“85% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing nations.
27% are hosted in Europe (including Turkey). 26% are hosted in sub-Saharan Africa. 17% are hosted in Asia/Pacific. 11% are hosted in the Middle East and North Africa. 18% are hosted in the Americas.” *Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
How much is 18 percent? Is God satisfied with 18 percent of our attention, devotion, and obedience?
There is another very unlikely character in the Nativity story. Almost the first things we learn about Elisabeth, wife of Zechariah the priest, is that she is childless, barren and old. Surely this threatened to be her primary identity, self-imposed but also in the eyes of others. Yet this is not all that she is. Luke highlights that she descends from Aaron, thus carrying a “priestly” inheritance just as her husband. We also learn that she, like Zechariah, is righteous in the eyes of the Lord, “observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” She is not just an empty vessel to God, but is filled with goodness already.
Yet for all this she is still a surprising option to carry a divinely-appointed child, at least in the perspective of the world. Too old, too barren, not a viable candidate for pregnancy. But the joy she had thought denied to her now descends upon her in a miraculous way. The meeting of Mary and Elisabeth, both carrying children of promise in their wombs, is more than just an occasion for Elisabeth’s baby to start moving around a little more. Here are two of the seemingly least likely actors in the central story of humanity, greeting each other in an unmarked home in the hill country of Judea, far from any centre of political power, wealth or influence.
How many significant meetings, between divinely-significant people, are happening in refugee camps, along the refugee highway, in host countries in sub-Saharan Africa, forgotten European ports, in Asia/Pacific or the Middle East and North Africa?
Let us not be so enamoured with our sense of centrality and importance that we overlook God’s beloved people around the world, or miss out on what he is doing.
Read: Luke 1:5-25, 39-45
Get out a map and pray over the regions mentioned above.
Pray for 10 minutes, rationing your time according to the hosting percentages.
85% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. * Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
Do we in the developing world have a sense that our wealth, political systems, and technology are the answer to the world’s problems?
Might that sense be…wrong?
Might we need to repent for both our arrogance and our close-fisted and hard-hearted approach to those in distress?
We will get into the actual numbers and countries involved in hosting refugees in the days to come, but for now let us be confronted by this well-supported fact:
85% of the world’s refugees are being hosted by developing countries. Not by wealthy Western countries.
In a way, this should not surprise us. All throughout Scripture, and indeed history, God seems to use “unlikely” people and nations to bless the world. When the Angel Gabriel arrived to announce that the Messiah would be born into the world (surprising enough in itself), the choice of Mary to host the child in her womb was, from a worldly perspective, unlikely. She was socially, economically, politically, technologically, and ethnically vulnerable.
Presumably she knew all her disadvantages, all the reasons she should protest and say no. She does in fact as the obvious question of the Angel, but once assured that what we think is impossible is possible for God, she quickly joins her will to God’s: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
Mary’s “yes” changes the world. She is the very first person to “accept Jesus into her life”, in a very literal way, becoming for us a model for us. Her hospitality to the king of creation creates a way through which redemption and salvation personified enters the mud and blood of human existence. An unheralded, unknown, unlikely young woman opens herself up to be a host, and the entire world is blessed.
What if more people said yes? What if we considered the blessing before the cost? What if God wants to bless the world, not through all our wealth, but through our willingness?
Read: Luke 1:26-38
Lord, make us willing.
Bless those who have been willing, even at great cost, to host the world’s sojourners.
Lord, if our wealth stands in the way of our willingness, please remove it from our hands so that we would be ready to receive.
Which countries received the most claims for asylum in 2019?
“The USA (301,000), Peru (259,800), Germany (142,500), France (123,900), Spain (118,300), Brazil (82,500) Greece (74,900), Mexico (70,400), Costa Rica (59,200) and Canada (58,400).” *Source
If one were to believe some media reports and political rhetoric, North America is being overrun by asylum-seekers. The truth is that compared to the larger movement of people around the world, comparatively few people are making it to the West, and the USA and Canada are mostly shielded from the refugee crisis.
Volker Turk, in charge of refugee protection for the UN, has said that “Canada's recent spike in irregular migrants is nothing compared to the millions of refugees who pour every year into much poorer countries.” Remember this when you hear someone in the media, over social media, or even around the family Christmas table start talking about the “vast tides” of refugees coming into our country.
