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Theme: "From Strangers to Blessings "  

Are refugees a curse or a blessing among us?

by Pastor Vera Tse

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46

This year, the churches and organizations in Hong Kong involved in refugee ministry have collectively set “From Strangers to Blessings” as the theme for 2023-2024. I pondered this topic from two perspectives: how refugees view themselves and how Hongkongers view refugees. I estimate that from the first perspective, the answer should be positive. So I tried to consider it from the second perspective, where there may be much room for discussion.

Here are two different views I’ve heard from Christians about refugees coming to Hong Kong: At a dinner gathering, a brother believed that refugees have increased Hong Kong’s economic burden because the government has to provide each refugee with a monthly living allowance of about 3,000 dollars, as well as pay for the tuition of their children under 18 who are in school. Another view from some Christians is that they are messengers sent by God to bless the Hong Kong church.

Perhaps both views are correct. In my observations over the past seven years, from a socio-economic perspective, refugees seem to have diluted the welfare of Hongkongers. But at the same time, they have “revitalized” the old building rental market. In education, they have helped schools lacking students. In terms of environmental protection, refugees are willing to accept food or goods nearing their expiration date. As for their blessing to the Hong Kong church, I think everyone will receive differently.

Therefore, perhaps the same thing can be understood in many ways. I tried to think from Matthew 25:31-46, are the refugee communities staying in Hong Kong a curse or a blessing to us?

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-40 
Subtopic: A Blessing 

This passage discusses the judgment when Jesus returns. It mentions that after the judgment, people will be divided into two categories: the righteous (verse 37) and the unrighteous (verse 44, “they”). The righteous are blessed by the Father and may inherit the kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world (see verse 36). The “kingdom” may refer to the eternal kingdom of heaven. The unrighteous are cursed and depart from Jesus, entering the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (see verse 41).

How does Jesus distinguish between them? It turns out to be the same situation but different responses. Verses 35-36 and 42-44 mention the situations they faced:
1.    Jesus was hungry
2.    Jesus was a stranger
3.    Jesus was naked
4.    Jesus was in prison

The righteous may not know who the person in need was, but they provided help according to the other’s needs. Why would they offer help? I infer it may be out of compassion or conscience. If they are disciples of Christ, I believe it is personal compassion, and perhaps more importantly, it is the Holy Spirit moving them to offer help and teaching them to provide appropriate assistance. So it is not because of their actions, but because they live out the essence of Jesus’ disciples, following God’s teachings. Moreover, to provide support, one needs not only resources but also the power of love. This power, I believe, comes from truly understanding and receiving Jesus’ grace of salvation and God’s love, which is their motivation to love.

The righteous asked Jesus, “Lord, when did we see you…” (see verses 37-39). This question reflects that the righteous may acknowledge that they have done these things, but they understand it as doing them for someone, not as Jesus said, for Him. Perhaps this shows that they respond to others’ needs simply because of God’s teachings, purely obeying God’s guidance.
This sincerity, purity of heart, and obedience and faith in God have earned them God’s approval and grace, and they enter into eternal life (verse 46).

I believe that every person in genuine need is brought by God into our midst, teaching us to understand their needs and guiding us to respond. This is both the giver and the receiver receiving God’s love and grace. I believe it is a blessing from God for the giver.

Scripture: Matthew 25:41-46 
Subtopic: A Curse

When Jesus pointed out that in the following situations, the “unrighteous” either ignored or disregarded, etc.
1.    Jesus was hungry
2.    Jesus was a stranger
3.    Jesus was naked
4.    Jesus was in prison

Like the righteous, they did not know at the time that the one seeking help was Jesus. Of course, it wasn’t Jesus himself, because referring to verses 40 and 45, Jesus said that whatever was done to the least of these brothers of mine was done to me. Conversely, not doing for the least of these brothers was not doing for Jesus.

Some scholars believe that “the least of these brothers” refers to disciples, and at that time, there were Jewish disciples and Gentile disciples. It is also said that it may include non-disciples. Regardless, I infer that “the least of these brothers” gives me a hint about why the “unrighteous” do not help those in need. Perhaps they are not incapable of helping or unaware of the need.

Perhaps the “unrighteous” first calculate their interests before deciding to act. Their starting point is not compassion but their own interests. They do not follow God’s will but their own desires. I guess it is also possible that they want to help but think they are incapable and do not seek God’s will, so they give up. I think these people are not centered on God but on themselves. They think they are Christians but do not live out the essence of Christianity. Even if the Holy Spirit constantly reminds them, they may refuse or ignore it. When Jesus returns, they will suddenly realize their mistake, but it will be too late. Jesus said they would go into eternal punishment (verse 46).

Conclusion Jesus’ teaching may not be intended as a prediction but to teach disciples to be always vigilant and to adhere to God’s teachings. God has brought the refugee community to us in Hong Kong today, and I believe it is not by chance but out of God’s goodness. But we may have doubts, be a little afraid, be a little at a loss, etc. I believe that the task God has given us is one we can complete. God is our Father, and He is always with us, teaching us. As long as we believe in God and rely on Him wholeheartedly. Refugees are not rotten; their presence among us is our blessing.

Refugee Sunday 2024 Message 

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