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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.” 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
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.”
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.
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 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.
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. 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.
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
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
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
“Refugees of the Syrian Civil
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia
, November 17, 2015, accessed
November 17, 2015,
Angus Reid, “Syrian Refugee
Resettlement: Tight Timelines Are Key Driver of Opposition to Ottawa’s New Year
Angus Reid Institute
, n.d., accessed November 18, 2015,
 Luis L Pantoja,
The Filipino Global Presence
(Manila, Philippines: LifeChange Pub., 2004).
Leviticus 19:33-34; Numbers 9:14.
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.