“Jehovah is protecting the foreign residents.”—PS. 146:9.
SONGS: 25, 50
1, 2. (a) What trials do some of our brothers and sisters face? (b) What questions arise?
“WHEN civil war started in Burundi, our family was at an assembly,” relates a brother named Lije. “We could see people running, shooting. My parents and 11 of us siblings fled for our lives with only the clothes on our backs. Some of my family finally made it to a refugee camp in Malawi, a journey of over 1,000 miles (1,600 km). The rest of us were scattered.”
2 Worldwide, refugees who have fled their homes because of war or persecution now number over 65,000,000—the highest ever recorded. Among these are thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many have lost loved ones and nearly all their possessions. What further challenges have some faced? How can we help these brothers and sisters to “serve Jehovah with rejoicing” despite their trials? (Ps. 100:2) And how can we effectively share the good news with refugees who do not yet know Jehovah? In this article, we use the term “refugees” to denote those who have been displaced—whether across national borders or within their own country—by armed conflict, persecution, or disaster.
THE LIFE OF A REFUGEE
3. How did Jesus and many of his disciples become refugees?
3 After Jehovah’s angel warned Joseph that King Herod intended to kill Jesus, young Jesus and his parents became refugees in Egypt. They remained there until Herod died. (Matt. 2:13, 14, 19-21) Decades later, Jesus’ early disciples “were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” because of persecution. (Acts 8:1) Jesus had foreseen that many of his followers would be forced from their homes. He said: “When they persecute you in one city, flee to another.” (Matt. 10:23) Fleeing for any reason is seldom easy.
4. What dangers exist when refugees are fleeing?
4 Refugees may face danger when fleeing or when living in a refugee camp. “We walked for weeks, passing hundreds of dead bodies,” recalls Gad, Lije’s younger brother. “I was 12 years old. My feet were so swollen that I told my family to go on without me. My father—not about to abandon me to the rebel forces—carried me. We survived day by day, praying to Jehovah and trusting in him, sometimes eating only mangoes that were growing along the way.”—Phil. 4:12, 13.
5. What dangers exist when refugees are living in a camp?
5 Most of Lije’s family eventually spent years in United Nations refugee camps. Yet, they were not safe there. Lije, now a circuit overseer, comments: “Most people had no work. They gossiped, drank, gambled, stole, and were immoral.” To resist the bad influences, Witnesses in the camps needed to stay fully involved in congregation activities. (Heb. 6:11, 12; 10:24, 25) To stay spiritually healthy, they used their time productively, many by pioneering. They kept a positive attitude by recalling that, like Israel’s trek in the wilderness, their stay in the camp would eventually come to an end.—2 Cor. 4:18.
SHOWING LOVE TO REFUGEES
6. How does “the love of God” move Christians to act toward brothers in need?
6 “The love of God” compels us to show love to one another, especially in dire situations. (Read 1 John 3:17, 18.) When famine threatened Judean Christians in the first century, the congregation organized help for them. (Acts 11:28, 29) The apostles Paul and Peter also exhorted Christians to be hospitable to one another. (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9) If Christians are to welcome visiting brothers, how much more should they welcome fellow believers whose lives are in danger or who have been persecuted for their faith!—Read Proverbs 3:27. See the article “Do Not Forget Kindness to Strangers” in The Watchtower of October 2016, pp. 8-12.
7. Cite an example.
7 Recently, thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses—men, women, and children—had to flee conflict and persecution in eastern Ukraine. Tragically, some were killed. But most of them were taken in by their spiritual brothers elsewhere in Ukraine, and many others were accommodated by fellow Witnesses in Russia. In both countries, they remain politically neutral, being “no part of the world,” and continue zealously “declaring the good news of the word.”—John 15:19; Acts 8:4.
HELPING REFUGEES TO STRENGTHEN THEIR FAITH
8, 9. (a) What challenges may refugees face in a new land? (b) Why do they need our patient help?
8 While some people are displaced within their own country, many others are thrust into a totally unfamiliar environment in a new land. Governments may provide some food, clothing, and shelter, but familiar foods may be unavailable. Refugees from warm lands may encounter cold weather for the first time and may not know how to dress for it. If they come from a rural area, they may be at a loss about how to use modern household appliances.
9 Some governments have programs to help refugees adjust to their new circumstances. However, often within months, refugees may be expected to support themselves. The transition can be overwhelming. Imagine trying to learn a new language and to adapt to new laws and expectations regarding manners, punctuality, taxes, bill paying, school attendance, and child discipline—all at once! Can you patiently and respectfully help brothers and sisters who face such challenges?—Phil. 2:3, 4.
10. How can we strengthen the faith of arriving refugees? (See opening picture.)
10 Further, authorities have at times made it difficult for our brothers who are refugees to contact the congregation. Some agencies have threatened to cut off assistance or deny our brothers asylum if they refuse to accept employment that requires them to miss meetings. Frightened and vulnerable, a few brothers have given in to such pressures. Therefore, it is urgent to meet our refugee brothers as soon as possible after their arrival. They need to see that we care about them. Our compassion and practical help can strengthen their faith.—Prov. 12:25; 17:17.
GIVING REFUGEES PRACTICAL HELP
11. (a) What do refugees initially need? (b) How can refugees show gratitude?
