“For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

On any given Sunday, visitors to a random sampling of Eastern Synod congregations could worship in one of 11 different languages - English, Mandarin, German, Finnish, Swedish, Hungarian, Latvian, Danish, Lithuanian, Cantonese or Estonian. We are a people of rich ethnic diversity - an immigrant people who have come from many different places and contexts, but who are nonetheless united in believing and confessing that we are redeemed by God’s grace alone.

All of us, either in our own life experience, or that of recent generations, know what it is to leave one home for another. For some of us, this was a choice freely made. Others of us were forced to flee harsh and even life-threatening circumstances.

Many of us had that passage facilitated, to some extent, through the help of brothers and sisters in the global Lutheran community. In the post WWII years, literally millions of displaced Europeans were assisted through the efforts of Lutheran relief and immigration agencies. And then, once passage to a new homeland had been arranged, new immigrants were warmly received by pastors, congregations and church agencies who worked tirelessly to help facilitate the transition into a new culture.

This was vitally significant work that impacted the lives of countless people! Indeed, as I travel through our synod, there is hardly a week goes by when I don’t encounter someone who is eager to share the story of how they, or another family member, benefited directly from those efforts.

This same work continues today in a variety of contexts. Globally, our church provides assistance to hundreds of thousands of poor and displaced persons through our support of Canadian Lutheran World Relief and the inspired work of Lutheran World Service. We advocate on behalf of refugees through our support of various ecumenical coalitions such as Kairos Canada. And through the committed efforts of Canadian Lutheran World Relief and various local refugee support committees we are able to provide support and guidance to congregations who are wanting to provide direct sponsorships for persons coming to Canada as refugees.

In recent months, with the assistance of CLWR, we were delighted to hear that the Toronto Swedish congregation welcomed a refugee family from Iraq, and that Faith in Brantford has welcomed a family from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. And we could be doing so much more! There are presently more refugees in the world than at any other time in the post WW II era and we as Canadians, thought uniquely gifted and positioned to provide a place of safe refuge, have not done as much as we are able to. As citizens we need to pressure our government leaders to do more, but only if we as followers of Jesus are likewise willing to do more!

Is refugee sponsorship a ministry that your congregation can assist with?  In a description of the final judgment, Jesus speaks directly of the special responsibility we bear for those who are seeking refuge. “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Perhaps that was because of his experience as a child whose family was once forced to flee Herod’s murderous regime and travel to the strange and distant land of Egypt out of fear for their safety and security.

The next time you hear someone make a disparaging comment about refugees or immigrants, try to imagine the faces of that young child and his frightened parents. Think about the faces you see each week in your own congregation – and about the faces you see in your own family photo albums. That’s who we’re really talking about.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our own brothers and sisters – both figuratively and literally. May we welcome them anew in this time and place as we ourselves were welcomed in another.