Sometimes the hardest part of reaching out to refugees and strangers is just overcoming the initial inertia. It takes building new habits and new relationships. It takes setting aside time to spend with people when your schedule is already jammed full of meaningful and rewarding things. There can be significant real-world friction to reaching out to the refugees in our cities and neighborhoods.
But we can also hide behind that inertia when the real issue is fear.
Starting almost any new friendship can feel uncomfortable. We worry about looking silly or saying something insensitive. We dread awkward silences and misunderstandings. And when you add navigating language and culture barriers, reaching out to our refugee neighbors can be intimidating.
There is a human instinct to distrust people who are different from us. We probably agree that we should fight against this xenophobic instinct. But this instinct can slip into our reasoning, making reaching out seem more intimidating that it really is, lulling us into waiting a little longer and a little longer before starting a conversation with a refugee neighbor or contacting your local refugee resettlement office.
I remember the first summer when my church invited refugee kids to join the church kids at summer camp. Coaxing the two groups of teenagers to talk to each other was painful. For much of that week, kids played games, ate meals, and listened to the messages with clusters of their friends—usually the kids who looked and talked like them. As a counselor, it was easier to get those kids to jump into the swamp behind the gym than to get them to start conversations with youth from another group.
But a few bold kids—some from Africa, some from Iraq, some from Illinois—found the common bond of soccer. They started hanging out in games and joking over lunch tables. And we’re still seeing kids from that group coming to church or tutoring club years later.
If we are all made in the image of our wise and loving God, we don’t need to fear people just because they are different from us. And if we have a sovereign God who already sees clothed in the righteousness of His perfect Son, we don’t need to fear what people will think of us.
Stepping out and actually starting a conversation can be the scariest part. But God doesn’t call us to just do what’s comfortable.
Here’s what David Platt had to say about reaching out to refugees: “Now, are there risks in proclaiming the gospel to refugees? Sure there are. But where have we gotten the idea that Christianity is devoid of risk? Security in this world should not be prioritized over proclamation of God’s Word. As followers of Christ, self is no longer our god. Safety is no longer our ultimate concern. So let’s show this with our lives. Let’s go and preach the gospel urgently, knowing others’ lives depend on it, and gladly giving our own lives toward that end.”