Last month I attended the Baptist World Alliance meeting in Vancouver, Canada. It was the yearly meeting of the Alliance. The BWA is made up of Baptist groups from around the world. This is one of the best international representations of the denomination. At the lunch table one can share lunch with a representative from Fiji, Bangladesh, England or Nigeria. It represents almost all the races of the earth, as well as an even divide between men and women. I participate in the yearly meetings as a member of the Commission on Baptist History and Heritage. Each term is 5 years long and this is my second term.
Among our European colleagues, two discussions dominated conversation: Brexit and the ever-increasing number of refugees. Everyone present from Europe wanted Britain to stay in the European Union. No matter how the discussion goes between the residents of London and the rest of the country, the more educated versus the less educated, or younger versus older people, the consistent refrain was that there has been a rebellion against the completely deaf leadership in Brussels. While all of that is true, the Brits who voted for Brexit felt that those who were benefiting from the EU no longer paid attention to people who worked blue collar jobs. They made laws without the majority of countries agreeing and, while those in technical jobs benefited greatly, people who were not in those jobs lost out.
If there is one entity that is truly international, it is the church. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to go into all the world and make disciples. That is why it is so great to be in meetings like the BWA. Yet in discussing international situations, one can see that the Lord Jesus Christ’s command to take care of the least of these is not always taking place.
If the least of these can be seen in anyone, that person is the refugee. Europe is struggling with refugees. Turkey and Greece receive financial support from the European Union to keep people in refugee camps until European countries invite them in. There are transitional countries such as Croatia and Austria, settling countries such as Sweden and Germany, and worrying countries like France. There are stories of people helping people just because another human being was in need but there are also stories of fear from people living in France and Sweden, who report that it is no longer safe to walk on their streets at night.
We are commanded to welcome the stranger, but the stories of welcome in the Old Testament do not have the same context as our stories today. I heard someone recently use the story of Naomi and Ruth, but the difference today is that the people usually do not say, “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” More often we hear, “I want to stay with my people and my traditions and my god.” We should recognize that we do not all have the same story across generations or cultures.
Our family greatly benefited from immigration. We stayed in a refugee camp from August 1965 until December 1966. When our family came here in the mid-sixties from the refugee camps of Italy, a group from an American church had to sponsor us. They had guarantee that they would provide a place for us to stay and help us to find jobs, so that we would not become dependent on the US government. The first job that my parents had in the United States was working in the housekeeping department of a hospital during the night shift. We wanted to become Americans as soon as possible and contribute to the well-being of this country. My father used his first paycheck to pay the bill from KLM Airlines, which brought us to the United States.