by Rev John Henderson
This coming Sunday, 27 August, Australian churches will observe Migrant and Refugee Sunday.
Most of us are the descendants of migrants, and so Migrant and Refugee Sunday gives us a good opportunity to thank God for the blessings given to our forebears, and to celebrate the many migrants and refugees who continue to enrich life in our country. I recently visited Bonegilla, in northern Victoria, where a large number of Lutherans arrived for the first time in this country. After the Second World War, 70% of the world’s refugees were from Europe, a fact we easily forget.
Of course, we know that not all of the story is good, or easy to admit. We recognise that migrants have not always respected the rights of the original inhabitants of the land, and the ongoing pain and anguish that causes. We recognise the prejudice and bigotry that has sometimes greeted more recent migrants upon their arrival. We also acknowledge the struggle that many Australians and our political leaders have in welcoming refugees.
Behind these attitudes can lurk the fear that migrants and refugees will take what we regard as ours. Those who come first can want to keep everything they find for themselves, rather than share it with those who come later. Christians know that is contrary to our faith, and so we want to do better, and to share God’s good gifts with those who need them.
The Coptic Christian community is quick to remind us that Jesus himself was a refugee when he arrived in Egypt after King Herod threatened to kill all the baby boys born in Bethlehem. God himself told Joseph to flee with the baby Jesus to a safer place (Matt 2:13–15).
When you hear someone putting down migrants and refugees, remember that people flee their homes primarily out of care and concern for their loved ones. Which of us would willingly stay in a hopeless or dangerous situation and put our own lives and the lives of our loved ones at risk? We do what we can to provide the best future for those we love. Love compels us to take them to safety.
Global statistics say that right now over 65 million people have been forced from their homes. Many others live under dangerous or threatening circumstances. Sometimes, because we are so far away, these figures can seem unreal, and we block them out of our minds to avoid the upset they cause us.
The situation of refugees would be much worse were it not for organisations like Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) and its international partners, and Lutheran Community Care here in Australia, which care for refugees and help those who come to Australia to adjust.
The recent issue of The Lutheran reported some good news about refugees. ALWS’s ‘Walk My Way’ fundraising walk raised over $130,000 to provide preschool education for over 5000 refugee children in Africa. A big thank you to all who supported and participated!
Lord, you know what it is like to be a refugee, to be resented and rejected. Our broken world needs your wisdom and compassion, and generous heart and hands. There is so much need and too little hope.
Prayers and thanksgiving
Lord our God, we pray for
- the success of efforts to bring peace and community to places where there is conflict;
- protection for people who have fled their homes to escape danger and despair;
- leaders who will set a good example in the way they talk about migrants and refugees, who will find positive ways to address security concerns, political concerns and humanitarian concerns, and treat migrants and refugees with dignity and fairness;
- a swift and satisfactory resolution of the situation of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru;
- new migrants and refugees struggling to put bad experiences behind them and struggling to adjust to life in their new countries;
- Lutheran ministry to migrants and refugees and the LCA’s new Committee for Cross-Cultural Ministry;
- open hearts, generous spirits and goodwill towards people in need.
We give thanks for and pray for
- people and organisations that work with migrants and refugees, who understand their vulnerability, anticipate their needs, and treat them with dignity and kindness;
- migrant communities here in Australia and elsewhere who take on so much of the work of helping new migrants and refugees feel at home.
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
24 August 2017