When Global Crisis Meets the Canadian Church: How will we respond?
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When Global Crisis Meets the Canadian Church: How will we respond?

By Craig Kraft

November 18, 2015

Two events took place in the past month which will have a profound and lasting impact on the Church in Canada.  On October 19, 2015 Canadians went to the polls and elected the Liberal Party as a majority government with 44 year old Justin Trudeau becoming our Prime Minister on November 4. The second major event rocked the entire world when terrorists struck the heart of France on the streets of Paris on November 13, 2015.

How these two events relate to each other and the extent to which they effect the Church in Canada is significantly tied to their relationship to immigration and the refugee situation in our nation.

Following the Arab Spring of 2011 there has been a slow and steady stream of Syrian refugees leaving Syria to escape the Syrian Civil War.  Syrians are leaving their home to escape the deadly violence and because the whole infrastructure of their nation has collapsed. By the end of August 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres said, “The Syria crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them.”[1] At that time there were more than 3 million refugees in neighboring countries and Europe.  By the summer of 2015, the numbers were over 4 million and the nations of Europe were calling on the world for help.

As one of his first official actions, Canada’s new Prime Minister declared that Canada will accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. Just nine days later, and while many Canadians were still wondering how to assimilate this large number of new refugees into our cities, the terrorist attacks occurred in Paris with the possibility that at least one terrorist may have claimed refugee status as a way of gaining entry into the EU.   Canadians and Americans are confused and afraid.  On the one hand we do not want to see the ongoing horrors that these families have had to face in their home nation, but on the other hand we are hesitant to bring so many Muslims into our countries at a time when there is so much uncertainty.    A November 18, 2015 Angus Reid Poll indicated that 54% of Canadians oppose the refugee resettlement plan.  “Among those opposed, the majority (53%) cite too-short timelines to ensure necessary security checks as the main reason for their disagreement while just under one-third(29%) don’t think Canada should be taking in any Syrian refugees at all.”[2]

Where does the Canadian church fit into this difficult international crisis? Whether we agree with the refugee resettlement decision or not, the fact remains that 25,000 Syrians are on their way and they will be here by the end of the year.  I believe that God is in control of this international crisis and that he is using it to accomplish His purpose; the Missio Dei (Mission of God).

A quick look at Biblical history demonstrates times when there were involuntary movements of peoples that seemed tragic at that time but resulted in great benefit to both the immigrant and the host nation.  The story of Joseph is such a case in point.  Sold as a slave, he rose to be the second highest man in all of Egypt.   At the conclusion of the Joseph Narrative, Joseph says, “As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.”   Gen 50:20.  Another example could be Saul’s persecution of the church in Acts 8.   The intense persecution of the early church caused a scattering over all of the Roman Empire.  In the next chapter Saul becomes a follower of Jesus Christ and then the following Acts narrative is of his missional work among the nations.   As Paul and his partners traveled, they encountered believers in various cities, both Jews and Gentiles.   Believers, fleeing persecution, had already scattered so that when he arrived, there were already small clusters of believers which he helped to form churches.  I believe that the vicious attacks on the church in the early years of Paul’s life prepared the soil for eventual harvests all over the known world, even back to Rome.  There are many other examples in scripture and throughout human history of how people have been moved or displaced only to discover later that God was using it for his divine missional purposes.

There are many historical instances where man has operated with bad intentions but God has used it for Good.  It has been argued in Scattered (Pantoja, Wan, and Tira, 2004) that a lot of the early migration of Filipinos away from home to find work was caused by poverty, corruption, and overpopulation.  This could be viewed as a negative situation which caused people to migrate by choice to try to improve their lives.  The result of the development of the Overseas Filipino Worker phenomenon has turned into a great blessing for the individual, their families, their home communities, the whole nation, and the global church.[3]

When we think of God as a loving and caring God, our human perspective is to think that he would never cause people to go through challenges and discomfort, but such a notion is not consistent with scripture.  Simply reflecting on these examples from Genesis and Acts we see that God allows bad things to happen as part of his ultimate plan of redemption.  

I believe that God is directing the immigration of Syrian refugees, who are seeking asylum across Europe and into any other nations that will open their door to help.   Many of these refugees will have no knowledge of Christ and many may have never met a Christian before.  I am sure that most of them will have a distorted perception of what “Christians” are.  However, this becomes a serendipitous opportunity for them to find refuge in places that may be considered “Christian” nations.  Many of these refugees will be served and have opportunities to be evangelized in their new places of refuge - which may have never happened if they had stayed in Syria. 

Syria is imploding through civil war and under the regime of ISIS but God is providing a way of escape for some of these people, I believe that it is an opportunity for the Canadian church to respond with love and hospitality.  The refugees will be blessed as they hear the gospel and experience the love of Christ, and they will have opportunities to share that love with family, friends and acquaintances back in Syria. 

So how should the Canadian Church respond?

