The Refugees Who Live Next Door

One of the most ravishing and incredibly beautiful attributes of the Christian God is hospitality. As a matter of fact, Jesus created the cosmos so he could show hospitality to the whole human race, and all of the other creatures that now roam our globe. Over the millennia of time God has repeatedly revealed his heart of embrace and welcome for those who are most vulnerable: the widow, the orphan and the “alien within our gates.” Part of the moral law for the Israelites back around 1400 BCE was that they were to care for the strangers amongst them. During the days when Israel had a homeland they had a tradition that any stranger who showed up in a village, town, or city had only to sit in the town square and members of the community would come and find them and welcome them into their home for an evening meal and shelter.  When Jesus came, he embodied this spirit of hospitality. However, Jesus did not wait for the stranger to come within his gates. Jesus relentlessly pursued strangers so that he could heal them, deliver them from oppression, feed them, chat with them, invite them to become a part of his homeland/kingdom and show love to them.  Later, first century Christian writers encouraged followers of the Way to not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this means, some had in the past entertained angels without knowing it.

Throughout the years there were prophets – spokespersons for God who came to God’s people in some of their darkest hours and explained why the times were dark, and what they could do for the light of the knowledge of the glory of God to shine upon them again -it was often related to this theme of hospitality. Here are some of their words, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58).  Wow –quite the passage.

In spiritual terms, the nation of Canada is in a rather dark time right now. I know I don’t need to remind you of that – especially not if you are in your late 40’s or early 50’s and your children grew up in the church. Because 60% of the kids who grew up in our churches have left (see the Hemorrhaging Faith document, 2012), and the strange thing is that this is happening while worldwide belief in God per capita is on the rise to 72.4% in 2015.  On May 17, 2015 the CBC reported about an online survey on religion released in March by the Angus Reid Institute. It stated that the percentage of God-denying Canadians has doubled from 6% in the 70’s to 13% now. And, about one in four Canadians say, “they are inclined to reject religion.” MacLeans magazine in March 2015 compared Canadian born individuals aged 18-34 with immigrants of the same age based on how many would be present in a religious service on a weekly basis: Canadians- 20%, Immigrants to this country: 50%. To confirm this statistic Reginald Bibby (foremost sociologist on religion in Canada), says the statistics for 2015 are that 10% of Canadians self-identify as Evangelicals but that over 24% of Evangelical affiliate churches in Canada are now immigrant churches.

So, why this strange statistic? Why are people who are born in Canada and growing up in our churches turning away from formalized Christianity literally by the droves?Well, perhaps it is related to the fact that they are up close and personal witnesses to at least three things : a. the written record of Jesus’ response to the needy and his commands to his followers to love neighbors as themselves, b. the needs of the cities in which they live and, c. the response of Christians within their churches to social crisis in their cities.

Here are some other statistics and news reports I recently encountered.  CBC and CTV News both reported in April that Child and Family Services was increasingly using hotels to house vulnerable children – children for whom it is unsafe to return home. The incident that brought this practice to media attention was the death of a 15 year old girl who was beaten to death while in this type of care situation in Winnipeg.  The technical definition of a refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. Right now in the nation of Canada we have children who have been forced to leave their home to escape persecution, and they are being housed in hotels because the general public is slow to open their homes to them.

I spoke with a local, long-term social worker with Dilico Anishinabek Family Care this past week and she let me know that we have a very similar situation here in Thunder Bay. Social workers, here, have also routinely been using hotels to house children who are refugees from dangerous situations because they have no other alternatives.  The following figures might help to put the situation in our own city in perspective. The Aboriginal Multi Media Society of Canada reported in 2015 that 54% of Aboriginal children in Canada are in the care of government agencies. Of those not in care, 41% are in single parent homes. As of 2011, 8% of the population of Thunder Bay was Urban Aboriginal peoples. This density of population per capita is only topped by Winnipeg and Regina with 9%. However, of interest is that statistics Canada is projecting that by 2030 Urban Aboriginals will represent 15% of Thunder Bay’s population. The city is already at crisis level for finding places to house children who are refugees from violence, neglect and abuse.

My recent chats with local social workers has revealed that in fact we have a grave shortfall of housing for children between the ages of 14 and 16 in this city – particularly female children who are pregnant (sometimes due to violence against them) and have a history of substance abuse. They may not be able to return home, because it is unsafe, sometimes due to the presence of their perpetrator in the family home or family system.

So, as these ideas have been rumbling around in my head, I’ve been asking these questions of myself. Why are our children deserting the church? Why is God’s light not breaking forth like the dawn in our nation – except among immigrants?

As my heart and mind muse over these things I cannot help but note the great reversal of God’s moral law within the Canadian Christian church: rather than Canadian followers of Jesus being a great refuge and help to the strangers and aliens within our gates, it is they who are restoring the glory of God to our nation.

Oh wretched nation that we are, who can deliver us from the body of this death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord.