Refugees and Sanctuary
Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”. At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step. It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.
It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper. In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam. We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans. Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food. We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal. These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck. I can still hear the clown of the group: “Thank you Lord for this food, this colorful rainbow of blessings, we are about to eat.”
In the 1990’s I was the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA and we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China. Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there. These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes. Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees. It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring and this time faith gave me strength to help disband it.
The Beatitudes for me speak of sanctuary in that they provide hope and clarity in understanding what life throws at us. My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary. I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life. Because of that, Jesus came and lived and died – all to provide me and you a sanctuary. There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it. “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.” Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.