Seeking refuge

The following is the preamble to Worship on November 3, 2019

Today we begin a month focused on one of the most important subjects of our time – refugees and the task of welcoming newcomers.

This morning is the first of thee Sundays that takes inspiration from a book published in 2018. “Homes: A Refugee Story” is about an Edmonton teenager and his family who arrived here from Syria in 2014. It is a work of creative non-fiction written by that teenager’s ESL teacher, Winnie Yeung. I imagine that all of us who have read the story she tells of Abu Bakr al-Reebeah and his family will agree it is informative, moving, and inspiring in equal measure. Thirty plus copies are circulating among us, which I think is wonderful.

Now, you do not have to have read “Homes” to appreciate this morning’s service on the subject of seeking refuge or the two that will follow it. In two weeks on November 17, the theme will be “Welcoming Strangers;” and we will hear from an Islamic scholar and university teacher, Dr. Junaid Jahangir about the migrations of his family from India, to Pakistan, to Dubai, and then his own journey to Edmonton 18 years ago. And three weeks from today, when the theme will be “Becoming an Intercultural Church,” we will hear from our own Office Administrator, Liliana Angel. She will tell us of how she and her family came to Edmonton as refugees from Colombia more than ten years ago, and the people and things that helped them to feel at home in a new language, a new country, and a new city.

If you haven’t read the book, I am confident you will still gain a lot from the videos we will show, the excerpts from “Homes” that will be read, the biblical passages we will hear that connect to the themes, and the inspiring speakers we will enjoy. But I suspect the experience will be richer if you get a chance to read this short book.

Supplementing those three Sundays will be two Monday evening discussions on “Homes” on November 18 and 25. These evenings will allow us to go even deeper into the amazing story of the al-Reebeah family and perhaps touch on some of what we experienced on the three Sunday mornings.

Migration has defined the human experience from the very beginning. Homo sapiens first emerged as a species of primates in eastern Africa about 100,000 years ago. Anthropologists have determined that about 50,000 years ago, groups of humans first ventured out of Africa to colonize Europe, Asia, the Americas, and eventually the smallest islands of the Pacific Ocean.

Today in a time of increased racism, I wonder if everyone should embrace our heritage as migrants from Africa. At a deep level, all of us are Africans. Embracing our common ancestry would remind us that when we greet newcomers, they are our close relatives regardless of skin colour, language, religion, or life circumstances.

Just like the history of humanity, the Bible is also filled with stories of migration. Today we will hear a story usually read on Epiphany on January 6 (Matthew 2:1-15). It is about three Magi who are guided by a star to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem and about how Jesus and his parents are then forced to flee as refugees to Egypt to escape the murderous wrath of King Herod.

Whether Jesus was, in fact, a refugee is not the main point. While the three other gospel accounts do not contain this story, its presence in the second chapter of Matthew can help us realize that providing a safe refuge for people fleeing war and persecution is not only the right thing to do. It is also our sacred duty and a key way in which we can express the love that marks our tradition. All of us have ancestors who were saved when they were given refugee in a distant land. And so, as we try to cope and thrive in an ever-more intercultural world, it is our gracious task to learn about our neighbours, to welcome newcomers as though they too were the Holy Family fleeing Herod, and to receive all the blessings newcomers bring with them.

Friends, I pray that this morning’s hour of sharing, reflection, and sacrament will remind us that humanity comprises one glorious Holy Family. May we give thanks for the refuge our ancestors once received and feel again the joy that comes from extending a hand of hospitality to refugees who land on our doorsteps.