Our world is in a crisis! People are on the move and we are not quite sure of what to do with them. Walls are being built to keep them out of some nations and in our country the immigrants are a hot topic of conversation. We should have figured out what to do about refugee crises a long time ago because mass movements of displaced people is almost as old as civilization.
Each Passover the Hebrew people read this verse: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.” (Deuteronomy 25:6) And this describes the problem we see today as millions of Arameans, or Syrians, or on foot anxiously looking for a new homeland.
The verse the Hebrew people share with each other on Passover is about a man named Abraham (or Ibrahim ibn Azar in Islamic nations) who was himself a refugee. The stories of the Jewish and Arabic people tell how he and his family were fearful for their lives and were forced to leave Ur in the land of the Chaldees. Details of this exodus recorded in Genesis 11:31 are fuzzy, but by tradition two related stories emerge. The first details dreams of King Nimrod which led him to fear Abraham was a threat to his throne so he drove his family away from their home. A second story records Abraham suffered religious persecution as a monotheist in a polytheistic environment.
Three great religions claiming more than half of the world’s population have come from this wandering Aramean: Christians who make up 31.5% of the world population, Muslims who make up 23.2% of the world population, and Jews who make up 0.2@ of the world population. Of these three great religions this week two of them will remembering their refugee status. Muslims will remember the forced refugee status of both Abraham and his son Ishmael along with the refugee status of Muhammad this week during the Hajj. The Jewish people will actually go outside to dwell in crude shelters this week during the Feast of Tabernacles to remember their ancestors were refugees in the desert cared for by their God. (Jeremiah 2:2)
In America we have our own set of refugee heros: the Pilgrims. These forefathers of our nation left their homeland to escape persecution in 1620, and since that time our nation has become home to wave after wave of immigrants from around the world. The first Scotch Irish immigrants came before the Revolutionary War to escape high taxes and religious persecution. Greeks immigrated to escape Ottoman rule, In the nineteenth century half of the population of Ireland along with many Germans came to America because of civil unrest, severe unemployment or almost inconceivable hardships at home.
In the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth century descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people came to America. The first migration occurred as Jews were forced from their homes by the pogroms in Russia. This mass migration (similar in some ways to the current Syrian migration) first settled in western Europe only to be driven out by anti-semitic sentiment eventually finding their way to our land. The second wave of Jewish migration came against great odds at the height of World War II in order to escape concentration camps.
Immigrants are seldom welcome in their new land. They speak funny and have different customs. Sometimes (as with the Jews) their religion is different. But historically speaking immigration from other lands has been very good for the American nation and our economy. We are a melting pot of people and ideas. The ideas brought by immigrants such as Yul Brynner, Andrew Carnegie, Albert EInstein, Cary Grant, Art Linkletter, Bob Marley, John Muir, Rupert Murdoch, Helena Rubinstein, Igor Sikorsky, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wernher von Braun, and Elie Wiesel.
The problems which cause the current refugee crisis are in many ways similar to crises in the past. They are not caused by the masses of people but rather by their governments and rebel groups holed up within their land, persecution and the economy. The refugees are merely people put at a disadvantage because of circumstances who are smart enough to try to get out. Moses would say to his people, “”Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)