire circumstances or at least improve their fate.
When we deport criminals associated with gangs, we deport gangs to these other countries. In those countries, they prey upon innocent people, threatening to kill them and even killing them. It is no surprise that victims and intended victims flee to wherever they think they will be safe, even if it involves a dangerous trek across multiple countries to attempt entry into the U.S.
Nor should we be surprised or shocked that people who are starving will try multiple times to enter our country if it means they can feed their families. People do desperate things in desperate circumstances, being compelled by love and survival instincts. We would do no less if the places were reversed.
The wall, in my humble opinion, will hurt these people. Will we care enough to ensure that the harm of the wall is alleviated by our help as disciples of Jesus? Or will we ignore the lesson of the Good Samaritan parable and profess like Cain that we are not our brother’s keeper?
Bobby LawsonThis does not seem to enter into many discussions about immigration that I have heard, even among those who profess discipleship to Jesus. Another question I have for all who would want America’s interests put first above other nations is this: Since we are aliens on God’s land and by his grace have been granted access to the bounties of this land, how do we keep the bounty for ourselves and not freely share it with other aliens? Maybe we do not have faith that God will bless America with more than enough if we do what is right by other people.
To paraphrase a compilation of several Scriptures, we can’t say we love God if we do not love those created in his image. It seems to me that disciples of Jesus in America are coming to a crisis of faith. Do we really trust God enough to love our neighbors as they need us to? What defines us most, our American citizenship or our citizenship in the kingdom of God?
James Telgren, with his wife, Andrea, and their daughter, Annelise. (PHOTO BY ARIEL PERRAN)
Telgren is a minister for the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Ark.
For a nation, a wall is or can be beneficial. When God’s people were their own nation, they used walls to protect cities from invaders. But that didn’t negate God’s command to care for the poor and the foreigner.
My belief is that having a people who are safe (or feel safe) enables them to better care for the poor. People who don’t feel safe (physically or perhaps even economically, as in today’s situation) are more likely to circle the wagons and think about that first.
While safety and the feeling of safety allow us to have the capacity to better care for the poor and foreigner, whether we do or not is another matter. From my vantage point, I believe a wall can be good for us as a physical nation. But for those of us in the nation who are Christian, our focus should be on how we help the poor and immigrants.
Moore is a 2016 graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., where she majored in history. A member of the Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, she is pursuing a master’s of divinity degree at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn.
Cana Moore, on a trip to Florence, Italy. (PHOTO VIA FACEBOOK.COM)As an American, I fear the radical terrorists who hate our nation. I want to keep my friends and family safe. However, as a Christian, I believe my calling to be marked by my love for outsiders is more central to the work of the Lord. If I serve my Americanness over my Christianity, I am abusing the Gospel.
If we love only Christians, from the Middle East or elsewhere, we are no better than the pagans (Luke 6:32). If we love those who are “American,” but in reality we only love because they look and sound like us, no matter the ethnicity, we neglect caring for the foreigner living among us (Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:33-34).
We are to love and care for those around us, but we cannot live in fear because this world, no matter how wondrous, is not the end goal. Knowing Christ and giving him full glory is the goal of our lives here, and we cannot do so with arms that only encircle people who think and act like us.
Wheeler preaches for the Lake Butler Church of Christ in Florida.
Trent WheelerAs a Christian, I struggle between compassion, respect for the law and the truly inherent risks that illegal immigration creates. There are no good answers to all these questions, but my preference would be to take a threefold approach to the challenges facing America and those desperate to be here.
First, reinforce our borders to slow the flow of illegal immigration. Second, begin an aggressive course of action toward those who pose a real risk, and deport those who are caught committing a crime. Finally, for those willing to demonstrate a desire to be contributing members of our society, work on a path toward citizenship.
Christian compassion does not require us to be bleating sheep led to the slaughter. I believe we can achieve a responsible and compassionate approach. And yes, I would build the wall.
Ramirez is a member of the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her father served as a missionary to northern Mexico and later Texas for 45 years.
