As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
For most of my life, the word “refugee” meant little to me. I knew its definition but never its gravity. My eyes were opened when I read a harrowing biography about one man’s journey through the Sudanese refugee crisis. Then, in 2015, when pictures of a dead Syrian refugee toddler who had washed ashore made global headlines, my heart broke.
How could our bountiful country close its doors to so many of God’s children who have fled suffering, injustice and war? I knew I had to act. At church that Sunday I signed up to work with Exodus World Service, a nonprofit that mobilizes Christians to serve refugees.
Despite our country’s long humanitarian history of resettling refugees, my decision felt countercultural. We live in a time when people displaced by war, persecution and disaster have been characterized as criminals and freeloaders.
This narrative has stoked fear in many Americans and spurred our president to reduce our country’s refugee cap to the lowest ever—in 2019, a mere 30,000 will be allowed onto our shores at a time when global resettlement needs have escalated to more than 1.44 million refugees in 2020, doubling from recent years, according to a recent report published by UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.
My experiences with refugees in Chicago convinced me this fear is not just misguided but hurts our society. Equally as important has been walking alongside refugee families. My work has restored and strengthened my Christian faith. It has expanded my worldview and ignited my life with passion and purpose.
The first refugee my husband and I welcomed to the U.S. was Ali, the owner of an engineering construction company in Baghdad who was given a special visa after helping the U.S. Army with its reconstruction efforts. We gave Ali tours of Chicago, took him to dinner and advised him on getting settled in the U.S. He showed us hospitality in return, cooking us a traditional Iraqi meal of savory rice and vegetables served like an upside-down cake.
Over long meals, we shared our lives with each other. This was my first friend from Iraq, a country I knew little about, but it didn’t take long to see the basic human dreams we shared—those for peace, love and family.
I also learned how devastating war had been. Once, over dinner at a restaurant, Ali related a tender memory of making popsicles at his local mosque with his father, which they gave out to the children as a special treat when they were breaking the Ramadan fast. You could see in his face his good memories of his father, a college professor with business savvy. Suddenly overwhelmed with emotion, Ali burst out crying and ran out of the restaurant. He had lost his father, and that absence remained a gaping wound.
The brutal force of Ali’s grief helped me understand how refugees feel about the full lives they have given up to live in exile. They wake up every day faced with the tremendous challenge of learning to live with so much loss.
Seeing the refugee crisis through the eyes of someone living it changed my perception. Ali led me to realize that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees themselves. Like the 24.5 million refugees struggling with the trauma of displacement, Jesus and his parents were running for their lives, seeking a safe haven. How could I not love refugees like Ali as deeply as I love Jesus?
After Ali moved to Texas to be closer to his uncle, my husband and I connected with other refugee families. There was the Fares family; we cooked meals, shared family stories and laughed together. Their row house in Damascus looked just like my Chicago row house—only theirs had been bombed out. A picture of the destruction revealed a beautiful dinette, still intact, amidst the rubble. My heart filled with tenderness for their loss.
The Fares family introduced us to other refugees in their Chicago community. I grew close to them, too, each new friendship expanding my world in meaningful ways. All of these families welcomed us into their homes, cooked for us and even cared for us when we were sick.
Just as refugees have enriched my life, they have also enriched my city and country. Refugees paid $20.9 billion in taxes in 2015, and more than 180,000 refugee entrepreneurs live in our country, creating jobs for all, according to New American Economy.
They’re helping cities like Akron, Ohio, and Syracuse and Buffalo in New York make up for dwindling American populations. In places like Dayton, Ohio, they actually reversed the trend.
In all these places, they made communities stronger and safer. In 9 out of 10 cities with the most refugees, crime decreased between 2006 and 2015.
And so, as refugee resettlement needs escalate, I urge my fellow Christians to advocate for inclusivity. Stand up to voices that stoke fear and do everything you can to help resettle newcomers on our shores. You, too, will be changed by their stories, just as Jesus’ story has changed so many of us. Our God was a refugee baby, an innocent child caught up in a political crisis. We should have compassion for individuals and families facing a similar plight today.
I am proud of my relationships with all of the refugee families I’ve met—all of them Muslims—and how they have deepened my Christian faith. They have increased my compassion for others, enriched my relationships and given me greater happiness and purpose.
The point made in the editorial “Intellectual Pride” (June 2019) is well taken and important for the CRC to not get caught up in. However, I feel we are losing our intellectual robustness, as I seldom see confessions and catechism taught or recited within our services anymore. These are great faith-building resources that I hope we can utilize more and find the right balance of a humble, yet intellectual church.
