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We Are All Refugees

Not since WW2 has there been such an exodus of people. Nearly half of Syria’s population is either on the move or trying to get to a safe place. How will we respond? In the wake of the incidents in Paris, Beruit, and Mali, fear is rising. Many are saying, “We need to build bigger walls around …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Not since WW2 has there been such an exodus of people. Nearly half of Syria’s population is either on the move or trying to get to a safe place.

How will we respond? In the wake of the incidents in Paris, Beruit, and Mali, fear is rising. Many are saying, “We need to build bigger walls around our borders.”

Kevin Gray, my partner in Lesvos Greece, wrote me to discuss the refugee situation. He’d been given responsibility for a camp that was being overrun by thousands of new arrivals daily. He said a profound thing.

“At the end of the day, through this journey I’ve realized that we (all humanity) are refugees.  Running from something.  And searching for another…  Some of us have had the opportunity of finding home. Most are still searching.”

Whoa. Yes, it’s true – we are. Adam was banished from the garden, and we, his descendants, continue to search for a safe place where our souls can rest. Peter calls us “Aliens and strangers in this world.” 1 Peter 5:11.

Jesus was a homeless refugee. As his followers, we must consider what holds our heart’s affections. Am I willing to give up my home and to side with the homeless to follow him? 

Trace your family history back. Likely you’ll find refugees somewhere along the way. America was built on the backs of refugees finding their way to a new start in our great melting pot. 

When you look at your own family, the abstraction of this issue fades away. My Great Great Granddad, Seth Barnes, was a refugee. That’s him in the picture above. He ran away from home at age nine after both parents died. 

He hopped a river boat from Cincinnati to Missouri. He got off the boat and was distracted, playing with some local boys. Looking up, he saw the river boat pulled away from the shore.

I don’t know how he responded. I wonder if he ran shouting “Wait for me! Come back!” down the river banks? Did he cry tears of desperation? Like every refugee before or after, he must have felt a sense of terror at being exposed and defenseless in a strange land. 

One of the boys took him home to his family. 

We in America may be recoiling from the recent terrorist attacks in fear, but if we’ll look back a few years, we’ll see that we have been a big-hearted people before. The Statue of Liberty has a plaque that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

That would be all of us. Here on earth. Struggling to find our way. Here in America. Struggling to find the balance between fear, prudence and compassion.

It’s hard to be human. So much pain and potential for pain in life. But it’s awesome to be human too. So many opportunities to love and to be loved. To show empathy, to engage in surprising acts of mercy.

Yes, there are politics and we need to do the background checks that ensure we’re not admitting terrorists unawares. Yes, we need to assimilate and educate immigrants. We believe in freedom and the confluence of ideas in the public square. Let’s reinforce our values in those we welcome.

But we need to remind ourselves of our heritage. We are a nation that doesn’t give in to fear and isolationism. We are the children of big-hearted ancestors, the flotsam and jetsam of countries run by tyrants who came as refugees seeking safe haven.

We who follow Jesus, the refugee, would especially do well to remember our heritage.

Comments (16)

  • Seth this is a healthy reminder and one I’ve been sounding the alarm regarding only to have a number of “Christians” respond with comments that sound very much like the “My four and no more!” ethic which we know cannot be the heart of God. Hebrews 11:13 has a people confessing they were “strangers and aliens” on the earth. Until heaven the entire globe is one big refugee camp. Love to the Barnes this Thanksgiving. And always.

  • Yes and Amen. We are all strangers in a strange land. Wandering and longing fit our homeland. My ancestors, as many came from Europe to America for a better life. We are a country built on the backs…the hard work…of refugees.

    I cannot fathom what your great great grandfather must have experienced at nine years old. I cannot fathom what many refugees have gone through and are going through to find a place of rest.

    Yes, we can and must take cautionary measures, educate, and assimilate. Yet can we not welcome those who are in great need as America has done for centuries?

    Thank you Seth for a healthy reminder of who we are and whose we are. May God be glorified.

  • I remember a Thanksgiving long ago in Lancaster, PA where your extended family took Karen and me in as refugees fresh off the boat from life in the DR. Talia was a baby and cried all night and we tried to quiet her and let everyone sleep.

    We felt welcomed and loved by strangers. It’s God’s response to all humanity that feels estranged and lonely on this dark planet.

  • Seth, this is so great. I found out a few years ago that my Jewish ancestors fled Poland during WWII, only one of them made it. It’s a good reminder to not let fear control us or dictate our decisions.

    Thanks, Seth!

  • Thanks for leading with this initiative Seth. Like you, this refugee crisis is a strong reminder to me of ‘what’ I really am. A refugee myself, and wanderer in this world who is longing for home. Which is part of the reason, I am sure, that the Bible always talks about God’s special care for the same groups of people over and over – the widow, the stranger and the orphan.

  • Reminds me of Rich Mullins song “You Did Not Have a Home.”

    Oh, You did not have a home
    There were places You visited frequently
    You took off Your shoes and scratched Your feet
    ‘Cause you knew that the whole world belongs to the meek
    But You did not have a home
    No, You did not have a home

    Ironic and poignant as Rich sang this new and unpublished song for a few friends one week before he went home to Jesus.

    As I ponder the homelessness of Jesus, and the current homelessness of the Syrian refugees, I think you nailed it with reminding people of what once made America great, captured so well in the words on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

  • Your presentation is such a good balance of truth, patience, and love. Somehow, I think we as Christians need to lead the country to show how to make the choice to love and not fear. We as Christians cannot entertain a spirit of fear, only one of love. Then we need to act on that decision, a much harder thing to do. Thanks for posting!

  • This brought me to total tears. We are aliens in this world and only here for such a short time. Why not love? Why not go the extra mile? Why not give? There will be no uhaul attached to a coffin or sitting beside a grave site. We only take our souls and spirits and hopefully some others will follow as we follow the great shepherd and overseer of our delicate existence. I find one place I love on this earth among many. That is is this precious blog. Myriads of young folk pass through here and speak truth, speak candid thought, speak bravery, speak weakness, speak love. With a gentle leader under Christ- you Seth. Thank you for all you do and say and Happy Thanksgiving to you and all yours.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Sandy. You have lost so much and you have stayed faithful. I pray that you sense the Lord’s presence this Thanksgiving.

  • Seth Thank you. You were one of the few who did reach out. You even made that page to honor my precious “Angela Hope.” I will never forget that. From my heart to yours brother.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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