Refugees, Exiles, and “Visions of God”

“Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1, emphasis added).

When it comes to a discussion about Muslims in America, attention immediately turns to refugees. Who are they? Why are they here? Have they been vetted? Who let them in? Etc, etc. These questions are certainly to be expected from the general population. But should other issues concern the praying and missions-minded Christian? Are there any other angles we should be looking into?

I think the first verse of the Book of Ezekiel may give us one helpful insight. Ezekiel was from a Jewish priestly family. He lived about 600 years before Christ, at a time war would engulf his nation. He ended up being an exile to Babylon, the nation that would conquer the Jewish people and many others.

The experience of refugees and exiles is typically not a happy one. The Jews exiled to Babylon sang a song of lament “By the rivers of Babylon / There we sat down and wept / When we remembered Zion / Upon the willows in the midst of it / We hung our harps” (Psalm 137:1-2). For these exiles, this time of upheaval and relocation was one of sadness. They refused to sing their joyous songs of home.

Somehow, in the midst of this traumatic setting, Ezekiel has a very deep experience with God. He sees the heavens open, and sees visions of God—unusual visions and amazing visions. Could it be that being removed from the comforts of home made Ezekiel even more hungry to seek God? The text does not spell it out. Whatever the case, we owe this wonderful book of the Bible to the visions of an exiled prophet by the rivers of Babylon.

Returning back to today, we should empathize with those who have been uprooted by war. Many times we take for granted waking up each morning in peace. We may get ready for work and grumble about cleaning snow off the car (which was parked outside ‘cuz there was too much “stuff” in the garage). Yet hopefully that snow brush or ice scraper is the most dangerous weapon we will see that day. Not so for those who have been visited by the “red horse” of war.

America is one country which has historically provided refuge, solace and a chance to rebuild for those fleeing from the red horse of war. It has been a good place to start over. Currently, many Muslims refugees from war-torn places such as Syria, Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan, have come here to start over.

Let us pray to God that many of these newcomers will indeed have “visions of God” — even meeting Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

We can play a role of being an “angel of hospitality” to these refugees. In reaching out to refugees, do not fear that you will necessarily be seen as endorsing the political decisions or immigration policies that brought them here. Most of us have little control over these decisions or policies. What we do control is how we may use the “loaves and fishes” of our time and talents. Engaging refugees may be a fun and enriching opportunity for you and your family. And perhaps you will hear your new friend declare one day the happy news that he or she has had a vision of God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!



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