By Rober Lopez De Castilla

A refugee is defined as a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. A refugee is the type of person who cannot return home because it is not safe there. A refugee is your neighbor.

On June 20th every year we have the opportunity to celebrate World Refugee Day. This holiday is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world. If you are like me and found yourself starting a life in Abilene, TX, then to be aware of the situation of refugees throughout the world looks like first being aware of a refugee in your own city.

Every year, hundreds of refugees are resettled in Abilene, TX due to the diligence and hard work of a local resettlement agency. These refugees come from different countries, namely, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Ivory Coast. The agencies provide important information as well as assist refugees in developing the necessary skills to attain economic self-sufficiency in their new home. The local agency is not a faith based organization and therefore their work extends to meet only the physical needs of the people whose hearts desire so much more.

So, church, we are left with the question, what is it that God is calling me to do about the refugees that are my neighbors, co-workers and future friends? I think the first thing is to see them. When you go to the grocery store, walk downtown, or pick up your kids from school, let the spirit open your heart and your eyes to these beautiful people from across the world. After you see them, say hello. Sure, they may not speak English but they will say hello back. Begin to pray that God would introduce one of these people into your life.

I have been blessed to be surrounded by many of these people and it has been my experience that time spent with people who think, look and live differently than ourselves only stands to offer us a clearer picture of what it looks like for His Kingdom to be brought down to earth. Our Father works powerfully and in diverse ways across the nations and it is a blessing and an opportunity to have those nations brought to our home.

This article began with the definition of a refugee. This definition is accurate but it focuses too much on the past of a refugee. It says that a refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. What about now? What if a refugee is someone who finds refuge in the home of their new American friends? What if a refugee is someone who feels welcomed at the grocery store? What if a refugee is someone we call rafiki and friend?

So, let us extend hospitality to our neighbors as Christ extended hospitality to us at His table. Let us welcome refugees into our lives in response to the life that was given on the cross for us. Let us pray that God’s Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.