According to the New York Times, “As of September 14, about 64,000 evacuees from Afghanistan had arrived in the United States. . . . Nearly 49,000 are living on eight domestic military bases, waiting to be resettled in the United States.”
By this time next year, a total of ninety-five thousand is expected.
We haven’t seen anything like this since the end of the Vietnam War. While government agencies work around the clock and refugee care organizations rapidly retool, many American Christians may be asking “What in the world?!” and “How can we help?”
My friend Ginny related, “I was heartbroken as I watched what was happening to Afghans, but I didn’t want to just sit in a place of brokenness. I asked myself, ‘What can I do as a mom, a normal person, to provide a warm welcome for some of those who’ve suffered so much?’ So I googled ‘helping Afghan refugees,’ picked an organization that popped up, and arranged a visit. My whole family went. We were told several ways to help, then we went out and let the kids spend their ‘giving’ money to buy the basic set-up stuff for one Afghan refugee apartment.”
I expect stories like Ginny’s to multiply across the country in the coming weeks, in part because Americans tend toward generosity and a willingness to help. We’ll also see stories grow as Christians like us obey the clear teaching of Scripture for situations like this.
What does the Bible say about refugees?
Leviticus 19:34 says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lᴏʀᴅ your God” (NIV).
This is not lightweight instruction.
“Love them like yourself, remembering where you came from.” Few of us have experienced what Afghan refugees are going through, but core to our theology is the truth that we were lost and have been found. We were outsiders who experienced the amazing kindness of God.
So, we share God’s kindness.
In case we’re tempted to say, “Well, that is the Old Testament,” Jesus gets all up in our grill in his debate with the lawyer in Luke 10. The principle is this: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus’s response to “Who is my neighbor” came in the form of the story of the Good Samaritan. It ends with Jesus effectively telling the lawyer (and you and me): “Go act like the Samaritan. Show mercy to the one in need. Do this regardless of ethnicity and cultural suspicion.”
This Afghan migration to our shores may be the greatest opportunity in years for us to obey Jesus’ instruction to act like the good Samaritan.
How can I help Afghan refugees?
If you feel a little angst about so many people coming to the US from somewhere like Afghanistan, you’re not alone.
With respect, may I remind you what Jesus told us about worrying in Matthew 6:33? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (NIV).
Some of the Afghans coming to the US right now will commit crimes. I pray none will give themselves to terrorism, but some bad things will happen both through them and to them. Nonetheless, we’re called to the kingdom work of Jesus, and that means loving Afghans as they arrive in our country.
So what can normal Christians do?
Believe God knows this situation way better than we do and has the power to open doors, comfort hearts, and bring people to himself. Let’s ask him to do so!
Download this simple, half-page prayer guide and see if you can get it in your church bulletin this week. Also, the amazing talent at PrayerCast.com produces stunning videos that will help you pray for Afghans.
Imagine you only had the clothes you’re wearing and the cash (not cards!) currently in your pocket. Your wife is gripping your hand in a way that communicates her fear. And your kids are asking, “When will we get there?”, but this time you don’t even know where you’re going! Such is the reality for many Afghans as they make their way to the US.
If you have more than the clothes on your back and the cash in your pocket, you can probably help them. Check out Welcome.US, a growing clearinghouse of opportunities, or be like Ginny and google something local.
If you feel like swinging for the fence, do what I just did and sign up through AirBnB.org to open your guest room (or RV!) to Afghan refugees. It only took about five minutes.
This current crisis will fade from the news as they all do, but upwards of one hundred thousand possible new Americans will still need help. Long-term friendships cost more than money. They take time, attention, and energy. But, as people of Jesus, we have received grace and the mandate to connect. This isn’t for all of us, but it may be for you.
If you’re down to take action that’s a little bigger than a baby step, figure out a way to invite an Afghan family to their very first American Thanksgiving dinner! If you’re a guy, here are some manly ways to build friendships with Muslims.
Lobby your church to make strategic contributions of attention, prayer, money, and friendship.
Mike Bell, a pastor and the director of Healing Nations, says, “You don’t have to wait for your church to figure this out. Look for a great opportunity, then you can potentially bring your church along.”
I just recently got a thumbs-up from my pastor for our church to provide the start-up needs for one Afghan apartment in Denver.
If the incoming Afghans don’t land near you, how about extending kindness to whatever Muslims are nearby?
There are several million in the US—at work, down the street, in the next town over. Some have been here for generations. Many are successful, with children and communities they’re proud of. Most would be willing to chat with us. We’d likely learn something, and they would too.
May the God who opened doors for this blessed influx of Afghans open up opportunities for each of us, as he sees fit, to extend the love, grace, present peace, and hope of Jesus to both newly arriving Afghans and Muslims all over.
A note from Shane Bennett: If I can help you in your or your church’s efforts to connect with Muslims, please let me know. If you’d like a fun, weekly reminder of how much God loves Muslims, sign up for Muslim Connect, my 300-word weekly email.