It’s crazy that a little over two years ago, I studied abroad in Brisbane, Australia, with the Australia Studies Centre (ASC). One of my biggest highlights is actually a class my fellow classmates and I took called The View of Australia. In the class, we talked about Australia’s general perspective on different issues, and one that really caught my attention was Australia’s response to refugees. My eyes were opened to the reality that many countries (not just Australia) are afraid of welcoming refugees into their communities. Although this fear is understandable due to many terrible events that have occurred in the world, I wondered if it could also cause people to ignore refugees and the challenges they face.
The questions I had led me to do several research projects on the refugee issue after my time in Australia. In my research, I learned how catastrophic events (such as 9/11), the media, and government leaders powerfully impact how countries view refugees and subconsciously influence people to label refugees as “dangerous,” “terroristic,” and “threats.” However,the negative labels and images often associated with refugees blind people to the unjust and difficult circumstances refugees experience in camps, detention centers, and even host countries. I was challenged to see that if left unchecked, fear prevents society from seeing refugees as people who are running for their lives and seeking a sense of belonging in (often completely) new communities.
In the midst of studying how fear shapes the refugee issue, I also read how God responds to foreigners and sojourners in the Bible. Through this, I was reminded how much God loves foreigners and calls believers to exemplify His heart for foreigners by welcoming foreigners into their communities ( Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 10:18-19; Ps. 146:9). However, the most impactful verse I came across was Acts 17:26-27:
“From one man [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (NIV)
In a nutshell, this verse shows that God sets people in specific times and places with the hope that they will seek and know Him. When I read this verse and thought about it in regards to refugees, I realized believers have a choice to view the refugee issue as a missional opportunity. Although it is scary and overwhelming, God invites us to see how He is redeeming horrible circumstances by moving masses of people from different countries and bringing them to countries like Australia and the United States where (possibly for the first time) they can meet Christians and encounter the gospel. God desires believers to participate with Him in redeeming the refugee crisis by loving and serving refugees who don’t have any meaningful relationships with Christians. Within those interactions, there is a hope that refugees will be inspired to seek God, reach out to Him, and find Him.
Acts 17:26-27 challenged me so much that it led me to what I am pursuing today. Currently, I’m in the process of joining a ministry team by the end of the year in Phoenix, Arizona. The ministry is called GoTEN and they seek to make disciples among refugees by living in community with them, serving them, and sharing the gospel. As I look at where I’m now, I can definitely say my passion for refugees did not come in one moment, but instead it grew from different choices I made. Who knew my decision to study abroad would lead me to Australia, which led me to the ASC, which led me to learn about refugees, which led me to do some college papers on refugees, which finally led me to realize this was something I wanted to pursue after graduation? I sure didn’t! Two and a half years later, when I look back at what God has done in my life, I’m realizing He’s forming a pretty cool story, and it’s definitely far from over!