Also remember the Biblical mandate to provide hospitality. Hebrews 13:2 instructs the reader to "not neglect hospitality to the stranger, for some have even entertained angels without knowing it." It is possible he was thinking here of the story of Abraham welcoming angels-in-disguise on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.
I like to think of the multiple times Angels are “welcomed”, or at least encountered, in the Nativity story, from the announcement of John’s birth to Zechariah; to Gabriel hailing Mary with the pregnancy news; to the dual messages to Joseph about accepting Jesus and fleeing to Egypt; to the warning given to the Magi about Herod; to the angelic throng scaring the shepherds half to death. In each case the angels announced something that was difficult but good and required action from the human characters in the story.
We don’t need a full-blown angelic visitation to tell us to practice hospitality. We have already been called by divine command to welcome the stranger. It is not always easy to find the best way to do this, but it is good, and requires our action.
Read: Luke 1:5-20, 26-38, 2:8-14; Matthew 1:20-25, 2:12-13, 19-20. Hebrews 13:1-3.
Ask God for opportunities to give hospitality to the stranger.
Pray for our Open Homes Hamilton hosts, who are supporting refugee claimants with home-based hospitality.
Ask God to prepare your heart, your home, and your community to welcome people who are coming into your city and neighbourhood.
48% of the world's refugees are women and girls. *Source
Women and girls who are refugees face a particular kind of vulnerability and violence. Rape is used as a terror tactic around the world and throughout history. In refugee camps in Bangladesh they are seeing up to 60 children born a day, because “an estimated 90% of female Rohingya refugees were raped during the Burmese Military takeover of Rakhine State around nine months ago.” This is a Crime Against Humanity to which the world must respond. **Source
But it is important to emphasise that this is not the beginning or end of the story of refugee women and girls. It is too easy to simply highlight the dangers they are facing and to paint them solely as victims, or as problems to be sorted. Refugee women and girls are not “problems”. The Brave Global Campaign, an initiative to reach vulnerable girls around the world, affirms that “girls are the solution not the problem.”
The Nativity Story illustrates this in a unique and surprising way. Most of us tend to skip over, or at least race through, the genealogies that are scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. We don’t get them, the names are difficult to pronounce, and it seems difficult to extract any devotional meaning from them. We finally get to the New Testament, thrilled that these long incomprehensible lists are over and done with, but surprise! Matthew 1 kicks everything off with another recitation of begats and begots.
Pay attention though, because this genealogy is strange. It includes women, which was not normal. In fact, it includes five women, four of whom are named, four of whom were “foreign”, and all of whom were tainted with some kind of sexual scandal. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba, so scandalous they could not even write out the name) and Mary. All women included and essential to the story of Jesus, just as the women he interacts with during his life are included and essential. In certain histories of Israel these women would be highlighted as part of the problem to be fixed, but here they are part of the solution. The line from Abraham to David to Jesus does not happen without them. Women are front and central, Scripture is saying, in the Gospel story of Jesus.
We can help change the narrative around refugee women and girls from that of “victims” to that of “brave”, “strong,” “resilient”, “creative”, “wise” and “essential”. They are not the problem, they are the solution to the problem, so let’s learn to think and act that way.
Read: Matthew 1:1-17. Consider looking up the individual stories of the women in the genealogy as well.
Pray for the women and girls in your life, thanking God for them.
Pray for the Rohingya women in the camps.
Pray for the forcibly displaced Acholi and South Sudanese women I Live Again Uganda is ministering to, as they deal with Covid-related shutdowns, increasing the danger of gender-based violence at home.
And read here a story of refugee women in Kenya who are very clearly part of the solution.
Advent Day 12 – Children at Risk
“Refugee and migrant children are particularly vulnerable to violence….
It was estimated in 2016 that three quarters of children aged 14-17 years arriving in Italy through the Mediterranean route had been subject to exploitative practices, such as being held or forced to work against their will. Data showed that in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa, children represented over 60 percent of trafficking victims.” *
Refugee and internally displaced children are especially vulnerable to exploiters .
This situation, and the above statistics, should remind us of Psalm 10:
In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”
His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”
Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
When the children around Bethlehem were killed by Herod’s command, a wail went up in the land. It called to mind the cry of the parents whose children were lost during the siege of Jerusalem and subsequent exile in Jeremiah’s time. We too should lament the exploitation of children in the world today, and pledge to work for justice and safety.
Read: Jeremiah 31:1-17; Matthew 2:16-23
Pray: Join Jeremiah and Rachel in mourning the experience of exploited children in our world. Add your tears to theirs.
