In his farewell address to the nation in 1989, President Ronald Reagan, borrowing a line from Jesus, described the United States as a “shining city on a hill” for those seeking freedom, a place “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace” whose “doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Over the course of centuries, the United States certainly has been a place of refuge for many fleeing persecution and “yearning to breathe free,” which is an honorable legacy. But when Jesus talked about a “city on a hill,” he was not referring to the United States of America, nor to any other nation-state. Jesus told His followers that they—those early disciples who would go on to form the earliest church—were the light of the world, which, like a city atop a hill, could not be hidden.” (see Matt. 5:14) “Let your light shine before others,” Jesus told them, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
Faced with a global refugee crisis unprecedented in recorded history, now is the moment for the church to shine, not to hide our light. Millions of displaced people, desperate for hope yet reviled and feared by many, will decide what they think of Jesus based on how His followers throughout the world respond to this crisis, whether with welcome, love, and advocacy, or with apathy, fear, and scapegoating. Across the nation and the world, local churches are seeing this moment of crisis as a chance to live out Jesus’ instructions, shining their light, so others may look to and glorify God.
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus told His followers, each of us—you. He continued: “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13–16)
Our ultimate hope is that the church would shine its light through the refugee crisis. As we access the same power that rose Jesus from the dead, we pray God’s people would rise up as never before to welcome strangers, each doing what God has called all of us to do:
To bind up the brokenhearted.
To love our neighbors.
To do justice.
To love mercy.
To pray without ceasing.
To practice hospitality, and to learn to receive the hospitality of others.
Maybe just to take a plate of cookies across the street, trusting that smile can overcome a language barrier.
To write a letter to a congressperson, or gently speak up at the workplace water cooler when someone repeats a false rumor about refugees.
Perhaps to forego a vacation to give sacrificially for those whose travels were involuntary.
To stand with our persecuted brothers and sisters, mourning with those who mourn, rejoicing with those who rejoice.
To proclaim the love of Christ in word and deed to those who don’t yet know Him.
Our prayer is that as the church lets her light shine and steps into the good works God has “prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10), the displaced of our world will praise our Father In heaven.
Adapted from Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir, available on Kindle for $1.59 throughout the month of July. For more about the book including a Bible reading plan and small group discussion guide, visit www.worldrelief.org/seekingrefuge