Europe is currently facing the largest migration of peoples since the Second World War. Many of those who are coming to Europe are displaced from Syria by the civil war there and the depredations of the Islamic State. However there are others from nations like Afghanistan and Eritrea that have been destabilized by Islamic militancy or the style of an African dictator.
Throughout the year the media has been filled with horrific stories of human suffering as overloaded boats of refugees capsize in Mediterranean waters and groups of migrants are turned back at European border crossings. In some places churches are actually praying that God will protect their nation from the threat of migrant Muslims. But a prayer against the perceived threat, misses the opportunity that the Lord is presenting to the church.
Oppressed are being set free from Political and Religious regimes under the most horrific of circumstances. Walking across international boundaries carrying what little they can salvage from their previous lives, they are being rejected by the peoples of the free lands to which they have arrived.
Yet in Liverpool, England, Iranians are coming to faith and rejecting the Islamic interpretation that has made their homeland a place of oppression. In Germany and Spain Christian communities are preparing to receive refugees into the towns where they worship and witness.
In Richmond, Virginia, families that came for university study have unwittingly become refugees because their home city of Mosul, Iraq has been overtaken by Islamic State. In Ankara, Turkey, refugees from Syria are being fed and offered other forms of practical assistance in an endeavor to build a new life.
At the same time with more than half the Syrian population displaced by Civil War, multitudes living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and across the Turkish border are wondering what the next stage of their suffering will involve.
Jesus once told a story to a group of people with whom he was eating supper:
“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-24)
I wonder if the European church is experiencing a banquet moment at present. There are three things that happen here. Firstly, there is an invitation; the invitation is rejected. Then there is a bringing in, and finally there is a compelling to come.
Across a post-Christian Europe that is increasingly secular, Christ’s invitation to come has been rejected. The gospel and the church are deemed irrelevant; their life and opportunity construed meaningless in a technological and scientific world where fundamental questions are deemed unanswerable. The establishment has abandoned the religiosity that made church attendance a socially acceptable activity in the last century, and the plurality of other faith expressions that have been absorbed with successive generations of migration to Europe, has watered down the appreciation of a Christian heritage.
And yet on the fringes of society the marginalized have found faith. While the church in Spain among the ethnic Spaniard has gone into serious decline, it has grown among the newly immigrant Latin-American community and among the outcast gypsies. In the German town of Hahne a traditional Lutheran congregation of only a handful opened its facilities to an international congregation of migrants from more than fifteen nations. Thirty representatives of the traditional society host more than a hundred of the newcomers. At the same time immigration from Africa and the Caribbean energizes congregations in France.
The encouragement from Jesus’ parable is to bring in the marginalized, and then somehow to pray that those beyond human reach be spiritually compelled to come in. Ministry to refugees, as with all Christian ministry is a calling to love. Love for neighbors; love for enemies; love in the Spirit of Jesus Christ’s love. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and practically provide the kind of assistance that makes a new livelihood possible. At the same time, and without condition, or compulsion, we can make the Good News of Jesus Christ understandable, believing that in the midst of tragic displacement, God still offers redemption through his Son and the banquet He has prepared for all.