What might this mean for worshipping communities today?
Jesus taught that when his people welcomed the stranger they were welcoming him (Mt. 25:35). The Spirit of God invites worshipping communities today to live out this counter story within the context of other narratives of suspicion and fear. It takes energy and a deep commitment to live out the biblical model of a community that welcomes the stranger. Communities of Christ followers are invited into the joy of offering solidarity, kinship, and affection to people who have been displaced.
Here are five practical ways in which worshipping communities can live and act in covenant love for refugees.
First, churches can support refugees. Asylum-seekers arrive in Canada having experienced tremendous loss. Christ followers can offer newcomers the gift of friendship and a sense of family. It is a precious gift of time, to just be there for the person. Many churches are sponsoring refugees. This involves assuming the responsibility for settling and supporting refugees, including a financial commitment, and building new relationships of trust and affection. We recall that for most refugees, life in Canada is full of deep loneliness and a sense of not belonging.
Second, we can work toward relationships of mutuality. We can learn from our new neighbours – lessons about generosity, resilience, grief, and courage in facing danger. As we welcome refugees, we too are transformed through these friendships.
Third, we can help other Canadians move through their fears towards welcoming the refugee. We can find ways to invite our friends, family and acquaintances into these new relationships so that they too can meet the stranger as a person. We can also help them understand the process refugees go through the rigorous security checks that are in place, far beyond the routine checking that regular visitors to Canada undergo. For while we certainly want to guard against terrorism, we shouldn’t penalize those arriving who are often victims themselves of terrorism. The Canadian Council for Refugees (ccrweb.ca) has helpful information.
Fourth, churches that sponsor or support refugees need to manage their expectations. We should realize, for example, that our new friends may not end up joining our church, even if they are Christians. Some will take longer than others to embrace Canada as their new home. We cannot predict or control what their lives in Canada will look like. We are simply responsible to offer our friendship and to provide some stepping stones for newcomers.
Fifth, congregations may consider advocating at a political level in regard to decisions that impact on refugee resettlement in Canada. Advocacy can take various shapes. Some pastors have addressed Canadian refugee policy in their preaching. My own church held a service of lament over harsh Canadian refugee legislation. Some churches have written bulk letters to their local Members of Parliament. One pressing area for advocacy is the need for speedy family reunification. Years of separation can cause massive emotional wounds on family members who are separated from loved ones.
Christ invites each of us to soften the boundaries of our life in order to let other people come into our world. As we do, we can expect to be transformed in unexpected ways.
Mark Glanville is a pastor-scholar who ministers at Grandview Calvary Church, Vancouver, and is teaching faculty at the Missional Training Center, Phoenix (missionaltraining.org). Mark defended his PhD in Old Testament on the ‘stranger’ in Deuteronomy. Mark and his wife Erin are currently writing a book to equip churches who seek to support refugees. Mark speaks and writes on Old Testament ethics and mission. His previous career was as a jazz pianist in Sydney, Australia.