Walking With The Refugee


A Biblical Response To The Global Crisis

A refugee is any person who seeks safe living away from their homeland due to persecution or physical danger. Refugees are people who seek a refuge—they seek a place to live that will keep them safe from physical harm, the pursuit of people who are against them, or other dangers due to political or religious conflict.

The Bible provides many examples of refugees in both the Old and New Testaments: Hagar (Genesis 16), Jacob (Genesis 46), Noami (Ruth 1), Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18), and even Jesus and His family (Matthew 2)!


One of the largest refugee groups in Scripture we can read about is the Israelites leaving Egypt. Exodus 12:37 tells us, “There were about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children.”

Theologians have debated the translation of the number (literally 600 eleph) for many decades. Some say it really amounts to only about 12,000 people—the approximate number of students that attend Yale University each year. Others say 600,000 is fairly accurate for the total number of people—which is roughly the population of Milwaukee, WI; Baltimore, MD; Louisville, KY; or Las Vegas, NV. Still others say that it’s 600,000 men, which would mean nearly two million people total when women and children are added to the count—that’s a little less than the population of the entire country of Jamaica.

No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of refugees! Imagine those numbers in fear for their lives, having to pack up everything they own (which probably doesn’t amount to much) and walk thousands and thousands of miles (more than 5,000!) to live safely.


Refugees aren’t just some ancient, biblical, when-Jesus-walked-on-Earth problem. Refugees are real people made in God’s image who continue to be present in our world today. In 2015, it was estimated by the United Nations that there were 65 million people displaced worldwide. That number only continues to grow as wars carry on globally.

And, in case you’re wondering, the Bible doesn’t remain silent on how we, as believers, are to treat them.

In the Old Testament, we learn about a model that God set up to help those fleeing political danger. Specifically, this model was known as “the cities of refuge.” God instructs Moses and the Israelites to “designate cities of refuge to which people can flee if they have killed someone accidentally” (Numbers 35:11). He goes on to describe specific qualifications for people who can live in those cities, providing them with safety from the death penalty. He reinforces this model with Moses’ successor, Joshua (Joshua 20).

God also gives His followers instructions about slaves who have run away in Deuteronomy 23:16—“Let them live among you in any town they choose, and do not oppress them.” To oppress means to use harsh authority or power over someone. In other words, God is saying that those seeking refuge from oppression—like refugees today—are to be treated just like us.


So how are we to treat one another? Jesus sums this up well in Mark 12: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you are unsure of how you are to treat refugees in our country, then ask yourself: How do you want to be treated by fellow American citizens? How would you want to be treated by people in another country if you had to flee for your life to that country?

Matthew 2:13-15 recounts when Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod was searching for Jesus to kill Him. They stayed in Egypt until Herod died in order to live safely. Although we are not given details about their living conditions in Egypt, locals undoubtedly helped them. Joseph must have had some type of work available to him for his family to be able to eat. But even if we weren’t the ones to help Jesus and His family out in Egypt, Jesus says that in the same way we treat others, we are actually treating Him that way: “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited Me into your home…I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!” (Matthew 25:35, 40b).


Of course, not all of us will come into direct contact with refugees. Ultimately, our calling as disciples of Christ is to point people to the Triune God—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Whether refugees or safe Americans, foreigners or citizens, poor or rich—everyone needs to know the truth that God is our only real source of refuge, just as His Word reminds us over and over again.

“The eternal God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you” (Deuteronomy 33:27a).

“My God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence” (2 Samuel 22:3).

“The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9).

“But you are a tower of refuge to the poor, O Lord, a tower of refuge to the needy in distress. You are a refuge from the storm and a shelter from the heat” (Isaiah 25:4a).

The best thing we can do for refugees—and all people everywhere—is to point them to God, their refuge.


Read the following Bible verses and list/draw the images that describe God as a refuge:

  • 2 Samuel 22:2-3
  • Psalm 46:7
  • Psalm 57:1
  • Psalm 91:1
  • Proverbs 18:10

Rescue.org provides a variety of practical ways you can help refugees in the United States. Check out their list at tinyurl.com/ya796n6z.


Did you know that The Salvation Army deployed an International Emergency Services team to support the Uganda Territory in their refugee response?

Due to the conflict, violence, and drought in South Sudan, almost 1.6 million people have fled to neighboring countries. The majority of these people are hosted in Uganda. As of June 2017, Uganda hosted 956,822 South Sudanese refugees with 282,046 of them having arrived since January 2017. Out of this refugee population, 86% are women and children under 18 years.

The Salvation Army in Uganda completed a project of 20 latrines/toilets, five boreholes, and non-food items. As the need for further assistance has become evident, The Salvation Army is currently working to support refugees in Uganda through the following projects:

  • 150 latrines
  • 18 boreholes in refugee camps and host communities (one borehole can serve approximately 500 people)
  • Purchasing, transporting, and distributing non-food items to 1,500 families (washing basins, soap, sauce pans, cups, plates, etc.)

Do you want to get involved? See page 11 of the November YS for ways to pray for refugees. Or you could host a fundraiser for this project. Contact Major Mike McKee for more information at Mike.McKee@usn.salvationarmy.org

Cross, F. L. and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Elwell, Walter A. and Barry J. Beitzel. “Cities of Refuge.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.
Manser, Martin H. Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser, 2009.

—Cari Arias, Curriculum Writer/Editor