“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those … who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:1-3, NIV).
For those of us who grew up during the Vietnam War, the recent events in Afghanistan may seem eerily familiar. Unfortunately, news reports showing vast throngs of men, women, and children fearfully and desperately begging to be rescued from imminent disaster at the hands of a cruel and corrupt regime are nothing new. For far too many, their worst fears were realized on August 26 when as at least 13 Americans and more than 170 Afghans lost their lives as victims of a terrorist attack committed by a suicide bomber outside the Kabul airport.
For those of us who were living in Iowa during the Vietnam War, there is another equally powerful image that may come to mind as well. As throngs of Vietnamese in and around Saigon sought refuge from the clear and present danger of Communist oppression, there was a man watching these tragic events unfold live from the governor’s mansion in Des Moines. What he saw that day motivated Governor Robert Ray to initiate an extraordinarily courageous and compassionate effort to help thousands of Vietnam War refugees relocate to the state of Iowa.
Many Iowans did not agree with Governor Ray’s decision to bring Vietnamese refugees to Iowa. Some worried the refugees would take away their jobs, and others were afraid that there might be clandestine Communists in their midst. Despite the political risk, Governor Ray continued to move forward with the relocation project. “I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, ‘Let those people die’, Ray stated. “We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation … do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.'”
A devout Christian and long-time member of the Disciples of Christ, Ray had to persevere in the midst of opposition from many leaders in his own church who were less than eager to involve themselves in aiding the refugees. He addressed the issue head-on at a national convention in St. Louis, where he invoked Missouri’s motto as the “Show Me State”: “Don’t tell me of your concerns for these people when you have a chance to save their lives. Show me,” Ray said. “Don’t tell me how Christian you are. Show me.”
It is important to note that throughout the Scriptures, all the way from Genesis to Revelation, one of the clearest and most consistent standards used to measure the level of genuine holiness and fidelity among God’s people was the degree to which they were actively engaged in caring for the foreigners, strangers and refugees in their midst. For a short list of the “top 40” Bible verses that affirm this fact, click here.
All of this begs the question: “How can we as an extended family of Friends show that we genuinely care about the plight of Afghan refugees at this critical moment in history?”
We can begin by listening to their stories and learning more about what they need the most at this point in time. To the best of our knowledge, we don’t have any Evangelical Friends churches or church leaders in Afghanistan at this time, so we don’t have any firsthand stories to share from a uniquely Friends perspective. However, there are many others from the wider Christian community who do have personal connections with our brothers and sisters in this part of the world:
- Jennie Allen, Christian author and founder of the IF Gathering,recently interviewed a couple of key leaders who are among those who are most familiar with the church in Afghanistan, a church that has been growing rapidly in the midst of severe persecution. Their firsthand accounts are followed with practical suggestions on how to provide timely assistance through prayer and financial support. You can watch the interview here.
- World Relief, the humanitarian assistance arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, is actively engaged in a comprehensive response to the crisis in Afghanistan. You can learn more about how to partner with them here.
- The Evangelical Immigration Table isa national movement of Christians committed to learning more about what the Bible says about “welcoming the stranger,” and living out these biblical principles in our churches, our communities and our nation. You can learn more here.
- Voice of the Martyrs provides resources on their website that highlight specific ways to pray for the nation of Afghanistan.
- Crosswalk.com recently published a helpful article on their website entitled, “7 Ways to Show Support for Christians in Afghanistan.”
While we can anticipate that all of the major news outlets around the world will soon forget about the plight of our Afghan friends and neighbors, God’s people cannot afford to do so. At some point in the near future, in fact, it is likely that many of our local churches and communities throughout Mid America will have an opportunity to offer the life-giving ministry of hospitality for an increasing number of Afghan refugees who are in desperate need of Christ-like care and compassion. May the Lord help us all to be ready and willing to rise to the occasion.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in … truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Jesus, Matthew 25:35, 40).
– David O. Williams, Lead Superintendent