Without a doubt one of the serious ongoing issues Australia faces is that of asylum seekers. The issue is not isolated to Australia, and if we’re honest, our issue is fairly insignificant compared to that of other countries. Our media treats it as a major issue and politicians are most concerned with stopping the boats. There are suggestions that our government, and the opposition when in power, have paid people smugglers to turn their boats around. This has come at a cost. The detention centre on Manus Island has been called ‘Australia’s Guantanamo’. British columnist Katie Hopkins wrote “Their approach to migrant boats is the sort of approach we need in the (Mediterranean). They threaten them with violence until they bugger off, throwing cans of Castlemaine [XXXX] in an Aussie version of sharia stoning.” We should be concerned by how our nation is perceived by the rest of the world, but even more so, I am concerned as a Christian.
About 15 years ago I worked with an Afghan refugee in Sydney. He had fled his homeland in the 1980’s due to conflicts with the USSR. Although there was a considerable age difference between us, a difference in religion, and a difference in world views, he’s among the kindest people I have known. He was so appreciative of Australia’s willingness to provide a new life from him and his family. I am no longer in contact with him but I wonder if he would still feel warmly about how we treat refugees.
As a Christian, I could look at parts of the Old Testament which deal with how God’s people should treat foreigners and aliens in their land. I could look at the emphasis the Minor Prophets place on the necessity of social justice in order to please God. These all offer invaluable guidance as to how we as Christians should treat people who turn to us for help but instead today I will look at God’s attitude. What does God say about refugees? How does he treat them?
Genesis 16 tells a story which leaves a black mark on Abram’s character. He and his wife formulated a way to see God’s promises fulfilled. Although it was a socially acceptable thing for Abram to sleep with a servant and understand the child to be Abram and Sarai’s, this was not God’s way. When this plan blew up in their faces, Hagar (the servant) was forced to flee.
Those who has been in church circles for many years may be familiar with this part of the story but not so much what follows. What does God do? He pursues her and provides for her. Even though it is God’s people who have caused this woman to become a refugee, God does not abandon her.
If we look carefully at the words he says to her we can see that he echoes the promises he made to Abram for his child except that Hagar’s child wouldn’t be part of his Covenant people. What does this mean? God is gracious. He is kind. He chases after the refugee. He provides and protects for them. In short, he is loving. As someone who longs to reflect God, loving refugees is a challenging value to have in a society that holds the opposite.