A Christian Response to the Stranger: Faith and Courage–Never Fear

It’s a little early to be thinking about St. Patrick’s Day.  After all, March 17 is nearly three months away.  But St. Patrick’s life and witness couldn’t be timelier to think about than right now.

Patrick was 16 years old when a band of Celtic pirates from Ireland invaded his homeland in Northeast England, captured Patrick, brought him back with them to Ireland where he was sold as a slave.  During his 6 years as a slave, Patrick committed his life to Jesus, developed a deep love for his captors and grew to understand their culture and way of life.  Patrick then escaped from Ireland and returned to England where he eventually became a Parish priest.  One night Patrick had a dream. In that dream an angel came to him and delivered several letters from his former captors, pleading with him to return and help them.  The dream was not like anything Patrick had been thinking about.  Reflecting on its meaning, Patrick realized God was calling him to live among and share Jesus with the Celts.

Patrick returned to Ireland and started a movement, which resulted in tens of thousands surrendering their lives to Jesus and being baptized.  Roughly 25% of Ireland’s formerly unreached tribes became devoted Christians. All forms of violence significantly decreased and the Irish slave trade came to a halt.

So just what does any of this have to do with what is going on today?

We are living in a time when fear and anger, particularly directed at Islamic extremists like the group calling itself Islamic State (ISIS, ISUL) and the international community is increasingly calling Daesh, are fueling concerns that the U.S. is not a safe place to live.

Fear drives a sort of exclusionism which wants to build a wall, either real or figurative, which would prevent foreigners–Muslims and anyone else we label as bad–from entering our country.  But history reminds us that walls built to keep us safe, like Japanese internment camps, actually hurt us instead.  Those WWII camps made us victims of our own fear and violated the freedom principles on which our great country was founded.

The conversation for us as Christians, however, must start with Scripture.  We submit to the authority of Scripture to guide us rather than the sentiments and forces of the culture around us.

The Bible shows us God is on a rescue mission to restore and redeem our world.  First He called a man, Abram; then a nation, Israel; then a Savior, Jesus; and now the Church is called to partner with Him in redeeming every people and every nation.

We are in a spiritual battle where Satan is wreaking havoc, literally bringing hell on earth.  Jesus death and resurrection mean that the final victory is God’s and one day it will be ours too.  Until then, we are to welcome the stranger and the foreigner, (Deut 10:19); Love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who despise us (Mt 5:44); make disciples of all nations, (Mt 28:19); seek and save the lost, (Luke 19:19).

No one ever won a war by retreating and hiding.  No one ever found victory by building a wall.  And that is why Patrick is so important for us now.  Patrick didn’t stay in England filled with fear and anger over his Celtic Oppressors.  Patrick returned to Ireland.  Lived among the Celts.  Loved them and served them.  Showed them and told them about Jesus.  That is how the movement that brought Christianity to the West got started.  That is what changed the world back then.  That is the only thing that will change our world now.

Faith and Courage required.

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