Our Biblical Mandate to Care for Refugees

Posted: November 1, 2019 in Uncategorized

Biblical MAndate_10-31-19

While the current American political focus is on possible impeachment surrounding the President’s dealings with Ukraine some may have failed to notice that President just proposed only 18,000 newly arriving refugees for 2020 in the U.S. and that is the lowest number of refugees set to arrive since 1980. While evangelicals may disagree on aspects of refugee resettlement in the U.S., we must agree on several biblical teachings in response to policy changes and let that first shape our take. The numbers of refugees globally continues to increase annually with this crisis having over 70,000,000 forcibly displaced persons around the world with over 25,900,000 of these persons considered refugees. In comparison in the last 3 years in the United States the number of refugees to be resettled was reduced from almost 85,000 to 30,000. This forces the question as we look at this comparison how are evangelicals responding to this refugee crisis? This crisis could arguably be the evangelical church’s greatest missional challenge and the American evangelical church sadly seems to look away and ignore these horrific numbers in the face of refugee arrivals being cut nearly in half again . Whether these refugees are fleeing persecution based on their race, religion, political affiliation, or national origin, they need our help and hope. The issues surrounding arriving refugees are complex, confusing, and often controversial, causing many churches to hesitate to engage these new neighbors or advocate for those abroad Sadly, fear overtakes facts and the gospel mandate to love our neighbors, resulting in misinformation on refugees. Develop a biblical foundation to understand a Christian response to refugees is the first step believers must take and we will aim to briefly look at our biblical mandate to care for refugees. Helping churches and Christ-followers do just that is a foundational to our mission at the Acts 17 Initiative.

Refugees are vulnerable people made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and Jesus calls us to serve, love, and welcome them in his name. If we profess to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior then we must seek to obey the biblical mandates to minister the Gospel to our refugee neighbors and the nations.

A Lifeway survey sadly highlights that only 12% of evangelicals’ beliefs about immigrants are shaped by the Bible, and another survey showed churches are twice as likely to fear refugees than to help them. As evangelicals committed to God’s Word, these numbers should be alarming. Let this serve as a biblical primer motivating us to serve and care for refugees. The Bible instructs us to show hospitality to those here (Hebrews 13:2), love and show mercy to our neighbors no matter their nationality or religion (Luke 10:25-37), do justice for the vulnerable (Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27), and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

Fundamentally, God’s people are called to love and seek justice for refugees (part of the larger group of immigrants often called sojourners in the Old Testament) because we are to follow God’s example. “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:17-19). “Ger,” the Hebrew word closest to “immigrant” in English, appears 92 times in the Old Testament. God instructs His people to remember their own immigrant history: “You must not oppress foreigners (sojourners). You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9). (See also Lev. 19:33-34, Deut. 10:19)

Christians are called to show hospitality. (The word in the original biblical language of Greek was “philoxenia;” literally meaning the love of strangers.)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… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

The Bible calls us to speak up and advocate for, do justice, and even rescue the vulnerable peoplesGive justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3–4).

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

“…. what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8b).

Proverbs 24:11-12 states, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.  If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” This is a clear command of Scripture, yet many have grown complacent in a culture that turns a blindly at the plight of refugees (and many vulnerable-the unborn, orphans, homeless, just to name a few).

Scripture challenges us to think that refugees—rather than immigrants to be feared—might actually be a blessing.

Jesus commands us to “make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19). In refugee ministry in the U.S. the nations arrive at our doorstep, representing an enormous missional and unique opportunity to show mercy to our neighbors. “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Some refugees are Christians who become missionaries within their own ethnic communities and beyond. Others may be forced to flee their homelands arriving with a nominal faith or from entirely unreached people groups and are much more open and have more opportunities to hear of the love of Christ than they did in their home country. The global movements of peoples are part of God’s plan to draw people to Himself. “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” (Acts 17:26-27)

Some refugees are fleeing persecution for their Christian faith and we are called to help. “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Believing God’s Word changes minds and hearts. Consider taking and/or having your church take the “I Was A Stranger” challenge of 40 days of scripture and prayer. Learn about devotional plans and other resources from our friends at The Immigration Coalition. Particularly during the coming Christmas season you can focus or help others focus on this issue biblically with a new resource from the Immigration Coalition’s Rondell Trevino called: Anticipating the Birth of Jesus: An Advent Devotional on Immigration. You can learn more and order here. We are instructed to be hearers and doers of God’s Word (James 1:22). While we should lament the current administration’s policies toward refugees and immigrants let us pray understanding that we need heart change before there will be policy change. Seeking God’s Word is the key to heart change so let us be committed first to seeking God’s Word personally and then equip others to do the same.

Refugees are a unique, vulnerable, immigrant group who, whether they are fleeing persecution based on their race, religion, political affiliation, or national origin, are part of over 70 million making up the global refugee crisis that needs our help and Christ’s hope. If we believe the Bible we should grieve that we can only help potentially serve 18,000 newly arriving refugees in 2020** in the US; (we plan to follow up with more action steps for Christ-followers in the US serve refugees in immigrant peoples.) But for now would you join us in praying that we will walk by faith and seek God’s Word to equip us so that we minister to refugees with gospel intentionality and Christ-like compassion.      ~by Jason Lee

If I can help equip your church to minister the Gospel to the nations and help serve refugees please learn more by contacting me at our ministry at the Acts 17 Initiative: www.a17i.org

We would love for you to use this information to equip others, please sign-up for updates on our ministry and we will send it to you in PDF format, you can sign-up here

Copyright 2019- Jason Lee

—- This article was originally written for the Peoples Next Door of North Carolina (a ministry of the North Carolina Baptist Convention) and edited for current numbers above.


**For recent comparison of refugee resettlement numbers and the Presidential cap of refugees annually in the U.S please see graphic below. We welcomed in the US almost 85,000 refugees resettled in 2016* and were slated to welcome 110,000 in 2017* (reduced to 50,000) and actually ended up welcoming 53,716 refugees. In 2018* the refugee ceiling was 45,000 and we welcomed only 22,491 new refugees. In 2019* the President set the refugee ceiling at 30,000 and we welcomed 30,000 new refuges. In 2020* the Presidential resettlement ceiling is set at 18,000 and as of November 1, 2019(one month into the 2020 Federal Fiscal year) no new refugees have arrived. While refugee resettlement is complex, confusing and now has become very politically polarizing please understand that the US normally had resettled close to 70k new refugees annually but had a Presidential resettlement ceiling numbers as high as over 200,000 annually (it was 217,000 in 1981 under President Ronald Reagan).

*Refugee annual arrivals are based on the Federal Fiscal Year running 10/01 through 9/30.

Refugee Ceiling numbers

This graphic can be found here.


  1. […] clearly anti-biblical rhetoric. As I have written in numerous places over the years about “Our Biblical Mandate to Care for Refugees” I hope you will use some of those resources to help you think, speak, and act on this important […]

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