“Is the Lord among us or not?” – Exodus 17:7
Well, is he? The Israelites had legitimate reasons to wonder, though we tend to think of them superficially as whiners in the desert. They had been led out of Egypt, yes, and were headed towards the promised land, but they began to question that. They were hungry, tired, and probably confused as to why it was taking so long. Imagine it, you see incredible signs from God in Egypt, get your family and a fraction of your possessions ready to go, eat a hurried meal with your family, ask your neighbors for all their wealth (which they give it to you), and make a rushed exit from the land that enslaved you. After all of the miraculous things God had done for them with the finale of walking through a sea on dry ground, I’d be expecting to look up and see the promised land. Instead they saw desert.
I don’t believe this is too far from the experience that refugees are having right now in the United States. Many have escaped a dangerous homeland through a series of impossible events, whether the money for a plane ticket inconceivably came into their possession, or borders were crossed under extremely dangerous circumstances, or governments did everything they could to keep people in the dangerous lands they were meant to be governing. By the very definition of refugee a common thread runs through their stories: every one of these human beings have been driven from their countries because their dignity as human beings was under threat by war, persecution, or natural disaster. And right now they arrive in the United States only to find harsh, inhospitable desert, marked by a government attempting to keep them away and a people divided against themselves.
I too would be asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
This past Sunday our pastor unfolded the story of Jacob and Esau’s reunion after years apart, where Esau embraced and kissed his brother even though Jacob had stolen his blessing and birthright from him. In that story, Jacob, overcome with relief and joy, tells Esau that “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Gen. 33:10) And the congregation was asked, What are you the face of?
We have an incredible opportunity right now as the church to choose what we are the face of. We can remain stoic, forgetting that from the beginning God called his people to be ones who cared for the stranger and foreigner, and become the face of the desert, perpetuating the question, “Is the Lord among us?” Or we can choose to welcome those downtrodden and least of these who find themselves suddenly in our midst, and find ways to support them as they seek opportunities to live out their dreams and God-given potential. We can be advocates for them and for each other, embodying Jesus in the many ways we love and forgive one another, keeping unity in the midst of a broken and hurting nation.
We have such a sweet opportunity to be the church right now, and can truly be the face of God to the world around us. We can be an oasis of hope, a place to find God in the midst of the desert. In order to do so, we must commit our love and our lives to each other, just as Jesus completely gave of himself so that the world might know the face of God and all that he represents. We now must re-present to the world the God who loves and cares for them, and commit to answering their question with our lives.
“Yes, the Lord is among us.”
Note: In order to do this we must act, not simply speak. I encourage you to find organizations in your local community that benefit and aid the refugee population in your city. In San Diego I have come into contact with both Refugee Tutoring and the IRC, and would recommend both of those organizations to you (They can be found in many cities across the country). Comment below and share the best resources for refugees and community involvement that you have found in your city.
Photo by Megan Burgess