November 20, 2015
Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Matthew 25:44-45
The arrival of refugees from Vietnam over forty years ago awakened hospitality and compassion in Christian churches across our country. During that time, my parents, with others in their United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, sponsored a young family living in a refugee camp in another state. The Phams, Cam and Hue, and their daughter, Hien, came to a place knowing no one.
My mother and stepfather taught English, helped find jobs, networked with other sponsors and newly-arrived families from Vietnam, immersed themselves in the Vietnamese culture, and helped a young family understand a very different culture. They were there when the Phams became citizens of the United States. The Phams had several successful small businesses, raised three wonderful children, and continued to celebrate my mother as the matriarch of their family. They named their son after my stepfather. Not only do I celebrate the Phams and their success in this country, I celebrate my parents, and especially my stepfather. I always saw Keith as a good man, but his compassion and hospitality with the Pham family showed me that he was a great man.
The heated conversation about Syrian refugees, the governors of many states refusing refugee resettlement in their states, and the pervasive climate of fear reminded me of the family who escaped from Vietnam, came to our country, became model citizens, and raised three fabulous children. I am also reminded of my parents’ finest acts of compassion and hospitality that were grounded in their Christian faith.
Now is the time for the followers of Jesus to reclaim values of compassion and hospitality. Today many people have succumbed to fear and xenophobia. Not every Muslim is a terrorist. Many who flee Syria with their families are doing what many of us would do—loving their families and wanting them to be safe.
The resettlement of refugees is a complex and time-consuming process involving many nations and the resettlement program of the United Nations. The resettlement of persons in the United States is particularly thorough, despite the ongoing rhetoric. We are all deeply concerned about terrorism, but may we also be concerned about men, women, and children who have suffered from acts of terrorism in their own countries. They simply want a safe place to live in peace. I imagine that most of them would prefer to live in their homelands, but there is too much danger of terror for them and their families.
If there are opportunities to help resettle refugee families, I hope and pray many of our churches will participate. As I witnessed my parents look upon a young family forty years ago as some of God’s beloved children, may we also begin to see refugees who desire a safe place to call home as beloved children of God.
Bishop Michael McKee
North Texas Annual Conference