I believe that now, more than ever, the church needs to be reminded of the central message of Jesus to love one another.  In Luke 10, Jesus sends out the 72 on their first short term mission trip.  They return and share their experiences and there is evidence of racial tension. In Luke 9:51ff we read of the Samaritans rejecting Jesus and his message.  But then in Luke 10:25-37 we have the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.   When confronted by the message in this story, we see that followers of Christ are to: see the needs of others, have compassion on them, go to people in need, bind their wounds and use our own resources to care for them.  We are to love one another. 

One of the greatest threats to the future of our faith is our lack of love for one another.   As our societies prosper and we become more affluent and independent, we tend to look toward others to do our “dirty work.”  I suspect that many who protested in favor of Canada taking in more Syrians, were not thinking about how they were personally going to roll up their sleeves.  Many just think that the government or the church can take care of it.  But Jesus called all of us to love one another and in the story he condemns the professional religious people (Levite and priest) for not loving and caring for the man in need.  This message must be preached in our churches and Christians need to see the needs of the world and the needs of the people on our doorsteps.  This is the beginning of our response.

There is ample Biblical basis and theology for immigration instructing us to love one another, accept the sojourners among us, treat them well, and accept them into our communities.  Leviticus and Numbers both speak to this in the law.[4]  Israel, as a nation of wanderers, was called by God to offer love and hospitality toward those who were migrants among them.  We have examples of Ruth, and Rahab.  They were welcomed and accepted into the community of faith.  God’s covenant with Abraham in Gen. 12 was to make him a blessing to the nations - all the nations of the world would be blessed through him. 

The New Testament, in 1 Peter 2 and Ephesians 2 remind us that we were all strangers and aliens.  We were all without a true home until God adopted us into his family, and his kingdom.   Galatians 3-4 build on this and instruct the church that they are citizens of another kingdom but we are to be a blessing to the nations here.  We have a theological mandate to love the strangers among us, to show compassion and to share the gospel with them.[5]

The Great Commission as it is expressed in Acts 1:8 focuses on Jerusalem and Judea (home nation and culture) Samaria (foreigners, strangers, outcasts, people unlike us) and to the ends of the earth.  God is making it easier for us when he brings the Samaritans and the ends of the earth to our doorsteps.  We are commanded to love them and bless them with the Gospel.

I believe that a whole theology of ministry among the Syrian refugees coming to our communities could be built on the Good Samaritan story.  We are called to see the needs around us and respond with compassion, regardless of the cost to us personally or corporately.  We are called to live and love like Jesus.

As the world continues in a state of upheaval, with migrants being thrust upon our doorsteps, it is our God given responsibility to love them, show hospitality to them and both share and live the gospel with them.  It may be natural for us to have fears and concerns about how we will pay the bill, how it is going to affect our lives, how it might change our communities, and whether it will threaten the way that we are accustom to living.   These are natural fears but followers of Christ are not to be governed by fear.

Jesus says, “Do not be anxious.”( Mt. 6:25-34) In essence, God is saying, “I take care of creation, I will take care of you.”  Micah 6:8 instructs us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”   According to Jesus, worrying is not an option.  We are not living for this kingdom but for the next. It is not our responsibility, or God’s desire, that we work to preserve the present system of our society but to allow it to grow and change and ultimately to reflect Christ.  One day, a great multitude from every nation will stand before the throne of God and worship him. (Rev. 7:9).  God’s ultimate plan involves all nations, we need to be thinking in terms of his goals and not our own.

A final thought about dealing with fear of migrant people.  The best way for us to overcome our fears is to learn about them.   We are usually afraid of what we do not know.  Therefore, much of our fear may be overcome by learning more about the Syrian people and their plight.  Learning about their customs, foods, and social dynamics.  Ethnographic research assists us to identify their cultural traits and worldview.  BUT none of this takes the place of conversations.  As we are able, we need to welcome, greet, and get to know the new people on the block.  We need to introduce ourselves and become friends.  Refugees have usually lost everything.  They need friends!  They need family! They need people who can help them learn language, cultural cues, and how our society works.  This is a great opportunity for Christians to step forward and show what it means to be a follower of Christ and to love these ones as Christ has loved us.  It is time to step up and pray for our new Prime Minister and prepare to welcome our new neighbors.



[1] “Refugees of the Syrian Civil War,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia , November 17, 2015, accessed November 17, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Refugees_of_the_Syrian_Civil_War&oldid=691100128.

[2] Angus Reid, “Syrian Refugee Resettlement: Tight Timelines Are Key Driver of Opposition to Ottawa’s New Year Plan,” Angus Reid Institute , n.d., accessed November 18, 2015, http://angusreid.org/refugee-resettlement/.

[3] Luis L Pantoja, Scattered: The Filipino Global Presence (Manila, Philippines: LifeChange Pub., 2004).

[4] Leviticus 19:33-34; Numbers 9:14.

[5] For a more complete presentation of this topic see: Craig C. Kraft, “From Paroikos to Parish: An Investigation of the Missiological Theme of Sojourners and Aliens in Scripture and Its Relationship to the Church,” Journal Of Asian Mission 16, no. 2 (October 2015): 33–49.

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