Who Do We Welcome?

By Pastor Haley Cawthon

Who Do We Welcome?    

Recently I went with several members of Redeeming Church to the Florida Holocaust Museum. Walking through the museum, seeing the artifacts, and hearing the stories of survivors was deeply moving and heart wrenching. It’s one thing to read about the Holocaust in books, but seeing the artifacts—the shoes of a child, a prisoner’s uniform, Star of David patches, a rail car that carried people to concentration camps, and so many more—brings the horrific events closer to home.

As we walked through the museum, one display in particular caught my attention. This display was on the 1939 voyage of the MS St Louis. The St Louis was an ocean liner that sailed from Germany to Cuba carrying over 900 Jewish refugees. These refugees had their paperwork approved and were looking forward to a new life away from the persecution they had faced in Germany. When they arrived in Cuba, however, they were not allowed to disembark because, while they were in transit, legislation had been passed that cancelled any visas previously approved and Cuba wouldn’t accept the refugees.

The ship’s captain then turned his attention to requesting asylum for his Jewish passengers in the United States. But again, the refugees were turned away. The US was afraid that accepting the refugees would be a political disaster—that there would be a backlash from Germany and her allies. Additionally, many members of both the government and the general population held anti-Semitic beliefs. In the US, Jews faced judgment from fellow Americans because of their religion. The American public largely looked down on the Jews and thought of them as second-class citizens. Anti-Semitism in the US ran rampant in society. The US government let their prejudice dictate their response to the Jewish refugees seeking asylum.

Instead of honoring the Statue of Liberty’s plaque—“ Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—the US government turned it’s back on a group of people seeking asylum from a regime that sought to end the so called “Jewish problem.” They put politics before hospitality. They put America’s so called interests before the wellbeing of vulnerable refugees seeking a safe haven.

After being denied entry into the US, the St Louis was forced to return to Europe. Knowing the persecution that his passengers faced in Germany, the captain refused to return them to Germany and docked in Antwerp, Belgium. Eventually, the refugees found asylum in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Those who found asylum in the UK were safe, but those who went to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands soon faced danger once again with the Nazi invasion of those three countries. Not all of those Jews survived the war.

As I read this display, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between what happened with St Louis and the current refugee crisis. Just as the Jewish refugees on the St Louis fled Germany and sought asylum, the Syrian refugees have fled a war torn nation and seek asylum, hope, and peace.

When we deny the entry of refugees out of fear, we are repeating what happened with the St Louis. How many of those refugees will die because we denied them asylum?

Christ commands us to love without reservation. We are to welcome the foreigner. We are to offer hospitality. We are to be a community that welcomes the weary and the hurt. We are to welcome the lost and the lonely. We are to welcome.

Denying asylum to refugees does not follow Christ’s commands. It ignores Christ’s commands.

So, who do we welcome?

Let us follow Christ’s example and be a refuge for those others turn away. 

Whoever you are—regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, political affiliation—you are welcome here. You are welcome into the community of Christ’s love because Christ loves all and accepts all just as we are.