The church I pastor has a growing friendship with Afghan refugees resettled here through World Relief Spokane, and these new neighbors are helping us follow Jesus.
June is World Refugee Month, and I’ve been reflecting on our relationship with these new neighbors. Most of the Afghan families we know are in the U.S. because someone in their family worked for our military in Afghanistan, at great risk to their personal and family safety.
When we talk about their love for America and their minimum five-year path to citizenship here, I feel like I’m talking to the most pro-USA people on the planet. And when I learn what my new friends have gone through to get here (including an incredibly arduous vetting process), I feel guilty for taking my citizenship in this great country for granted. They’ve had to work hard and risk everything for what was simply handed to me at birth.
Our friends have much in common with us: working jobs, raising kids, learning how to navigate our rapidly changing world, and trying to make a life here in Spokane. However, they also have a different faith, a unique culture, and make the most amazing kabobs. Like all good friendships, we connect over our similarities and our differences.
But these friendships are about more than patriotism or cultural exchange. We feel that this relationship is a gift from God and a Gospel opportunity. Our congregation was planted in 1948 by a married couple fresh off the African mission field. Foreign mission work was encoded into our DNA from the start. But these days, our mission work has less to do with sending one of us to a far-off corner of the world; the world seems to be coming to us now. Being a missionary doesn’t begin with a plane ticket, but with simply being a good neighbor.
Most Muslims worldwide don’t know a Christian personally, and many Muslims here in the U.S. don’t have a Christian friend. Until recently, most of us at Shadle Park Presbyterian didn’t know a Muslim. With the help of World Relief, we’re grateful to be part of changing this.
People have been asking whether we should be so welcoming, suggesting that protectionism would be a wiser course of action. So why is our congregation sharing our lives with Muslims from Afghanistan?
Because we’ve been looking in our Bibles and finding there a God who calls a group of refugees his chosen people – then keeps calling his people to show all refugees how much he loves them. God keeps reminding his people to care for and “love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Fearing refugees doesn’t seem to be God’s deal.
No wonder that when he showed up in person, Jesus started life as a refugee – in Egypt, no less – then grew up to say, “I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matthew 25.35).
Seems like we Christ-followers should be following his lead on this.
The Rev. Steve Lympus is head pastor at Shadle Park Presbyterian Church.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.