Displaced, Refugees and Exiles
Our current Western world faces the needs of refugees and the question of how best to help them. This article aims to consider the issues, benefits, and suggested means of helping those in need.
Refugees are not a modern phenomenon. The Scriptures have many examples to consider as we look at how to respond. God in Genesis 12 called Abram to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house. He had to leave a civilized city with universities, houses, shops, and his family and go to a country God would show him. All of this was done with no knowledge of what he would find. Hebrews tells us that,
David was displaced twice in his life, first by fleeing from Saul and later from Absalom. Both situations differed in his entourage and his sleeping conditions, but both were still distressing for him. Several psalms relate to these periods, the common theme being his trust in God as his refuge, rock, shield, and salvation.
The children of Israel were exiled and made into refugees, first the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians, then Judah by the Babylonians. The Romans again made the returned people into refugees following the fall of Jerusalem. These events were intended to punish their unbelief and idolatry, but the LORD was still their God. They were still His witnesses, part of His plan and purpose. This displacement may happen again. Zechariah 14 implies that half of Jerusalem shall be exiled and made into refugees.
The final example is the spread of the Truth. Persecution of the Church, particularly by Saul, then later Roman Emperors, caused many to be displaced and seek refuge elsewhere, preaching the Gospel as they went. We have all been beneficiaries of their refugee status as the Word made it to us.
The world’s circumstances are now part of God’s plan and purpose. Some may be displaced to bring them reliance on God. Some might be sent out to spread the Gospel. Some might become an opportunity for followers of Christ to be the Good Samaritan or as the sheep, not the goats. Some might be fleeing persecution. Some might endure punishment or correction.
Some incidents might be things that just happen, like the tower of Siloam, war, pestilence, or famine. Migration might also, and I’m sorry to say this, be caused by human nature: greed, ambition, envy, covetousness, and other things proceeding from our sinful hearts.
Some of these reasons are obvious, some not, but our Father knows a refugee’s heart. So, this brings us to our predicament, what do we do? The Good Samaritan cleaned the stranger up, bandaged his wound, and paid the inn for his temporary stay. He didn’t give him any money or possessions. The sheep in the other parable the king referred to provided food, drink, and clothes and visited those in need—all done for the least of Christ’s brethren.
Christadelphian Bible Mission Role
From a CBM Welfare perspective, we cannot feed the whole community; we cannot provide hotel accommodations for everyone; we cannot cure all of their infirmities. But there is much we can do. First, we can teach our contacts the gospel. That way, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18).
This is why preaching is the main objective of CBM. Second, we love each other as Christ has loved us. Love is a word often used but rarely in a complete sense. We like the idea of giving and treating others like we would like to be treated, but to love is sometimes saying “no.” A parent who only says “yes” has a spoiled child who is perhaps unhealthy and at risk from preventable accidents. We teach our children how to cross the road, be careful with knives, electricity, and water, what foods to eat, the importance of being active, and how to take on responsibilities for their own good. All these are part of a healthy discipline that we lovingly show to our own children.
The CBM has learned some very sobering lessons about giving people money to help them through their difficulties. Often this has hindered their spiritual, moral, emotional and physical development.
Back to refugees, none of us want anyone, especially a brother or sister or their children, to starve. So help is given in such circumstances to get them through until they can once again provide for themselves.
None of us want anyone to die because of persecution of their faith, so a place of safety is worthy of consideration. It must be said, though, that life and death are not in our hands but the Father’s. How we define safety is the question. Is it a place free from war, like many who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), or Ukraine sought? Certainly, yes, but what kind of safety?
we need the wisdom of Solomon to deal with welfare cases
Many Ukrainians fled to Europe, and brothers and sisters have physically or financially assisted them. Many from the DRC ended up in refugee camps around Africa. Some have returned home after things in their home region have calmed down. But some are still in camps that their governments and world authorities seek to close, feeling the need is no longer there. People in these camps disagree and request aid and funding from external sources to maintain their lifestyles.
Some moved to the Western world by brothers and sisters successfully and are enriching the ecclesias they joined. Some moved into isolation with no or few Christadelphians in the country. Some have struggled to adapt from an African way of life to a Western culture. Not only are there language barriers, but there are many significant differences to adjust to, such as the types of foods available, the kitchen equipment, the toilet facilities, and the cost of living. Inevitably, many have left the faith once they got to the Western world.
It might be that the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the Word. It might be that living the Truth in isolation meant that their faith had no root and withered. It might be that they saw our community as a means to an end that they finally achieved.
Refugees From Iran
Some of these experiences from Africa are relevant to emigres from Iran. Many have fled Iran to the West. Some have escaped the religious persecution they faced as followers of Christ. But we also need to be aware some have fled due to political reasons, women’s rights, homosexuality, political beliefs, freedom of speech, and perhaps others.
Some have left to seek a better life for themselves and their family, with the West offering improved prospects for jobs, housing, education, and health care. Once more, only God knows the heart, so we do what we can. Again, we have made mistakes. Some have left the faith once they could remain in a place they wanted, whether Greece, France, the UK, Canada, or the USA. On the contrary, many have enriched the ecclesias they have formed, such as in Turkey or the UK.
Once more, the question arises, “What more should we do above preaching the gospel as commanded?” In the UK, there are laws we as a community must not break, such as providing employment or gifting money. Many are housed in hotels with consistent food, drink, and washing facilities. These small dwelling units and welfare are not the case everywhere around the world.
We might need to help fund a part of their rent while they find employment, or we might need to help with an emergency or work through health care issues, as they cannot show evidence of insurance or national support. We might need to help them to avoid deportation back to Iran if they face the death penalty there.
The CBM is doing our best to ease life-threatening persecution.
It ought to be stressed that this penalty isn’t always the case. CBM has been asked to help brethren to go to Canada, the USA, or other affluent Western countries. These opportunities, when available, are generally for healthy, employable people. So many of our members in Turkey have health issues that would preclude them from such schemes. We would rather everyone was in the same situation and supporting each other, but at the same time, we are doing our best to ease life-threatening persecution.
Social Media Contacts With Westerners
We know many displaced, refugees, and exiled brothers and sisters have access to social media and email, providing them access to the broader Christadelphian community. Generally, this is a great blessing, but for some individuals, it is an opportunity to exploit. They contact individual members, ecclesias or organizations, telling of their plight and seeking financial aid.
The warm-hearted loving members believe they are the only people receiving that correspondence and act, often giving money. Sounds lovely, but if you repeat that ten times, plus the amount CBM or other Christadelphian charities give them, that person is suddenly very wealthy compared to their neighbors. This generosity can hinder them spiritually and perhaps physically.
For this reason, we advise only giving money to the relevant charities that oversee such circumstances and have the local knowledge to help where necessary. This strategy follows the example in the New Testament for the collection organized by Paul, who sent it through one organization to ensure each member’s need was met. (1 Cor 16:1-4).
As is often said to me, we need the wisdom of Solomon to deal with welfare cases. We are told to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. I know I don’t have that. I have made mistakes and will continue to, but the CBM is trying desperately to learn from refugees how to help best where we can and not hinder the spiritual development of members around the world.
We need to be aware of issues but not shy away from our responsibility and the hope we have. To conclude, only God knows what is in men’s hearts, and we are all waiting for the glory that shall be revealed to us at Christ’s return when all sorrow and crying shall be wiped away.
CBM Welfare Secretary