Is the Refugee My Neighbor?

We all know the story. It's the one about the time Jesus used a parable to teach that the "love your neighbor as yourself" part of the law didn't just mean the neighbor next door or in the same zip code. It meant all your neighbors -- even your Samaritan ones. And the story he told in response to the question "Who is my neighbor?" ended in another question: "Which of these was neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?" And the answer, of course, was "The one who showed mercy" ... with the tagline "Go and do likewise."

And so when my parish -- All Saints Church in Pasadena -- was asked a few months ago if we would partner with the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service (IRIS) as part of the resettlement team for a family of Syrian Refugees it was an easy "yes." In the midst of a global migration crisis with the heart wrenching photos of families fleeing the carnage in Syria the answer to WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) was a no brainer: go and do likewise.

And so we said yes: never guessing that "our" family would arrive not only weeks ahead of schedule but also in the vortex of controversy following the brutal attacks in Beirut and Paris.

But arrive they did -- a family of four with two sons (5 and 3) and a baby on the way -- on Thursday, November 12. Our welcome team leapt into action and greeted this beautiful family as they arrived from Syria -- via a Jordanian refugee camp -- to a support system ready to equip them to get settled and connected toward the goal of self-sufficiency.

We are honored to be part of the new beginning of resettlement for this family -- these new neighbors -- here in Southern California. Living out God's values of love, justice and compassion is part of what it means to be a member of All Saints Church -- and the story of partnering in the resettlement of one Syrian Refugee family is just one of the ways we live out those values.

As my rector Ed Bacon said in his November 15th sermon: "We will not allow these terrorist acts to make us less human or compassionate because that is terrorism's goal: to turn us all into terrorists. Instead we will overcome the narrative of nihilism with respect for the dignity of every single human being. And we will gather to be reminded not to forget that we belong to each other."

Tarring over a billion Muslims with the same brush as the barbaric terrorists who have hijacked Islam to misuse as a weapon of mass destruction and victimizing the refugees who have fled from the very carnage we witnessed on the round-the-clock news reports does nothing to solve the challenges we face and everything to diminish us as a human family.

We all belong to each other. And making God's love tangible to this Syrian family gives us the gift of living out that truth in our broken world. And not just by one parish in Pasadena. I was heartened this morning by these words from the Episcopal Church's newly elected Presiding Bishop Michael Curry:

The Episcopal Church has been engaged in this ministry [with refugees] for more than 75 years. We will not let the nightmare this world often is keep us from carrying out the words of Jesus who told us to be a neighbor to those in need.

Refugees from places like Syria seek to escape the precise same ideological and religious extremism that gave birth to the attacks in Paris. They seek entry into our communities because their lives are imprisoned by daily fear for their existence. Just as Jesus bids us not to be afraid, we must, in turn, pass those words of comfort to those who turn to us for help.

All who turn to us for help. The Syrian refugee family on our shores and the homeless veteran in our streets; the woman struggling to overcome domestic abuse in her home and the teenagers struggling to survive gun violence in their neighborhoods. It is a false dichotomy to tell us we have to choose which neighbor is worth "going and doing likewise."

This is the Jesus Movement. This is making God's love tangible. This is the work of the church in the world. Because we all belong to each other.