I watched as the pastor laid on the floor, soaked in tears, audibly crying out for God’s mercy and help. Others crouched near him, praying on his behalf and joining with his heart cry for the Father to intervene. This pastor was carrying the weight, fears, and pain of his small congregation – all refugees in a foreign land and all now suffering for their faith in Jesus. They face daily challenges of isolation from general society, threats from neighbors and their former countrymen, watching their children struggle through insults, exclusion from jobs, wondering where to find food for their next meal… the list goes on.
These hurting brothers and sisters are among the people Jesus referenced in Matthew 5:11 when He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Jesus calls them blessed, though from every human angle the only word that seems to fit would be ‘cursed’. Their reality is more than oceans away from the lived experience of most people I know who call themselves Christians. But even though we have the ability and the choice to turn our attention away from the high price paid by these refugee brothers and sisters, it doesn’t make their daily struggle any less vividly, tangibly real.
For many of us whose vocation is tied to the world’s forcibly displaced people, the last few years have brought a lot of heartache. We watch as the world’s refugees and asylum seekers – people we personally know and love -- are verbally stripped down to something less than human. Like tools in the hands of the people with stronger voices, the worlds’ refugees have become battering rams thrown about to dent the walls of “the other side” of our ideological divides. Misinformation, lies, and fear are propagated in the name of truth and security. And sadly, some well-intentioned Christians join the fray, slinging mud made of memes or sinking, overwhelmed, into a pit of fear that distorts their vision and hinders their ability to act in love.
This last wound has been the greatest for me. Jesus’ teaching and example clearly call His followers to love at great risk, at great inconvenience, and at great cost to themselves. When we recoil in fear instead of living this kind of radical love, we undermine our voice and witness in this world.
Despite the weight of concern over this trajectory, I return from my travels overwhelmingly grateful. My hope is buoyed by the living epistle of faithfulness I witness in my refugee brothers and sisters (1 Peter 3:14-16). Yes, the pastor was weeping on the floor for the burdens he and others carry, but he believes that this world is about so much more than we can see. Even through the tears, his smile betrays his belief that it is worth it to walk in faithfulness to Jesus in the best way he can, relying on Jesus’ promise to never leave His children.
The next day I saw this pastor again – joy on his face, sustained by the hope that this world regards as foolishness. The faithfulness of this brother, and the many others I have been privileged to meet around the world challenges me and gives me hope. Their strength and grace under trial and their commitment to live what they speak is a testimony to God’s ongoing work in this world. He is growing a people who live under His rule and reign – one not driven by fear but marked by costly love.
I’m so glad that reality is not limited to what I can see around me or even the expression of Church in any one culture. God is still on the move, and the story is not done yet.
-by Rachel Uthmann