My neighbor, the refugee

by Fred Wilgenburg
Director & Pastor,
New Roots Ministry

“In late November of 1847, the steamship Phoenix went down into the icy waters of Lake Michigan, just off the shore from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. A host of passengers died – probably over 200. No one knows for sure because ship owners didn’t care – after all, they were just immigrants, nothing more.
Just a bunch of Dutch immigrants.”

…As recorded by James Schaap,
author and emeritus professor of English
at Dordt College, in a Facebook post.

I opened with the previous paragraph because many of you readers
are of Dutch heritage, as I am. As well, our world presently has a refugee crisis, and our country – the United States – has often been a new home to immigrants, including refugees, though right now the Executive branch of the government is seeking to pause and to “get a better grip” on who is coming in. In response to these attempts within our increasingly polarized country, some are pleased and would probably also encourage moving up in the schedule of executive decisions, the building of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Others are strongly opposed, citing Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 to clothe the needy, to feed the hungry, and to welcome the stranger.

Leviticus 19:33‐34 is also cited: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native‐born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Could the case be made that many of us are like the foreigners in that passage? Personally, I am not far from it. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from The Netherlands, a country that was struggling after World War II. They were not classified as refugees fleeing from a tyrannical dictator or from religious persecution, but if they had to stay in The Netherlands much longer, their lives would have been worse off.

As a believer in God, if I would have lived during the time referred to in the Leviticus passage, I would have been that “foreigner in Egypt.” Further, for me personally, I am a foreigner who has been received into the family of God – God is holy and I am not holy on my own; still, He forgives me of my sins and receives me into His family. My colleague, Rich Merkouris, recently tweeted these words: “As Christians, we can disagree on how to care for refugees. We cannot disagree that we must care for the refugees.” He’s right. Leviticus 19 states, “Do not mistreat them… [they] must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself… I am the Lord your God.”

Refugee graphic found via Google

As I and others of New Roots Ministry often work with immigrants, including refugees – through workplace chaplaincy, encouraging and equipping pastors of immigrant congregations, special seminars which we co‐lead with immigrants, hanging out with refugees, and co‐leading ministries together – I have learned that they are easy to love. In most cases, they have a strong work ethic, they want the best for their families, they have life‐experiences and cultures which they are willing to share with me and which enrich me, and they have a sense of compassion for others throughout the world. By “treating [them] as [our] native born, and lov[ing] them as [ourselves],” as God commands, our lives are enhanced; we are blessed.


We regularly hear from the New Roots Ministry in Sioux Falls when Classis Iakota meets. After I read Fred’s reflections in the latest New Roots newsletter, I asked him for and he graciously gave me permission to post it here. In a few days I’ll add some of my thoughts on the subject, too.