Serving the Refugee
Why Care for Refugees?
“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. (Deuteronomy 24:19-22)
Throughout the entirety of Scripture, God expresses his concern for the outcast and foreigner. Passages like this one are strewn throughout the totality of the Law (Ex 20:10, 22:21, 23:9; Lev 19:10, 23:22), and not only does he demonstrate his concern for the physical needs of the foreigner, he incorporates them into his own family when they turn to him in faith (Joshua 2; Ruth). In fact, God makes his own people to be sojourners to demonstrate his power of redemption and to discredit any merit his own people think they may have apart from him. Notice the reasoning that the Lord gives to his people in Deuteronomy 24:22; “care for the sojourner because you were once sojourners yourselves, and yet I took you in and cared for you” (my paraphrase plus interpretation).
Israel was always meant to be a light unto the nations (Rahab is a great example of this in Joshua 2:8-14); the reputation of the Lord’s blessing towards his faithful people was to be so great that all the nations would hear of his great deeds and turn away from their idols and towards the Lord God Almighty. The great news of Scripture is that despite the failings of his people, God still accomplishes this plan. Jesus, True Israel, in his perfect obedience fulfills this purpose. He is the light in the darkness, and all who look to him for salvation shall receive it. In addressing the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers in Ephesus, Paul describes it this way:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13)
Likewise, Peter at Pentecost miraculously preaches the gospel in such a way that multitudes from many nations hear it in their native tongue, and in response, these men ask what they should do in response to hearing this news, and Peter instructs them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39). The ministry of God is the ministry of bringing near those who were once far off.
To return to the sojourner, the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, the provision of physical needs of the oppressed by the people of God demonstrates the spiritual truth behind it: that in taking refuge in God the burden of sin is lifted. When Ruth the Moabite gleans in Boaz’s field, Boaz grants her protection, kindness, and grants her grain in abundance; however, his response to Ruth’s question of why reveals something deeper than kind provision for physical needs. “Why have you done this, Boaz?” “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12). Earthly suffering (famine, oppression, sickness, natural disasters) reflects the spiritual reality of a world separated from God by sin and depravity. When the people of God provide relief from this suffering, it points to Christ, who is reconciling all things to himself and will make all things new in its entirety when he returns.
Just as God reminds Israel that they were once sojourners in Deuteronomy 22:24, Paul reminds Christians not to get too comfortable in this world. In many ways, we remain sojourners ourselves until Christ returns to claim us:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil 3:20-21)
Those whom Christ has redeemed dwell in a foreign land and await Heaven, but God has richly provided for our needs through Christ; the curse of sin is undone and his righteousness our own. This fact has direct bearing on how we ought to live. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:1-2). In speaking of entertaining angels, the writer has Abraham and Lot in mind here, who were unaware that the men they showed hospitality to were in fact messengers of the Lord. For us, how much more are we to serve and receive the strangers in our land when receiving them is as receiving Christ (Matthew 10:40-42).  The author of Hebrews continues on to provide the basis for serving the stranger:
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:10-16).
In short, Christ died for us. He suffered for us. He did this on our behalf because he loves us; therefore, in light of what God has done for us in Christ, let us do for others that which brings glory to God. Let us sacrifice our time, resources, and convenience because we, too, are spiritual sojourners, awaiting that great city to come. Let our work, with prayer and the work of the Spirit, who brings about faith, seek to bring many lips to praise the name of Jesus. The needs of internationals and refugees in our area are great.
Langhorne Presbyterian Church has a long history of serving internationally, and now in light of world events, a growing international community has come to us. Right in our back yard are Afghani, Syrian, Ukrainian, Latin American, Brazilian, and African communities. All of whom have settled in the foreign land of Langhorne, Feasterville, Bensalem, Bristol, and Northeast Philadelphia. Serving them can feel inconvenient and uncomfortable; it requires time, resources, and emotional investment, but it one of the highest callings we have as Christians. One way that our church has been serving these communities is through our food pantry, which primarily serves a Liberian community, where we have seen beautiful fruit borne in the relationships developed, physical needs provided for, and even in the reputation of our church spread throughout the greater community of Langhorne.
Recently, our church has been exploring other possibilities through which we can further our service and outreach to the international community. This has led us into the world of ESL, or teaching “English as a Second Language.” This Fall, we will be partnering with Cairn University to provide their ESL students with additional opportunities to practice their English through “Conversation Cafés.” On the third Monday of each month, we will host a place where international men, women, and children can come and practice their English skills with the hopes of developing our own program in the future. Providing this service is intended to alleviate one of the most challenging aspects of coming to a new country and culture to those in search of refuge: a foreign language. By teaching English, it is our hope that new opportunities for employment, relationships within their neighborhoods, and even activities as simple as grocery shopping may become less burdensome. While ESL and our food pantry provide for practical needs, our intention is to communicate relief from spiritual burdens in Christ.
Everyone at LPC has an important role to play in faithfully communicating to those from far-off places the knowledge that they have been brought into the fold of God through Christ. The needed roles for our upcoming Conversation Cafés are numerous. Whatever your gifts there is a place for you to serve! We need greeters to smile and welcome our guests, servers to prepare coffee and snacks, childcare volunteers to play with kids, administrative help and individuals willing to converse with ESL students. There is something for everyone to contribute in this new adventure for our church. For this, I am excited. What a beautiful day when the spiritual sojourners of LPC are joined by the corporeal sojourners living in our community, worshipping the One True God alongside the longest and shortest tenured saints of our church, united by the Spirit to the glory of Christ.
 John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 340.
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