* “Faith Action for Children on the Move,” Global Partners Forum, General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Oct 2018.
“Unaccompanied/separated children on the move are on the rise: 300,000 applied for asylum in 2015-2016, an increase from 66,000 children recorded in 2010-2011.” *
Be silent for a moment and consider:
One of the biggest fears parents have is lost children.
Imagine children having to face the trials of a refugee on their own.
Imagine children being forcibly separated from their parents as a result of war, terror, or government policy.
As difficult as it is for adults to face the uncertainty, threat and danger of life as a refugee, for children it can be much worse. Hundreds of thousands of children around the world have been separated from their families and are applying for asylum on their own. As a parent I can hardly imagine anything more troubling to my spirit than my children walking through these difficulties on their own.
There are numerous Biblical stories which detail the plight of vulnerable children. One thinks of the story of Moses, born under a death penalty, placed in a basket and set adrift alone along a river in with the impossible hope of rescue and deliverance. And then there is the tableau of Hagar and Ishmael, which is surely one of the most desperate scenarios in Scripture. Hagar is cruelly sent out into the desert with her son, Abraham’s first boy Ishmael, because their existence threatens the inheritance of Sarah’s son, Isaac. They are given minimal resources, and when these are exhausted Hagar leaves the child under some bushes and goes far enough away so she doesn’t have to watch him die.
It is not difficult to imagine parents around the world wondering, like Moses’ mother, about the safety of their refugee children, or hoping, like Hagar, that at least they won’t have to watch their children die. And there are many more children who have been made refugees because their families succumbed to violence. They are truly alone.
The story of Hagar and Ishmael does not end in despair. God hears the cry of the child and provides water for him and his mother. God is with Ishmael as he grows, and he becomes the father of a great nation. God hears, God sees, God provides, and God accompanies. Today we can be part of the answer to many prayers if we too hear the cries, see the unaccompanied children in need, and help provide. See this website more info on how you can help.
Read: Genesis 21:8-21
Pray: Pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to be moved for the unaccompanied refugee children in our world today.
* “Faith Action for Children on the Move,” Global Partners Forum, General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Oct 2018
“As of 2017, 30 million children lived outside their country of birth. By the end of 2015, there were 17 million internally displaced children (most because of violence and conflict).” *
Be silent for a moment and consider:
Were there times during your childhood when you faced serious uncertainty and the lack of security?
How did it feel? Did that experience have a lasting impact on you?
Herod’s ordering of the death of male children around Bethlehem is historically called “The Massacre of the Innocents,” and it has its own special day of commemoration in the Christian calendar (Dec 28). There are no secular accounts of this massacre however, likely because the number of murdered children would have been quite small. The population of Bethlehem at the time was probably around 300 people, and the number of male children two years old or younger might have been anywhere from 6 to 20. **
This does not mean it was not a massacre. The death of 6 to 20 children – the violent death of even one child – should cause us to lament. (Recall the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2014.) So should the numbers of refugee and internally displaced children in our world today. Children bear the brunt of violence, economic scarcity, and political and social decisions over which they have no understanding or control.
Read: Matthew 2:1-18
Do a prayer walk for your local schools and child care centres.
Pray for protection, safety, and thriving for the children who attend.
Pray as well for the refugee and internally displaced children around the world.
Pray that they might be cared for and protected and treasured.
*“Faith Action for Children on the Move,” Global Partners Forum, General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Oct 2018.
50% of the world's refugees are under 18 years old. *Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
How do you think the refugee experience might be different for a child than for an adult?
The picture of the two-year-old boy lying drowned on a beach in September of 2015 galvanised the world for a moment. Abdullah and Rehanna Kurdi, along with their children Ghalib and Alan, had traveled from Syria to Turkey, and were now trusting smugglers to get them across the Mediterranean Sea in a flimsy dinghy, the only form of transport they could afford. They were ultimately trying to get to Vancouver, BC, to a life that was safe and hopeful.
The family’s application for sponsorship had been officially denied, so this was seen as the only possible way out. The dinghy was overloaded to twice its capacity and capsized five minutes off the coast of Turkey. Rehanna, Ghalib and Alan all drowned.
Alan was certainly not the first refugee child to die on the journey, not even the only one to die that day. But the heart-rending photo of his little body sparked something in our collective conscience. “This is happening? In this day and age? To children?” Yes, and has been happening for a long time, and continues to happen.
