What a beautiful night. The whole world tucked into ten different tables off an unassuming road in Mobile, Alabama. I was invited to be a part of how Dwell Mobile is helping refugees in its city acclimate, by my friend Rachel, who from the day I met her has always pointed me to Christ. She must have sensed from her side of the bay that my heart was homesick for Africa, or for serving, or for seeing Jesus walk, talk, and love through His people in some tangible way. I get antsy sometimes in the shelter of my Eastern shore bubble, and the Lord answered a big prayer in a big way I got a request to photograph a Thanksgiving meal for the refugees in our area. In light of my experience with them over the past couple of weeks (and I can hardly call myself a volunteer compared to the incredible people who dedicated their time their for the past ten!), all chatter of refugees, immigration, and Christian calls have been playing ping pong between my heart and head.
Let me first say this- I don't know which side of the Facebook battle over compassion vs. policy is right and wrong, but I have an idea that each individual's story may be unique and intricate enough to color that debate gray. Here is what I know. Our leaders have a job to keep their citizens safe, and whatever decision they makes to uphold their responsibility is theirs. I don't have to rant and rage about the issue, because according to God my ultimate job is to "obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account." A king's heart is like water in God's hands according to Proverbs 21:1, and I find relief in the power of prayer over the Lord's will on things like vetting refugees and immigration laws, and fully trust that God is working all things together for His glory and our good.
I, as a Christian, am responsible for how I treat, serve and welcome refugees (and everyone for that matter) regardless of what my government does. We are all a different part of a greater body, all different quirks, methods of serving, gifts, and paths to live out the call we all have to know Christ and make Him known. Tonight I was asked to use my gifts in Mobile. After this weekend's attacks, knowing that I was set to go to Mobile on Wednesday to celebrate the refugees' completion of their acclimation course, I thought a lot about fear. Confusion comes easy when you read opinions on the issue, so I started searching in the unchangeable perfect opinion of our creator. How am I to respond? What does God say about being scared that a refugee you want to help is a wolf in sheep's clothing?
Matthew 10:28 came to mind, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Everywhere I look I see God urging His people to face the giant. Not because we're strong enough, smart enough, or brave enough, but because He is.There is a story about this in the bible about a girl named Esther that sends chills up my spine. She is the embodiment of this command to fear the Lord instead of man. King Xerxes and Haman send a decree out to have all the Jews annihilated, without knowing that the girl he had just made queen was Jewish. Once the decree goes out, Esther's cousin Mordecai comes to the gates to ask Esther to intercede for their people. Mordecai tells Esther "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" She responds by asking him to gather the Jews to fast and pray, and says then "I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."
I thought about driving across the bay tonight into the unknown. The people I met last week were beyond, lovely. I couldn't fathom one of them being a terrorist, but then again, I have never seen a terrorist at my table. I prayed for wisdom, protection, and an emanating presence of Christ in me. I thought about Esther's resolve, and while the likelihood of a terrorist attack didn't seem immanent, I decided to rest in the fact that my days are numbered by God and He will not be thwarted. He knows the plans He has for me.
The flood of emotions I felt tonight were the same as last week. Absolute and utter awe. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it. The body of Christ is such a beautiful thing- there were women there who cooked and prepared the tables for them, translators there to welcome them and help them communicate, volunteers and their children simply coming alongside them. The people? -As kind and dear as you would expect them to be. They are vulnerable, grateful, and committed to the volunteers who are committed to them. So many of them spoke about the dreams they had for themselves here and the consensus was a longing for friendship and education.
Last week an Egyptian refugee, the one man at the table with 5 Muslim women and myself, said he was glad to be in Mobile because he could see the sun. He came from Cairo, where he said the buildings made seeing the sun difficult, so although Mobile was surprisingly smaller to him, and it is not the home he fled, he was glad to see the sun. Tonight I sat by Senaite, an Ethopian refugee, who after living in a refugee camp for fifteen years, losing three babies there, and waiting five years for papers, found herself in Alabama. When my response was the only "I'm so sorry" I could muster she shook the pity out of me with a repeated "No no, I'm happy! I'm happy!" as she rocked back in her chair and laughed. It was the same joy I saw in Africa. The peace of God that transcends understanding.The same resolve, hope, and perseverance that now cuts any unrest or grumbling I ever feel off at the knees. I thought about the verse in Revelation that says "there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." The melting pot of all those cultures and languages in one room, the hope of the gospel being proclaimed after dinner, like a little glimpse of heaven.
Perhaps our hearts are stirred up through the media firestorm over refugees to remind us of our call, Christians. To love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. Clothe and feed the hungry. To share Christ. Perhaps while we can't directly control the policies being made and the systems in place that will bring refugees to our doorstep, we can control how we serve the ones already on it. And lets not live as those who have no hope when we do it; we worship a really big God, whose ways are not our ways, and whose power does not depend on our politics. What if you have come to your position in life for such a time as this?
Click HERE if you want to get involved in the refugees that have already been welcomed into our country.