By Loretta Fulton
“You were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”
“You were an alien in their land.”
Why does God insist on saying that?
Because God wants his people to remember that they were aliens once and to feel empathy toward the aliens among them. He wants his people to look at those who are different and say, “Here is somebody just like me” because they share a common experience.
That is a lesson from Deuteronomy that can’t be ignored, Mark Hamilton, an Abilene Christian University professor of Old Testament, said during a session at ACU’s Summit 2017, held Sept. 17-20.
Theme for Summit was “Ancient Scripture, Future Church,” based on reflections from Deuteronomy. If anyone is tempted to dismiss the Old Testament as “old,” Hamilton has a reminder–Christians are a community that inherited Deuteronomy, and other Old Testament writings, as part of their value system.
“We take these texts very seriously,” Hamilton said.
So, what does that mean for today’s Christians? Hamilton recalled that when he was a 12-year-old living in western Arkansas, Fort Chaffee became the home to 25,000 refugees from the Vietnam War, which ended April 30, 1975.
“We came face to face with the reality of immigration,” Hamilton said.
The church he and his family attended worshipped with the refugees in old World War II barracks at Fort Chaffee. As a 12-year-old faithful Christian, Hamilton said he felt an obligation to meet with the strangers, worshipping, singing, and sharing the gospel. He thought that’s the way it was supposed to be.
“And, I still think that’s just the way it’s supposed to be,” Hamilton said.
His belief jibes with the texts in Deuteronomy that he cited. The book is filled with examples of how God intends for his people to interact with the aliens among them. There is nothing vague or abstract about them, Hamilton noted.
“You don’t get to oppress people simply because you can, because they’re an outsider,” Hamilton said.
With so much migration today, churches most likely will have an opportunity to be a host to refugees or immigrants in their community. What, Hamilton asked, does it mean to be the host of migrants?
First, ask questions like, “What do you know about God?” rather than making statements like, “Let me tell you about God.” Both the migrant and the host can learn from that kind of interaction.
The good host isn’t controlling nor does he blame migrants for the problems in his own community or country.
There is challenge, Hamilton said, but also great opportunity with so much migration in the world today. Hamilton told of a friend in Austria who attended a church that was dwindling in numbers. The church prayed for new people, new workers in the life of the church. And, just like that, an influx of Nigerians filled the pews.
“God doesn’t know boundaries,” Hamilton said, “just possibilities.”