by Gillian Rumney

Refugees are not people who wanted to leave their way of life. Many had good homes, schools, families, a vibrant culture, and freedom of faith—many already had “the good life.”

Through media coverage, Canadians have witnessed the struggle of Syrian families fleeing danger and desperation, and seeking refuge. The real story, however, is actually much larger than a 30-second news bite, or even a half-hour special report. 

The UNHCR (United Nations High Commission of Refugees) reports that by mid-2014, there were over three million Syrian refugees, a small part of the then 18.1 million refugees worldwide who were registered with the UNHCR. This number doesn’t include the tens of millions of refugees who are in transit or not yet registered, nor does it include refugees fleeing natural disasters. It is estimated that there are over 51 million refugees worldwide. 

Numbers like this are paralyzing for some people when it comes to thoughts of how to help, so for many Canadians, 51 million refugees remain a statistic. I have a different focus and see that these are individual people and not “problems” to be solved.

My lens on the situation zeroes in on: the children who long for their friends and the structure of school; the loved ones lost to violence; the fathers who had to abandon prosperous businesses and now worry about how they’ll support their families; the mothers who are trying to make a “home” for their children on the road; and the ever-present risk of violence or danger.

Refugees are not people who wanted to leave their way of life. Many had good homes, schools, families, a vibrant culture, and freedom of faith—many already had “the good life.”


One of the photos I’ve seen in the media is of a father whose infant son was knocked from his arms. He is on his knees and holding the child closely—surrounded by crowds of people and soldiers with guns.  


We don’t know if the child was injured or what happened next—we’re just left with an image of a distraught father. What we do know is that the most vulnerable of all refugees are children, including the most famous child refugee of all: Jesus. Matthew 2:13-15 (NASB) reads:

“Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.’ So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.’ ”

Jesus was an infant refugee. Joseph probably held Him in his arms, just like the father I described above, as they fled to Egypt. Finding it hard to picture Jesus as a refugee? All the criteria of a refugee are there:  

  • Life at risk and needing safety
  • Leaving everything behind as they fled “while it was still night” 
  • Crossing the border into a foreign country
  • Unable to safely return until the threat was gone.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how things went for Jesus and His family in Egypt. We know they settled there for some time. They must have met some resistance. Maybe they had trouble crossing the border, or perhaps they were chased from villages along the way or treated as outcasts … but they also must have met others who were willing to help them in some way.  

In Matthew 25:34b-40, Jesus says: 

“ ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ”

I wonder if Jesus was thinking of His early years as a refugee in Egypt when He said this. In Canada, we may think that our ability to help refugees is limited when, in fact, it is our thinking that is limited. When we think like Jesus, however, doesn’t one cup of cold water quench the thirst of one person in need, a person created and loved by God? 

As ERDO’s program officer, I know that churches in our Fellowship are giving cups of water and food to refugees. People with faces, names and stories of incredible suffering are being helped. I know this because assistance is being given through churches and trusted partners where the refugees are.  

It’s far easier to consider the 51 million refugees in the world as “not our problem” or to think that the need is too big. But when you focus your lens on the Word, the message in Matthew 25 is quite clear and simple: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

ERDO (Emergency Relief & Development Overseas) is the humanitarian agency of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ERDO is involved in four key areas: Crisis Response, Food Assistance, ChildCARE Plus (Child Sponsorship), and Community Development. Gillian Rumney is ERDO’s program officer and has served with ERDO for 25 years.

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