Forced to Leave
Peter looks at times in the Bible where we see how refugees dealt with their circumstances and challenges us about what our response would be.
Recently I have been drawn to the book of Ruth and found some relevance to current world events!
Elimelech and Naomi with their two sons Mahlon and Killion travelled from their home in Bethlehem to the foreign country of Moab in search of food. Tragically Naomi soon became widowed and is left to raise her two sons alone. In the course of time both sons marry Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth. After a further ten years the two sons die now leaving three widows and no children.
The Return (Ruth 1.6-14)
Hearing that the famine in Bethlehem is now ended Naomi resolves to return home. At first both daughters-in-law travelled with her but then Naomi encouraged them to return to their own family and culture, giving them her blessing. (1.8)
It is a very touching account which reveals a deep connection and love between these three widows! Initially they both refused to leave her, but finally Orpah relented and made her farewell with obvious love and feeling!
Ruth “clung to her” (14) and her words convinced Naomi of her determination to identify with Naomi her people, her future, and her God! (16-18)
In Bethlehem (1.19-22)
The family of four which left Bethlehem more than ten years previously is now reduced to two surviving widows. “Is this really our Naomi?” (1.19 Msg) ask the people of the town as they contemplate how radically changed are Naomi’s circumstances. Ruth too would have stood out as a foreigner.
Naomi responds: “Don’t call me Naomi (Pleasant). Call me Mara (Bitter) (20) “…I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty” (21)
We have observed millions of people fleeing war, desperately relocating cities and country in search of peace and safety. They are learning new languages, embracing a new culture and identity. Something of the story of Naomi and Ruth is and has been repeated multiple times.
Disaster to opportunity
As we read the rest of the book of Ruth it becomes clear that the disasters which forced the changes in their lives led to an awesome outpouring of blessing and the unimaginable future provision of David as God’s anointed King of Israel.
Mary, Joseph and Jesus (Matt 2.13, 19-20)
Not long after the birth of Jesus Mary Joseph and their young child became refugees in Egypt escaping the slaughter of baby boys under two years of age (Mt 2.16). They stayed there until after the death of Herod (about 4/6 AD) returning to Nazareth in Galilee only when instructed by an angel. (Mt 2.19)
The early church (Acts 5. 17-42; 6; 7; 8.1ff)
Following a spectacular response with thousands of people becoming believers as recorded in the first few chapters of Acts we are soon brought face to face with a tide of opposition and persecution.
This led to the scattering of believers throughout Judea, Samaria and beyond (Acts 8ff) resulting in many more becoming believers and churches being established wherever believers settled. Soon these new congregations began to send financial support back to the troubled church in Judea (Acts 11.29-30)
Modern history is littered with accounts of men and women who have faced persecution as Christians. As they have bravely maintained their faith, churches have proliferated despite some having to meet secretly.
The pain and desperation faced by refugees as they flee tragic circumstances is almost unimaginable and unbearable.
A question to ponder
Acts 8.4 challenges me: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (NIV)
If I was driven from my home through famine, persecution, natural disaster, or war what would be my response? Would I actively speak about my faith? Would I determine to meet with other Christians to worship?
What would you do?
Thank you Peter.