Last September, when photographs appeared showing three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach, the crises of Syrian refugees demanded attention. Two days later, pastor Greg Johnson of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis wrote an opinion piece proposing that the government send 60,000 Syrian refugees to St. Louis. ByFaith asked him about the idea.
What made you want to publish the essay?
I had been following the situation in Syria for several years. When the refugee crisis hit Europe, we saw the lengths people were willing to go to escape the violence.
At the same time, I had been involved in seeking revitalization in St. Louis City. St. Louis has a lot going for it. Since the 1990s, St. Louis has had a population of perhaps 60,000 Bosnians, most of them Muslim. That community has thrived here.
How was your article received?
The article was posted around noon Friday. BuzzFeed picked it up the next day, and then The Guardian, then a Turkish newspaper. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) organized a march in St. Louis and asked me to speak and to open the march in prayer.
Why is it important that Christians care about refugees?
Our Father instructs us repeatedly to look after the alien and stranger, because we too were aliens and strangers in Egypt (Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:33-34). Migrants and refugees are close to the heart of God.
These refugees are not our enemies. But even if they were, the word of Christ to Christians in America is clear. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him” (Romans 12:20).
Our Father instructs us repeatedly to look after the alien and stranger, because we too were aliens and strangers.
When you know what it’s like to be lost and then found, it shapes you. When the Gospel reaches your heart, your heart breaks for refugees.
How do you respond to the concern some have voiced that terrorists might be posing as refugees?
The Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and FBI together spend 18 months interviewing and doing background checks on a single refugee. The recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have done a lot to heighten our fears, and I worry that refugees make for an easy target. Where evil men may plot violence, though, God is our defender. He calls us to love. Our protection is His responsibility.
We’re in the midst of the largest refugee crisis since the 1940s. While many of our friends may want to circle the wagons in fear, we have the Gospel. On the cross, God gave up privilege in order to rescue His enemies. When you build your life on that platform, it changes you.
What can the church do to keep this issue from fading from the public eye?
We need to keep interceding for refugees — before God and Caesar. Churches can teach a biblical theology of migration and the responsibility we shoulder to care for the alien and stranger.
If your community has a resettlement agency, ask how your church can help locally. The National Association of Evangelicals has a website that can get you and your church started.
For more information visit wewelcomerefugees.com