To Welcome or Not to Welcome Refugees? Overcoming Fear
A world crisis continues to escalate. Millions of people flee war, persecution, and violence in their home countries. As the crisis grows, so does our own fear. Fear of them coming to our country. The number of people on the run from violence in the world today is staggering—and only getting worse. Sixty-five million people, a population greater than all of France, lived forcibly displaced from their homes as of 2015—a number twice as high as ten years before. Distressingly, children make up 50 percent of these numbers, with thousands arriving in their host countries without an adult. One out of every 113 people on the planet lives as an internally displaced person (fleeing within their own borders) or a refugee (fleeing outside their borders, qualifying for refugee status).
The Old Testament is full of stories of God’s people also in desperate circumstances. Many cried out to God for help. In turn, God called them to come home to him. But displaced people and refugees fleeing in our time come from countries that are majority Muslim, Buddhist, or formerly Communist. They don’t have a history of knowing the love of God or the call to come back to him.
And the need is great and growing. Who will step up to meet it? We must go to the people in places of pain and suffering to both serve them in their physical needs and to guide them to the source of all help, healing, comfort, and restoration. As hurting people cry out like this to God, let’s be the answer to their cries, as it says in the Psalms, “But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears” (18:6). But before we can serve them, we need to address the thread of fear that often freezes us from helping.
Unfortunately, the real threat of terrorism, combined with ignorance and prejudice about refugee resettlement, often fosters a climate of fear regarding refugees and tempts us to forget the way God views them. But if we seek to be faithful to God’s heart for the foreigner, then what can we do when we feel afraid? Combat fear with facts. Combat fear with understanding. And combat fear with love.
#1: Combat fear with facts.
Refugees are among the most vetted foreigners to enter countries approved for refugee resettlement—more than tourists, international students, and immigrants. There are much easier and more logical ways to enter a country with ill intentions than to submit oneself to years of probing by the UNCHR.
For those fortunate enough to be resettled in a third country, it takes an average of eighteen to twenty-four months—sometimes longer—to walk through the rigorous applications, background checks, and approval systems. The US Department of State wrote, “Nothing is more important to us than the security of the American people. The United States remains deeply committed to safeguarding the American people, just as we are committed to providing refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people. These goals are not mutually exclusive.”14
#2: Combat fear with understanding.
Refugees are people like us—who want the same things we want. Al, who was once forced to flee Iraq and is now a volunteer with refugee resettlement agency World Relief, says that “refugees want . . . peace, freedom and safety. They want to contribute to their new community. They are fleeing the same type of violence that you are afraid of, and they care about the refugee program being safe and secure, just like US citizens do. Above all, they want to build a good life for themselves and their families, and hope for good things for future generations.”
If we can view refugees arriving in our country as moms and dads, brothers and sisters, with children and hopes for their good future, we’ll view them with more humanity than the media might portray.
#3: Combat fear with love.
Love dissipates fear. In a world fraught with unimaginable vio- lence, most of us—quite understandably—fear for the safety of our country. But some aim this natural fear at other cultures, worried that foreigners will upset the freedoms they enjoy. This self-protection can turn into an unhealthy revulsion of other cultures and keep us from living out love. Some Christians who go to church regularly, read their Bibles, and profess to follow Jesus also forward emails filled with fear, inspiring more fear. They contain hateful words about Muslims and, most recently, Muslim refugees. If you get one of those emails, delete it.
The apostle John said, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. . . . Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (1 John 4:16–18).
Love compels us to move beyond our fear and obey God’s Word. If we wear love as our clothing in every interaction, it will change our perspective. It will change our lives. And it will change a refugee’s life too.
by Jeannie Marie
Get inspired to change the world right where you live…and it may lead you around the world! A deep read with lots of tools, try-it sections, and crafted prayers, Jeannie Marie will gently guide us by the hand to grow spiritually deep friendships with people from other countries, wherever we happen to be.