Confession: I spent a few weeks avoiding dropping off gifts for three families I love. The members of our small church each sponsored various family members from three Afghan families we have come to know and love. The gifts collected in a corner of my bedroom while guilt collected in the corners of my heart.
When our displaced friends first arrived about a year or so ago, it was easier to prioritize setting aside longer periods of time to visit with them or serve them. The urgency was felt on all sides as news reports continually reminded me of the trying circumstances that led them to flee. Their needs were obvious: They needed food; they needed apartments; they needed beds; they needed shots; they needed to get into schools.
A year later, the news has largely moved on. Our families are more settled. They know bus routes and have licenses. They have rugs on their floor. Their children are in school and learning the language well. But they are still displaced.
Temporarily housed in a tent.
Housed but still not home.
I haven’t moved, but your courage moves me.
Now that their physical needs are largely met, it is actually harder for me to see them still experiencing homesickness and the lingering effects of having left everything they knew. Their needs are more relational. They need time. And, as I am realizing, my heart is quicker to buy clothes than to sit for conversation. It costs emotional energy to listen to their stories of trauma which are often redundant because healing requires repetition. To love their kids often means time away from my own. Thus, my avoidance during this busy holiday season.
Delivering gifts to two families and attending the zoo with another in the past few days, I am freshly reminded of God’s command to his people in Deuteronomy 10. Before Moses reminds his people of a list of significant commands (the imperative), he spends time reminding them of the very nature of their God and all he has done on their behalf (the indicative).
“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day…He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10: 14-15 & 18).
While I have read these verses many times, the Spirit made the word love stand out in technicolor this time. God does not call us to merely serve the sojourner. Rather, he invites us to love the stranger. The service flows from the love. The offering of clothes and food is a natural outpouring when we love people. But love goes beyond the offering of such things. Love offers the self.
The only way I will ever do this in a sustained way is by remembering God’s love for me when I was displaced – without hope and without God in this world (Eph. 2:12-13). God set his love on me and attached himself to my cause not on the basis of any merit in me. He did not do that for a moment and then move on. He continually sets his love on me and attaches himself to my cause. And he asks me to model my love for others on his love for me.
His love for me is costly. It is patient. It is time-consuming. It enters into my messes. It perseveres. It does not simply leave a provision at the doorstep and proceed to peace out. It offers presence. It keeps showing up.
I have so much to learn from my displaced friends. They remind that me that my ultimate home is not a place, but a person: the person of Jesus Christ.
Lord, help me to love those who are displaced in my life the way you have loved me. In a year in which 103 million people have been displaced by war, persecution, climate crises, and other unthinkable realities, may you attach each individual to one of your people as you attached your love to us. May your body live out the love that we have received in sacrificial ways. May those we love connect acts of mercy and justice to the God of all mercy and justice. May they find their permanent place in you. Amen.