REFUGEE SUNDAY 2023
"Hope away from Home. "
Theme of UNHCR World Refugee Day 2023
by Rev. Hans Lutz
Refugee Sunday 2023 Message
Gen. 19, 12-25
Today unprecedented numbers of persons have to flee their country. Most recently thousands had to leave their homes in Sudan. For years masses of people from Africa and the Middle East have tried to enter Western European countries. At the same time crowds from Latin America gather at the border of Mexico to the United States. The statistics produced by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees are mind boggling: 103 million forcibly displaced people world-wide. Among them are 53 million persons who are internally displaced, i.e. they had to leave their homes and move to a secure place within their own country. There are 36 million refugees and asylum seekers who have fled to another country. Many of them are languishing in camps without the prospect of resettlement-
Behind these figures are uncounted individual stories like the one of Lot and his family. Lot’s flight is told in dramatic fashion in the book of Genesis. Despite the gap of wide over 3000 years there are similarities between Lot’s experience and that of many refugees today.
From God’s messenger Lot learns of God’s forthcoming judgement over Sodom. But the warning does not give details regarding the nature and the time of the catastrophe. Lot is well aware of the urgency of the messengers’ call. He tells his future sons-in law: “Up, get out of this place; for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” (verse 14) Despite this he himself hesitates to take action. The bible says “He lingered” (verse 16).
Is this not similar to today when people are faced with great political changes? There are indications of their coming, but details about their arrival and their course remain vague. Many people will hesitate to escape to safety until it is too late. It is traumatic to forsake security and to give up home, work, friends and the familiar environment to embark on an often dangerous journey and to end up in an unknown place.
It is in this respect that the bible makes an important statement which is relevant to all of us. Lot cannot save himself by his own effort. He knows about the impending disaster, but this knowledge is not sufficient. He is unsure and cannot come to a decision. God must snatch him away from the impending judgement. “When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city. But he lingered; so the men has to seize him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand… and they brought him forth and set him outside the city” (verse 15f.) The rescue of life, the salvation of a person is God’s deed. Human strength to take decisions is limited.
When a refugee arrives at his destination, for example in Hong Kong, the first reaction is relief. He or she is happy to be out of danger. But then dawns the realization that this is not the end, but the beginning of a long struggle. First comes the task of meeting immediate needs: food, shelter and social connections. At the beginning of this century asylum seekers arriving in Hong Kong could not count on any help. They spent their nights at the Star Ferry and had to beg for food. Very slowly the Hong Kong government started providing minimal services.
When the immediate survival is secured, asylum seekers will start looking for a permanent solution. He or she needs to find a country which will offer permanent residence and the right to work. Unfortunately most asylum seekers arriving in Hong Kong will find that they stand little chance of moving to a third country. There are about 13,000 asylum seekers stuck in Hong Kong, many for a decade or more without the right to work.
The story of Lot’s escape from Sodom teaches us a second important point. As soon as he has been led out of danger, he expresses his own will. He has been reluctantly led out of Sodom, but now he uses again his own mind. God orders him to escape to the hills. However, Lot confesses that he is afraid to do so. He is a city-dweller and not able to survive in the desert. So he asks God for permission to flee to Zoar, a small town nearby. Although he has just experienced God’s care for his life, he is not ready to put himself entirely into God’s hands.
God meets the same situation as many of those caring for asylum seekers and refugees. They may find that their proposed plans are not accepted and that refugees have their own minds and want to do things different from those that have been planned for them.
Surprisingly, God gives way and accepts Lot’s demand. God modifies his plans. By the expression of human will, by prayer, God can be moved. Today refugees and asylum seekers are subject by the authorities to strict rules. This is not just in Hong Kong but all over the world. In Hong Kong the money allocated to asylum seekers is clearly regulated and limited. A single person receives HKD1500 for lodging and another HKD300 for electricity and water. The allowance for food is HKD1200. Anybody living in Hong Kong knows that it is impossible to rent accommodation for this amount and to live on HKD40 a day.
The story of Lot’s escape from Sodom is from the book of Genesis. The book of Genesis tells of direct interaction between God and humans. In our times God acts indirectly through the hearts and hands of his people. He calls us to care for those in need. In Hong Kong we have established a network of churches, Christian organizations, lawyers and secular organizations to assist asylum seekers. They offer direct help such as food, education, legal advice and fellowship. They also lobby the government for improvements in the situation of asylum seekers.
For those among us who are not involved with asylum seekers directly, we ought to ignore negative reporting in some newspapers about asylum seekers being criminals. On the contrary we should include them in our prayers and overcome negative feelings about these brothers and sisters who came to Hong Kong in search of refuge.