In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there for about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.
According to the United Nations, more than 65.6 million people are now living under forced displacement. A number that is larger than the population of the United Kingdom. A number that is increasing year on year. A number so huge that it means we can often forget there are individuals and families with their own stories, motivations and intentions behind it.
The Book of Ruth opens with one such story – a flashback about forced displacement and immigration. Naomi and her husband Elimelech leave their home, their family and community in Bethlehem and cross the border into Moab. A family fleeing their country to escape famine. A family fleeing with deep, gnawing hunger in their bellies. A family fleeing with fear about how they will be received and treated in their new country.
The best-selling author, Khaled Hosseini reminds us: “Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale. Together, in solidarity with refugees, we must demand that world leaders take collective responsibility for finding fair, lasting solutions to this crisis. Together we must ensure humanity and compassion triumph over fear and intolerance.”
Many individuals and families today flee their homes and communities. Just like Naomi and her family, there is great fear but also hope in their heart that they will find safety and compassion. For me, walking the Way of Jesus means standing in solidarity with refugees so we can offer that safety and compassion. Walking the Way by petitioning the government over unfair or unjust policies. Walking the Way by providing money, food and clothing to aid agencies. Walking the Way by raising awareness in our churches or communities. Walking the Way by offering safety and compassion?
Hospitable God, who teaches us to welcome the stranger; we pray for all refugees and immigrants: those who have been displaced through famine, those who have been displaced through climate change, those who have been displaced through war and oppression. Enable us to offer practical assistance in terms of shelter, food and clothing. May we demonstrate compassion so that refugees and immigrants can be welcomed as treasured guests. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Dr Nicola Robinson is an Elder at Augustine United Church in Edinburgh