I put this question to you when you are fearful of letting in the foreigner, immigrant, or refugee. Is it violence or the faith of one person or family you fear – or is it more that you are afraid your charity, compassion, or love are not up to the task of touching the heart of a stranger? Perhaps you lack faith that God is powerful enough to use your life and example to touch the hearts of even those that might wish you harm? Or perhaps you’re afraid of your own laziness or unwillingness to let Him use you at all – for fear of what it will cost you? Are you too prideful to turn the other cheek if you do find yourself struck for doing what is right for another?
These words accused me as I reflected on Pope Francis’ request every parish in Europe (but really is a call to all countries) to open their doors to shelter at least 1 refugee family. (http://wgntv.com/2015/09/06/pope-francis-encourages-catholics-to-shelter-refugees/) This call was picked up by some but was also ignored and even denounced by others.
I realize now how much of a lost opportunity this has been. Even if you are not of a faith background. Why? Several reasons.
In traveling the world,I have learned that our governments may be very opposed, but the daily people you meet rarely are. Even old enemies are best won over in 1 to 1 interactions. There are countless stories in which a simple act of kindness have created bonds of friendship during WW 2 that last to this day. I personally have made friends in countries that were once our enemies by simple, daily acts of respect and compassion. That has helped me realize the power each of us has in the smallest acts and that they are often more powerful than all the laws of governments.
Isolation affects the host countries too. Without contact to others of different backgrounds we become increasingly afraid of our ability to connect. Both sides become easy targets for those leaders that wish to scapegoat and blame others for problems.
The Pope’s call to host a family was also wise because it does not throw all these new arrivals into one large camp or neighborhood. On a practical level, even if those we bring over turn out to disagree with our culture, our 1 on 1 interactions can change hearts and minds.By having each member in a loving, supportive community – they can integrate faster and learn the truth of who we are. It also ‘breaks up’ groups that suffer from poverty, joblessness, and fear. Some of the Paris attackers appear to have been radicalized after they arrived as they were isolated in small districts without jobs, legal status, or much hope in a foreign land with strange customs. So instead of concentrating refugees into neighborhoods and camps that fester, in a holding pattern of government bureaucracy, they are introduced into a welcoming community that helps them do what we all want to do: be independent and feel proud of themselves and their work.
Instead, we have erected walls. Walls that separate these individual acts of kindness and relationship from reaching each other. Further, what is a person that is facing death every day to think of a people who live in extravagance and luxuriously – who do not lift a finger to help them? Perhaps they even claim to follow a loving God who helps the foreigner, the orphan, and widow? I do not think it would not make me think very highly of them. As a believer, it makes me a hypocrite.
Jim Rohn is famous for his quote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”. Psychologists would clarify a bit and say our peer groups are some of the most powerful influences in our lives. If we surround those in these desperate straits, even those who feel on the verge of radicalizing,with love, compassion, and respect, we can change hearts and minds more than laws likely ever will.
So lets follow our call to action. Go and encounter the refugee and the foreigner. It is not enough to let them in and stuff them in a corner and ignore them under a burden of red tape that simply radicalize them. We must risk a relationship. We must trust that Christ is powerful enough to use us – and then through humility, struggles, and learning to adapt – we must be willing to let go and let Him guide us.