On a layover this week* through Vienna, Austria on the way to Cyprus, I was reminded of one reason why getting out of my home country on a somewhat regular basis has been, for about 25 years, almost a spiritual discipline. International airport hubs are like swimming in a sea of people.
I love swimming in the Image. It keeps important truths alive in me, important things all too easy to forget.
It reminds me of the diversity of human race, and that every human being bears the image of God in equal measure, and no one person of any country matters more than another. I’m reminded again that the vast majority of the world is neither white nor American. And I’m reminded again just how many people and places there are on this planet Earth, that my life is very small, that God loves each and every person from every place with an unfathomable love, and that the most important thing I can do is love anyone who comes across my path wherever I am. And it’s impossible not to praise God for the wonder of his most honored creation. “You have made people a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8.5)
Flying across the coasts of Italy and Greece and then over the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea, so beautiful with it’s turquoise and deep blue, it was impossible not to praise God for the beauty of nature, more of God’s creation.
And it was impossible not to think of refugees from Syria and immigrants from Africa, risking the wave and the water in hopes of safety and a better life, but too many of them drowning.
From the recent song from the band U2, “Red Flag Day”:
Not even news today
So many lost in the sea last night
One word that the sea can’t say
Is No! No! No!!!
Of course we have great sympathy for refugees and immigrants. Their plight is unimaginable to most Americans. We need also to cultivate and remain in empathy.
If you or your children were under threat of imminent death because of circumstances beyond your control in your country, would you stay in your county?
If there was hope for a far better life for you and your family in another country, wouldn’t you try to get there?
Of course we would. Throughout our history, those who would become Americans have. America was founded and populated and made great by refugees fleeing persecution and immigrants seeking a better life.
So I was saddened to read of the recent policy of this current Administration to limit the number of refugees to our country to a mere 30,000 per year. This seems to me to far too few. I’m sure I don’t understand all the complexities of these issues, but this seems hard-hearted at worst and short-sighted at best. Such a posture certainly does not comport with the Judea-Christian worldview, which commands hospitality to strangers (Heb. 13.2) based in part of God’s people’s experience of being strangers in a foreign land themselves (Lev. 19.34), and commands rescue for those who are under threat of imminent death. (Prov. 24.11). That America has in times past taken a much more aggressive posture towards hospitality and hope is another part of what has made her great.
So, as Christian Americans, what to do?
First, we pray. We pray for peace and security in Syria, and parts of Africa, and parts of Central America where the situation is so desperate that so many are willing to risk so much just to get to a better and safer place. We pray for our nation’s leaders, that they would exercise both wisdom and compassion in their policy making. We pray for those Christians in political leadership, that they would be led more by their Christian principles than by political expediency. Further, we can thank God for those Evangelical and Catholic Christian leaders who are speaking out against this new policy.
Second, when we encounter people from another country in our own country, we go out of our way to exercise simple kindness, actual love, and welcome. This can be as easy as a smile and gracious greeting when we meet people from other places in the places we go.
Third, America is a great country, and we can hold her up to our own greatest ideals, those things that made us great in the first place. From the sonnet at the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
*I’ve been in Cypress with World Vision, leading spiritual retreats for the leadership of their Middle East and Eastern European Region, which represents 20 countries in this part of the world, including Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Pray for them.