Refugee. This word represents people who come from their countries fleeing wars, famines, natural disasters, or political situations that put their lives at risk. Refugees. The word scares us. Many people think of large groups of people invading our corner of the planet like locusts. We do not know if it is selfishness or a sense of self-protection, but when someone of another color, of another race, with another language comes into the neighborhood, it somehow alters our peace. They, the refugees, have already gotten used to those hostile looks that say, You are not from here, go on your way, you do not belong to us.
Many years ago, God called Abram of Ur of the Chaldeans to go out and dwell in the land of Canaan. He obeyed. Ur of the Chaldeans was a good place to live; it was the land to which he and his family belonged. God wanted him to live as a foreigner, however, and that was his experience for the rest of his life: being a foreigner.
The interesting thing about the story is that he did not come to an uninhabited land, but rather to a land that already had an owner: “Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land” (Gen. 12:6, NIV). Abram did not come alone. It was a long caravan of those who left with him from Ur — plus all those whom he had bought and acquired in Haran — and it is very probable that the Canaanites were standing outside their houses or on the side of the road watching over their lands and their possessions because they were afraid of this large group of foreigners who came to live in their country.
The social aspect, how they were received, is a secondary aspect, and it is something that we cannot change. But the most important aspect of the story is what happened next: “The Lord appeared to Abram and said: ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him” (Gen. 12:7, NKJV). Abram didn’t build an altar to God in Ur, neither did he build it in Haran; he built it in Canaan.
As a church and as God’s people, we are called to build altars, or places of worship to God. And that’s what we’re doing. The Multilingual Department of the Kansas-Nebraska Conference coordinates watching over and helping the less fortunate, the foreigners, and refugees who come to these lands, and we invite them to give glory to God and to build places of worship.
We have already heard of many refugees from Myanmar who have come to our territory and already have a nice church in Omaha, Nebraska, where they worship God every Saturday (Sabbath). But I want to tell you about a new group from Haiti, who have come to the lands of Garden City in Kansas. Due to various circumstances, one Sabbath morning, a family that spoke Creole, some Spanish, and very little English, came to the Hispanic Church to worship God. There they were well received.
Together with the church members, local pastor David Meza established a program to help the family and provide them with a place to worship God. The group grew, others arrived, and the need for more space was evident. Together, Hispanics and Haitians began to pray to God, and God responded. They eventually found a large building — a restaurant that was abandoned and for sale for a long time. They bought it for much less than what it would normally cost, and the repair and remodeling work began. The brothers and sisters of the Hispanic Church assumed the costs and the debt to achieve the objective: a temple, a building with two places of worship, one for them and another for our Haitian brothers and sisters.
Today, a group of more than 30 Haitians gather to worship God in Garden City.
It is wonderful to visit them and see how, just a few feet apart, these two groups, children of Abraham, worship the Creator.
The original version of this commentary was posted by the Mid-America Union Outlook. Alejandro Dovald is associate ministerial director and Hispanic Ministries coordinator for the Kansas-Nebraska Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.