We should remember that in the Nativity story, Mary is most likely of the age that we would consider a child, and Jesus was obviously an infant. And almost all the other children mentioned in the Biblical narrative die. This is not just a sentimental story best suited for eggnog and warm family moments around the fireplace. This is a story that resonates with the fear and vulnerability that the refugee children of our world face every day.
As we remember the name of Jesus at this Advent time, let us also remember the names of Ghalib and Alan Kurdi, and let us call to mind the millions of other children who make up more than half of all the refugees in our world.
Read: Luke 1:39-43.
Also consider reading The Boy on the Beach, a personal account of the tragedy by Alan and Ghalib’s aunt, Tima Kurdi. A foundation for helping other refugee children in their name can be found here.
Pray: Pray for the protection and safety of the children in your family, the children in your community and neighbourhood, and the children who right now are on the move around the world.
Pray for our international partners, the African Hope Learning Centre, and Beirut Nazarene Church, as they seek to help African refugee children who've fled to Cairo and Syrian refugee children who've fled to Beirut.
There were 10 million “stateless persons” in the world as of 2017. “Stateless persons are not considered as nationals by any State under the operation of its law. In other words, they do not possess the nationality of any State. Many refugees are at risk of becoming stateless.” *Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
What would it be like to have no state? To be under no state’s protection? To have no official “nationality”?
The Bible makes such a big, and consistent, emphasis on widows, orphans and sojourners because they were in a particularly vulnerable position. They were fatherless, without protection, without the rights and privileges of someone who was part of the nation. If they were abused or taken advantage of, who would know? Who would care? Who would defend?
The Bible answers: God knows. God cares. God will defend. And what’s more, God requires his people to know, to care, to defend.
The story of Ruth is a literary masterpiece telling the surprising story of a foreign woman without protection. The narrator repeats multiple times that she is a Moabitess, not an official part of the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy 23:3 instructs: “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation,” so Ruth is officially unwelcome in Israel. But she also gave up her claim to Moab when she told Naomi: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.”
Woven throughout this story is how dangerous this situation is for Ruth, economically, socially, and physically. Naomi warns her to be careful, and Boaz specifically instructs his fieldworkers to help her and not to abuse her. Near the end of the story she is rejected by a man who should have offered her protection, leaving her once again exposed to danger and ruin. But this is not the end of the story. Boaz is faithful, and he sees the goodness, kindness and nobility of Ruth. He receives her not as a burden but as a blessing. She is faithful to Israel’s covenant, even when the Israelites were not, and through the marriage to Boaz she is brought into the full covenant blessing of the nation.
The closing sentences of the story tells us that Ruth, the Moabitess, is part of the line of King David, which also means she is a direct ancestor of Jesus. The Nativity of Jesus is incomplete without the inclusion of Ruth, a “stateless” woman.
Pray: Ask God to help you see stateless people – and all displaced and vulnerable people – not as burdens but as blessings. Pray that your nation would see the same thing.
“[Worldwide] 3.1 million people had a pending claim for asylum at the end of 2017. 1.9 million new claims for asylum were lodged in 2017. A refugee claimant is an individual seeking international protection and whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined.” *Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
Have you ever been in a position where your safety, even your permission to be in a place, is in the hands of someone else? Where they can decide to accept or reject your claim to stay? Where they might not believe that you are in danger? How do you think that would feel? What would you want to say to a person in that situation?
When Mary responded to the angel’s shocking news with the words: “Let it be to me according to your word,” she entered a world of trouble.
The scandal of her unmarried pregnancy threatened both her and the new life inside her womb, and her safety is largely in the hands of Joseph, to whom she was pledged. Joseph, known as a righteous man, has a serious decision to make, with seemingly no good options. He comes up with the best plan he can think of – a quiet divorce - to protect both Mary and his dignity. And though this is a compassionate decision, it is not God’s plan. An angel appears in a dream and tells him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20)
Refugee claimants, likewise, must entrust their safety and future to someone else. It is certain that many of them long for angelic intervention to help convince the authorities to believe their story, to see the danger they are in, to let them stay.
Read: Matthew 1:18-25
Prayer: Pray for discernment to hear what the Lord wants for refugee claimants coming to your country. Then find out which, if any, organisations in your area are helping asylum-seekers (contact www.iafr.ca if you need assistance). Contact them to ask what you can do to help while refugee claimants are awaiting the decision in their case.
Our vision is to help people survive and recover from forced displacement. We do this together with the church, both globally, and locally in Canada.