According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.”
The Christian Gospel Mathew 2:12 -15 tells the story of Mary and Joseph fleeing Bethlehem with their baby Jesus because they had been warned that Herod was threatening to kill all young babies under two years old. They went to Egypt to seek refuge from the danger. They were refugees, By definition, Jesus was a refugee fleeing violence because he was a member of a particular social group.
People don’t flee their country, risking their lives and the lives of their children lightly. They flee because if they don’t they face certain death.
Syria, a country destroyed by war and barely habitable was once a beautiful and ancient nation beloved by the Syrians. But there is nothing left and what is left is in danger of being destroyed at any moment. Iraq was once a highly industrialized, secular nation, now, because of war and destruction, it is has third world status and breeds terrorists. Baghdad, a city filled with ancient artifacts, including Biblical artifacts, was ravaged by bombs, most of the artifacts destroyed or stolen. Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are filled with destitution, violence and death. People leave because the lives of their children depend on it.
Six month ago, I took in three Afghan refugee youth whose families smuggled them out of Afghanistan rather than see them killed by the Taliban like their older siblings. I can’t imagine the heartbreak to send your young child away never knowing if you will see them again, praying that the life ahead will be better in another country than the certain death they face in their own country. These three young men are remarkable, they are highly motivated, all three made the high honor roll in school and won several academic awards. They are extremely respectful and kind, both at home and in school. And most importantly, they want to contribute and make the world a better place. I am honored to have them in my home.
June 20th is World Refugee Day. Please take the time to honor the hard-working refugees in our midst, the ones who work the farms so we can have fresh produce and milk on our grocery shelves. The ones whose labor we need as laborers become ever more scarce in this country. And the ones who have become or will become doctors, researchers, diplomats and have the potential to change our world
Jesus taught that to love one’s neighbor, to feed the hungry, heal the sick and welcome the stranger is the “way” to God. It is the “way” of all faith and religious traditions and it is only way to a peaceful world.
Rev. Barb E. Blom United Church of Christ (This originally appeared in both the Auburn Citizen and Ithaca Journal June 2019.)