I once heard a funny story about a Sunday school teacher who asked her students to draw pictures that reflected stories in the Bible; after the children were done she looked through the pictures and drawings. Among the crayon-and-pencil-created images she received a curious submission that caught her attention: a picture of an airplane, floating in the sky above the ground. Little white puffs of clouds surrounded the plane and through the windows she saw a stick figure pilot and three passengers further back in the plane. At first, the teacher thought that the child was misbehaving and not paying attention to the assignment, but then the teacher decided to ask the child about the drawing.
“Where in the Bible is the airplane?” The teacher asked.
The child innocently pointed to the picture and said “there is Pontius the Pilot, and Jesus and his family are in flight to Egypt.”
From this funny little story about children and their perception of things we are reminded that Joseph, Mary and the Christ child entered Egypt as refugees.
A person might ask what does a child’s drawing have to do with June. The Coptic Church celebrates 1 June as the entry of the holy family into Egypt. For a long time Egypt was considered a safe heaven for Jews trying to escape turmoil and oppression in the Roman Empire. Alexandria had the largest concentration of Jews outside of Palestine. Jesus and his family knew what it meant to be foreigners in a strange land. They experienced compassion and love that is spoken about in the passages of the Old Testament, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them…love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt”.
Let us never forget that many countries such as America and Australia were built on the blood, sweat and experiences of immigrants. Now, in my time here in the United States I see a country in a struggle to address the issue of immigration. For some, it is nothing but a cynical attempt to gain favor of a new voting bloc, while other voices oppose any immigration reform and that exploits the cheap labor that comes from migratory workers, yet for others it is a chance to make right on the promise of freedom. A century-old quote by the English writer GK Chesterton says that “America is home for the homeless, making a new nation out of any old nation that comes along”. With all of the immigration reform coming along, is this still true? Are Americans ready to fulfill the promise of their country? Remember the story in Matthew 2 13-23 and ask yourself If Jesus and the Holy family were to come to any developed country today would Mary and Joseph be allowed to work? What would state officials make of their story as they applied for asylum? Would they be detained, deported or allowed to stay?
I applaud the recent discussion by Bishops of the United Methodist Church who are collectively advocating for humane and sensible immigration reform. I read of their visit to the United States-Mexico border and my chest swelled with pride to see faith on the front lines of a national debate, even for a moment. Just as these leaders lead, so should the World Methodist Council throughout the world.
I appeal to members of council, the leaders of its Member Churches and to the millions in our global Church Family to take the issues of refugees and asylum seekers seriously. Give them focus. Remember that we are all travelers on a journey and it is our duty as Christians to not mistreat those seeking a new opportunity, but instead to love them as we do ourselves.