One of the global issues that marked the twenty-first century thus far is the refugee crisis. Some estimates place the number of globally displaced people at close to sixty million. Refugees are men, women, and children compelled to move across political borders because of war, famine, natural disaster, ethnic cleansing, genocide, religious persecution, or the prospect of imprisonment or death at the hands of despotic regimes.
The latest refugee issue making headlines is the Rohingya crisis. According to United Nations estimates, about 146,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from violence in Myanmar since August 25, 2017. Issues surrounding the refugee crisis are more complex than the rhetoric on social media and news channels would have us believe. Governments of various countries responded to this crisis based on their political affiliations, economic conditions, and various other factors. Shiv Visvanathan, a noted sociologist, reacting to India’s stance towards Rohingya refugees writes: “Sadly, India missed the leadership and compassion of a Mother Teresa. She would have stepped out and offered some care and relief to them, stirring the Indian middle class into some acts of caring.”(1)
Surely the complexities of the refugee crisis are many and unique to each country. And yet, there are some things that might be considered regardless. In the Bible, God commands his people Israel to always remember who they were: a once-enslaved people set free by God. As such, they were to treat strangers and sojourners with kindness. “You shall love the strangers” exhorts Yahweh, “for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”(2) Vinoth Ramachandra writes, “It is Yahweh’s character to take delight in loving the ‘others,’ especially those who are economically and socially vulnerable. Israel was a nation of ‘others’ in Egypt, scapegoated in acts of xenophobic violence when national fortunes declined. So Yahweh, true to his character, loved them and rescued them from their oppression. Having experienced Yahweh’s love for the alien, they now reflect Yahweh’s character by loving the aliens among them.”(3)
If there’s one strain of discord that jars the celebration narrative of Christ’s birth, it is surely the part relating to the merciless slaughter of helpless Jewish male children at the behest of a megalomaniac king. Matthew records this infamous event in detail. When Herod heard from the wise men that a King had been born, he was disturbed and ordered the killing of all male child within the age of two years. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt to save their child from being killed. Almost overnight, the little boy Jesus became a refugee in neighboring Egypt. Many families from Judah fleeing from Herod’s brutal edict would also have fled to nearby Egypt and across the border. We will never know how friendly Egypt was to refugees, but what we do know is that this little refugee boy sheltered in Egypt was saved and the family eventually returned home after Herod’s death. The God, who was a refuge for Israel from the cruel hands of Pharoah in Egypt, is the same Almighty God who found refuge in Egypt from the violence of Herod. What a paradox! How sobering, indeed, to think that the God who owns the entire universe was once a homeless refugee! Here is a God who can truly understand what it is to be homeless and longing for home.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Tejdor Tiewsoh is a member of the speaking team with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Shillong, India.
(1) Shiv Visvanathan, The Hindu, September 6,2017
(2) Deuteronomy 10:19.
(3) Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths (Illinois: IVP, 2008), 111.