11 At first, we may need to supplement our brothers’ food, clothing, or other basic needs. Even small gestures, like giving a brother a necktie, mean a lot. And when refugees show gratitude, never demanding anything, they help their hosts to experience the joy of giving. Granted, living indefinitely on others’ generosity may erode the self-respect of the refugees and may damage their relationships with other brothers. (2 Thess. 3:7-10) But they do need practical help. As soon as possible after a refugee arrives, elders should follow the direction in Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will, chapter 8, paragraph 30. Elders can contact congregations in other lands by sending correspondence to their own branch using jw.org. In the meantime, they can ask discreet questions about a refugee’s congregation and ministry to discern his spiritual condition.
12. How can we give refugees practical help?
12 Giving refugees practical help requires, not a lot of money, but mainly our time and concern. It may be as simple as showing them how to use public transportation, how to shop for healthful but inexpensive foods, or how to obtain tools or equipment—such as a sewing machine or a lawn mower—in order to earn some income. More important, you can help them to become fully involved in their new congregation. If possible, offer them rides to meetings. Also explain how they might approach people with the Kingdom message in your territory. Take the refugee brothers and sisters along with you in the ministry.
13. Cite an example.
13 When four adolescent refugees arrived in one congregation, various elders taught them to drive, type, and write résumés, as well as to schedule their time to serve Jehovah fully. (Gal. 6:10) Soon, all four became pioneers. That guidance, along with their own efforts to pursue spiritual goals, helped them to blossom and to avoid being swallowed up by Satan’s system.
14. (a) What temptation do refugees need to resist? (b) Cite an example.
14 Like all other Christians, refugees need to resist the temptation and pressure to compromise their relationship with Jehovah in order to obtain material things. Lije, quoted earlier, and his siblings remember the lessons of faith their father taught them even as they were fleeing. “One by one, he threw away the few nonessential belongings we carried. Finally, he held up the empty bag and said with a smile: ‘You see? This is all you need!’” See the Article w16.07 1—Read 1 Timothy 6:8.
CARING FOR THE GREATEST NEEDS OF REFUGEES
15. How can we support refugees spiritually?
15 More than material assistance, refugees need spiritual and emotional support. (Matt. 4:4) Elders can help by obtaining literature in the language of the refugees and by helping them contact brothers who speak their language. Many refugees have been torn away from their tight-knit extended families, communities, and congregations. They need to sense Jehovah’s love and compassion among their fellow Christians. Otherwise, they may be drawn to unbelieving relatives or compatriots who can relate to their culture and experiences. (1 Cor. 15:33) By making them feel fully accepted in the congregation, we have the privilege to share with Jehovah in “protecting the foreign residents.”—Ps. 146:9.
16. How can we support refugees emotionally?
16 As with young Jesus and his family, refugees may not have the option of returning to their homeland as long as their oppressors remain in power. Further, as notes Lije, “many parents who saw family members raped and murdered cannot bear to bring their children back to where those tragedies occurred.” To help those who have experienced such trauma, brothers in lands receiving refugees need to have “fellow feeling, brotherly affection, tender compassion, and humility.” (1 Pet. 3:8) Persecution has caused some refugees to become withdrawn, and they may feel ashamed to talk about their suffering, especially in the presence of their children. Ask yourself, ‘If I were in their position, how would I like to be treated?’—Matt. 7:12.
PREACHING TO NON-WITNESS REFUGEES
17. How does preaching to refugees bring them relief?
17 Many of today’s refugees come from countries where our preaching work is restricted. Thanks to zealous Witnesses in the lands receiving refugees, thousands of refugees are hearing “the word of the Kingdom” for the first time. (Matt. 13:19, 23) Many who are “loaded down” are finding spiritual refreshment at our meetings and quickly acknowledge: “God is really among you.”—Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Cor. 14:25.
18. How can we show wisdom when preaching to refugees?
18 Those who preach to refugees need to be “cautious” and even “shrewd.” (Matt. 10:16; Prov. 22:3) Listen patiently to their concerns, but do not discuss politics. Follow directions from the branch office and from local authorities; never put yourself or others at risk. Learn and respect refugees’ religious and cultural sensitivities. For instance, people from some lands have strong feelings about proper dress for women. Therefore, when preaching to refugees, dress so as not to cause needless offense.
19. What is another way to show wisdom when preaching to refugees?
19 Like the neighborly Samaritan in Jesus’ illustration, we want to help suffering people, including those who are not Witnesses. (Luke 10:33-37) The best way to do so is by sharing the good news with them. “It is important to make clear right away that we are Jehovah’s Witnesses and that our primary mission is to help them spiritually, not materially,” notes an elder who has helped many refugees. “Otherwise, some may associate with us only for personal advantage.”
20, 21. (a) What good comes from showing refugees Christian love? (b) What will we consider in the following article?
20 Showing Christian love to “foreign residents” brings good results. A Christian sister related that her family fled the persecution in Eritrea. After four of her children made an exhausting eight-day journey across the desert, they arrived in Sudan. She said: “The brothers there treated them like close relatives, providing food, clothes, shelter, and transportation. Who else would welcome strangers into their home just because they worship the same God? Only Jehovah’s Witnesses!”—John 13:35.
21 What about the many children who arrive with their parents, both refugees and other immigrants? In the following article, we will consider how all of us can help them to serve Jehovah joyfully.