Andrew Elgersma // Elora, Ont.
Healing the Sick
Calvin Theological Seminary student Luke Carrig believes the best comforting words we may offer the destitute, the sick, and the suffering is the Bible’s assurance that God knows exactly what they’re going through because in the person of Jesus “we have one who shared in our humanity and is able to empathize with our weaknesses” (“His Wounds,” July/August 2019).
However, Carrig fails to proclaim Christ’s compassion and willingness to heal all who turn to him in faith as documented in Scripture, saying, “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’” (Matt. 8:16-17). And Carrig could add, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
Joe A. Serge // Oshawa, Ont.
There is a lot in this article that is commendable (“The Christian Religion and Civil Religion,” July/August 2019). I think (James D.) Bratt finds a nice balance, striking a blow against those who would say even reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is idolatry while also rightly challenging the idea that the U.S. has some sort of special biblical standing.
I do think Bratt misses an important opportunity, though—one that is particularly apropos in our current CRC climate. Bratt misses the opportunity to show the same type of balance he admired in Lincoln when Lincoln “put both sides in the Civil War beneath the righteous judgment of God.” Bratt squares up and swats down the nationalistic idolatry he believes is a besetting temptation for conservative Christians while whistling right past the idolatry of statism that many have observed is a besetting temptation for progressive Christians. Bratt is quick to point out how those with nationalistic tendencies misappropriate Scripture to apply passages directly to the U.S., but blithely overlooks the standard practice of progressives who rip Old Testament civil instructions out of the Bible to be shoehorned into U.S. immigration policy and the like. Examples abound, particularly in the academic and bureaucratic wing of the CRC.
I think Bratt’s article would have been even more effective and enlightening if he had shown the willingness to take aim at the idolatries of both sides of the aisle.
Eric Van Dyken // online comment
As one whose citizenship straddles the 49th parallel and (who) has had the opportunity to teach history in Canada and the United States, I have long been interested in the differences between the cousins in their expressions of civil religion or, simply, patriotism (“The Christian Religion and Civil Religion”). I’m not aware of a Canadian John Winthrop or a corresponding “city on a hill.” Canadian patriotism of late seems very much tied to a celebration of diversity, and maybe even of being un-American. American patriotism is of a much different tenor, rooted in its sense of national purpose from times even well before 1776. This sense of destiny has been connected to innumerable good, noble, and world-changing events, but it has also been used to excuse much wickedness and has often caused us to forget our first and primary citizenship. It is for this latter reason that I get very uncomfortable with displays of a national flag on church grounds or in the sanctuary itself.
In keeping with the examples Bratt offers in his article, I would highly encourage readers to find Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 1863. Notice how he describes the relationship between the American people and God. Ask yourself if you could imagine any modern president issuing such a proclamation.
Christian Altena // online comment
An additional advantage of bivocational pastoring is that it can lead to less dependence on the pastor (“Becoming a Denomination of Support for Bivocational Pastors,” July/August 2019) and perhaps offer more opportunity for lay ministry—not a church of people coming to hear a good sermon for their own sake, or of bystanders watching as the pastor does the work of ministry, but a pastor/shepherd equipping the church to do ministry together among the community and in the wider community where the church is located.
Bonnie Nicholas // online comment
Response to the July/August Issue
The July/August 2019 Banner arrived two nights ago. This may be the issue I most look forward to each year, the one reporting on your annual synod. I have had a healthy interest in the issues and decisions of the past synods. One of particular interest is your endeavor to express a biblical view of human sexuality. That is an issue of great importance in prison. I, myself, have had to counsel inmates who are transgender, identify as female, and are dealing with either past or present same-sex relationships. … Thank you for sharing your fine periodical with me. May the Lord bless you and the CRC as you endeavor to be faithful to him.
James Doyle // Grand Rapids, Mich.
I am one of many CRC members with a Dutch heritage. My parents brought me up in the RCA, but we became CRC members in the mid-1970s. Most of the churches in which we worshiped had a membership made up primarily of people with Dutch heritage—until we joined Sunlight Community Church when we moved to Florida. I am heartened whenever I talk to someone who never heard of “Dutch bingo” and has a name that does not contain “Van,” “-ink,” “-sma” or even “Ten.” One of our pastors recently said in a sermon that our church in Port St. Lucie needs to be reflective of the community. He was not only referring to ethnic and racial diversity but also the style of worship. So I am wondering when we will see more diversity among the staff/writers at The Banner. I believe every part of our denomination needs to show that we are no longer the Dutch Reformed Church.
© 2019 Religion News Service