Who is my Neighbour?
Reading the Bible “missionally” in light of the Global Refugee Crisis
By Charlotte Olhausen
– “30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30:31)
● Aim of talk: In light of the refugee crisis, to stand in solidarity with people seeking refuge across the world through engagement with the biblical scripture, through prayer and through action. This talk aims to teach us why it is of such importance that Christians engage with the migrant crisis.
What you will need for the talk:
● A Bible
● Powerpoint with pictures and the readings (optional)
● 6 people to do the readings – perhaps three children and three adults/teenagers.
● A stand up flip sheet chart and two coloured pens to outline Tearfund’s theory of poverty (optional)
● Tearfund’s theory of poverty (optional) http://tilz.tearfund.org/en/themes/church/tearfunds_faith-based_approach/)
What is poverty?
● When you hear the word poverty, what sort of words spring to mind? People can give their responses to be put up on the flipchart – in our experience these are often a mixture of material and physical things with perhaps one or two non-physical things. Is poverty just about the amount of ‘stuff’ we possess?
● The World Bank did a study some years ago called Voices of the Poor, interviewing many living in poverty according to the World Bank criteria about what poverty meant for them. Their answers used words like isolated, alone, helpless, no voice, full of fear, useless, worthless, rubbish, ashamed.
● These are words that describe feelings and relationships – there is something about poverty that is grounded in relationships that are currently unhealthy, unequal and unjust – and so poverty alleviation needs to look at restoring of relationships in a holistic way, with God, self, others and the environment. When we speak about this restoration of relationships we are referring to all people – rich, poor and in-between. All of our lifestyles and choices perpetuate the current system that keeps the majority of the world poor. All of us need to be reconnected to God and to each other.
As Christians, we turn to the biblical text for wisdom and guidance during a time of crisis e.g. during a time of illness, when we need encouragement to help another etc. So, why wouldn’t we do the same in light of the global refugee crisis?
Much of Jesus’ ministry is aimed at the “other” or the most vulnerable members of society…coupled with our own Christian story of exile and the fact that Jesus himself was a refugee…makes for a pretty solid reason to really utilise the scripture as a tool to engage with the migrant crisis, right?
● The migrant crisis is a global issue with people currently fleeing conflict in countries such as Myanmar, Syria, Iraq, Iran, South Sudan and Yemen. The wars in Syria and Iraq alone have caused millions to flee their homes to escape violence, poverty and persecution.
● UN statistic: 12.3 million people have fled their homes since fighting broke out in Syria in 2011. 6.6 million are internally displaced with up to 13.5 million people within Syria needing humanitarian assistance.
● How do you feel after hearing these statistics – what is your initial response? Each number that makes up a statistic is a person, infinitely loved by the Almighty God.
1. Our Christian faith is built upon the story of the people fleeing from Egypt.
-Check out this short video for an overview of the Exodus story
Reader: Deuteronomy 26:7-9 “7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
This is also the Story of God’s people – displacement and vulnerability are part of the Church’s DNA and Church’s story e.g. exile of the early Church. There are many parallels to be drawn between the Exodus story of Moses leading God’s people out of Egypt and the refugees fleeing conflict and insecurity today.
Not only do I have the right to a flourishing life, everyone does. We should all experience this quality of life. Flourishing is not about accumulating wealth and keeping up with the Jones’. It is about having Enough and living a life of contentment with Enough. Now is the time we need to take up the call to better our relationships with those suffering across the globe so that they may experience a better quality of life. – For Jesus came that we may have this sort of life and have it “to the full” (John 10:10).
2. The Parable of the Good Samaritan/love of neighbour/Jesus identification with human suffering
● In society there tends to be a suspicion/fear surrounding those from distant cultures, or the “other”, as we often perceive them to be.
Reader: Deuteronomy 1:16 – 16 And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. 17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.”
● What does this passage tell us? It tells us two things: firstly, it is not our place to judge others – ultimately this is God’s job. Secondly, although it is a natural part of our being human to notice the differences between ourselves and others, we should always be willing to challenge any preconceptions and prejudices that can arise from this initial ‘noticing’ so that it does not build barriers in our hearts and in our interactions with others.
● What else does the Bible say about how we should respond to the stranger/the other/the foreigner? Take the parable of the Good Samaritan…
Reader: Luke 10:25-37 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
● In fact, throughout the Bible we see that Jesus’ ministry focuses on the love of the poor and vulnerable, namely the foreigner, the widow and the child.
● Martin Luther King Junior said ‘On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.’ So as we focus on those who are vulnerable, we don’t just look to meet their immediate need, but we look to why they are vulnerable and seek to change the root causes and not just the symptoms of the problem.
Reader: Matthew 25: 34-39: 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
● In the Bible there are constant reminders of God’s presence with us in our suffering. How? It is through his spirit that God is here with us. It is also through his spirit that we are convicted to stand with those suffering. By His Spirit we draw upon God’s infinite reserves of compassion and we allow them to flow through us and through our Christian witness.
● If we do not respond to the suffering of others, this inaction in turn, denies our love for God.
3. Jesus as a Refugee Child
Reader: Matthew 2:13-14: 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,
● Jesus can identify with refugees because he was a refugee himself. Jesus acts as a model of hope in the suffering of the refugees. If we are willing to accept Jesus the refugee into our lives, then surely this same acceptance applies to those fleeing in need of our help.
● This involves the reforming of the language we associate to refugees, the way we view them with our eyes and ultimately how we choose to respond to them. By doing this we can reverse the effects of self-absorption or self-prioritising as we are called as the people of God to stand in solidarity with others.
By looking at the scripture through a missional lens we can see that it is very much part of our calling as Christians to help and engage with the “other”, the foreigner, the poor. As a Church community, we must not turn a blind eye to this. In doing so, we are blessed.
● Give: This can be done by donating to the cause or it can involve giving your time. Bishops’ Appeal is providing grants for people who wish to gain a qualification in TEFL and use this skill to volunteer with migrants and refugees. For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
● Act: Add your name to the Register of Pledges run by the Irish Red Cross to join in providing integrated support to refugees and migrants. Once registered, you can pledge offers of accommodation, goods and services http://registerofpledges.redcross.ie/#/ Speak up for those who are vulnerable and scapegoated. Be a voice that offers an alternative way of seeing the world than the dividing and fearmongering view of ‘us and them’.
● Pray: a major way we can help is through prayer. Especially when we come together
● Some links to give you more information on the migrant crisis and ways to get involved:
Powerpoint Slides for Readings: Reading the Bible _missionally_ Talk