Nora Delgado RamirezI am a Christian woman and a daughter of God first — and a Hispanic woman second. As a Christian and a daughter of God, my heart aches because of this executive order of not admitting refugees from certain countries. It is not right. Where is the compassion for all people? Where is the love that our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us?
Just let me express my opinion as a Hispanic woman second: The illegals will not be stopped because of the wall. They will go under and over it. What will it accomplish? As Christians, we must continue to pray for this country and for our president’s heart to change.
Bouchelle has served since 2010 as president of the Missions Resource Network, based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Before that, he spent more than two decades in congregational ministry.
Perhaps the most powerful lesson I’ve ever received on immigration and the treatment of refugees came from the time our survey team spent in Athens in August and September of 2016. We were on a 23-day, seven-country trip seeking to discern the best ways to advance God’s mission during this historic opening to Jesus among Muslims around the Mediterranean Rim.
Watching small churches of 30 to 40 Greeks serving the untold tens of thousands of refugees that had flooded their city was revelatory. Here were congregations with very limited resources of mostly older Greek citizens working themselves delirious providing meals, shelter, clothing, toiletries and legal aid, along with love and the Gospel. The tiny buildings they possessed were packed to overflowing with hundreds of Islamic refugees several times a week. Most of the people they were serving did not share their faith in Jesus and could easily be considered enemies.
Dan Bouchelle, Phil Jackson, Dino Roussos and Chris Shelby pray in Athens, Greece. (PHOTO BY SAM SHEWMAKER)The people who came to the churches for help had mixed motives and were of mixed character, I’m sure. But most were kind, gracious and noble-hearted. It took little time to see they are just like us — people trying to live in peace and provide a good life for their families as best they can in a hard world. They had fled war, oppression, endless violence and hopelessness at home for a trail of great vulnerability, suffering, uncertainty, but also some hope of a better life. And among those meeting them were a few people who knew Jesus and who demonstrated the love of Jesus to aliens and strangers they couldn’t afford to help.
Remember, the Greeks are broke. Their economy is in shambles. Their country is teetering on the edge of default. About a third of Greeks are unemployed, and half of the young adults are unemployed. Many of the general population and some in the church resent the overwhelming wave of refugees they cannot begin to assimilate or afford to help.
Yet here were a few disciples of Jesus obeying his example. Loving their enemies. Welcoming the aliens. Providing hospitality in the name of their Lord. I can just hear Jesus saying to them, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into the Kingdom I prepared for you from the foundations of the world. For when I was hungry you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was naked you clothed me. When I was running from terror, chaos, oppression, murder, and rape, you took me in.”
Christians representing Churches of Christ in Romania sing gospel songs in their native language at a facility in Athens, Greece, that serves refugees. (PHOTO BY VIVI VITALONE)
All the commands in the Old Testament to care for the vulnerable and welcome the alien, because God’s people had once been vulnerable, oppressed aliens, were being obeyed. Jesus’ teachings about how to treat the outsider, the enemy and those in need were being lived out before us. It was beautiful.
In that context, it was not surprising to see revival breaking out. People of Muslim backgrounds were having visions and dreams of Jesus and following him despite the risks of violence and rejection from their people. People are experiencing the Gospel in tangible ways and are trusting Jesus with their lives. They have found love they had never known and a God whom they can trust as not only a remote master but as a tender father. They are learning of a prophet who not only instructs them on how to live but who died for them. And they are beginning to live for him in shockingly large numbers.
Related: Refugees and angels in Europe
How jolting to come home to so much fear and rejection of immigrants and refugees even among those who wear Jesus’ name. How sad to witness those seeking help being painted as terrorists instead of understanding they are the victims of terrorists. Seeing people who say they are following Jesus, with far more resources than the Greek churches and far less risk from danger, while shutting their hearts and borders was disorienting and disappointing.
In Greece, we saw how God is showing up in the stranger and the alien. He is reviving Christian faith in a once Christian land. I fear my nation will miss out on this move of God, because we are doing all we can to keep the Jesus who is among the refugees out. I pray it will not be so.
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