Many thousands of Vietnamese who fled their homeland to escape Communism are “camping out” this summer, waiting for sponsors to help them begin a new way of life.
These new Americans and Canadians provide a special chance for the Christian community to “show a little love,” as the song goes, in material terms. When Christ saw the crowds, “he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless” (Matt. 9:36). But many of his followers never quite see things that way. Despite all the suffering in the world and all the emphasis in Scripture on helping the downtrodden, relatively few Christians in the West are sacrificially sharing their resources with those in need.
This is the biggest all-at-once influx of refugees that North America has ever had, which accounts at least in part for the much criticized processing hassles in the resettlement camps. The refugees must have official sponsors before they can leave the rustic conditions of the camps and make their debut in North American society. Life in these temporary quarters is by no means luxurious: the refugees are cramped into tents and old barracks. Food is adequate, however, and recreation opportunities are provided, so that conditions are bearable. But the sooner sponsors are found the better.
Sponsorship basically means financial commitment for an indefinite period. Money appropriated by Congress for the refugee program covers little more than initial processing. Once the refugees leave the resettlement camps, the sponsors must pay their bills until they find jobs and can support themselves. Very few of the refugees brought substantial resources out of Viet Nam; most came with virtually nothing.
Sponsorship should also entail helping the Vietnamese with the many adjustments they must make. Most know little or no English and will need extensive language training at the very outset. Quite a few will also have to be taught skills with which they can earn a living. Then there is the task of finding a job, for which the refugee will need counsel and guidance.
The refugees also have a lot to learn about customs in their new country. For instance, the Vietnamese are fine cooks who take great pains in the preparation of their meals. The transition to the faster, simpler eating style prevalent among North Americans may not be easy for them. The arrival of colder weather in the fall will present them with another unfamiliar aspect of American life, and they will need help in acquiring suitable clothing.
North Americans hosting Vietnamese refugees can make it a lot easier if they try to understand Vietnamese ways. This is an East-meets-West situation. The cultural difference is great, much more pronounced than with any previous refugee influx. The refugees are predominantly non-Christian, and their presence in North America represents a good evangelistic opportunity. But it may not be easy to preach the Gospel to them.
On the other hand, the Vietnamese bring a number of assets to the resettlement process. Virtually all are thought to be literate in their own language, and many in French as well; this gives them a good basis for language training. And they appear to be an exceptionally healthy lot. Little illness has been reported in the resettlement camps, despite the rigors of the evacuation process and the abrupt change in climate, food, and drinking water.
Will we be adding to our welfare rolls by bringing in these refugees? Those who know the Vietnamese people scoff at any such worry. They see the newcomers as highly industrious, adventuresome, eager workers who dislike handouts. All they need is some help in the transitional period.
But even if refugees eventually cause some problems, the compassionate Christian should not turn away from helping. These people are God’s creation as much as native North Americans are, and he will do the rewarding. The Samaritan spirit calls for making room not only in our homes but in our hearts. Whatever one thinks about the Viet Nam war, the refugees should be extended a genuine welcome as fellow human beings. Some people have already tried to exploit them, using them for pornographic pursuits and for unjust amounts of menial labor. The Christian community must show that in North America there are those who have the best interests of the Vietnamese at heart, in a spiritual as well as in a material way. The U. S. government’s refugee task force has passed on the responsibility of finding sponsors to private agencies. Prospective sponsors are referred to one of these agencies (see page 60) or to participating denominations.
The United States At 199
Generally speaking, anything that can be said theologically about the United States can be said about other nations as well. Scripture does not provide explicit guidance for commenting upon the American experience as distinct from the experience of any other nation.
Certainly one of the foremost attitudes of American Christians as we approach our bicentennial should be thankfulness. As they hear about the persecution of their fellow believers in other countries, and as they read about persecution in the past, Christians should thank God that throughout the period of America’s independence there has been very little persecution of evangelistic Christianity. In only a handful of other countries do the citizens enjoy as much freedom as Americans have to worship and to evangelize, both at home and abroad.
Christians should also remind their nation of certain biblical teachings that are of broad application, such as, “To whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48). Perhaps the national attitude toward self that is most clearly conveyed by Scripture is self-criticism. Ancient Israel had a unique relationship with God. Yet this was not to be the occasion for boasting. Instead it made—or should have made—Israel more conscious of and sorry for its national shortcomings. Israel was probably superior to its neighbors in the practice of justice and mercy, but the prophets of God did not go around praising Israel for being so much better than others. Israel did constantly remember its own heritage—including its marching “declaration of independence” known as the Exodus. However, the intended purpose was not to glorify the people but to glorify God for his mighty acts of redemption. Israel knew, though it sometimes forgot, that it was the unworthy recipient of the grace of God.
Surely it would be appropriate for Americans, as for all peoples, to celebrate the goodness and patience of God so that they do not fall into the snare of self-glorification while recalling their history.
Still Too Few Bridges
Do you believe that many young blacks reject Christianity and the Church because of the irresponsible leadership of black ministers who work in their community? How do most blacks today feel about busing?
Those who think race is no longer much of a problem in the United States should make White Questions to a Black Christian (Zondervan) required reading. The questions are posed by a wide variety of persons. The answers are by Howard O. Jones, who discusses recent incidents showing the overt racial prejudice that many of us wrongly assume is over. Jones is an evangelist on the Billy Graham team and co-chairperson of the National Workshop on Race and Reconciliation, held in Atlanta this month. He is known to be more moderate than some young black evangelicals, and his forthright approach to such matters as integration, interracial marriage, and black equality will surprise many.
Perhaps most moving for concerned white readers is the simple, effective way in which he communicates the feeling of one who has been subjected to racial prejudice. Jones prayed, “You made me what I am, and yet people despise me because of my race.”
Those Who Refuse The Truth
The Good News of Jesus Christ upon which this missions issue naturally focuses has also its negative side. We dare not neglect that side simply because it is no longer considered polite to speak of hell-fire or the wrath of God.
Paul was certainly captivated by the love of God in Christ and delighted to share it. But this did not prevent him from speaking of “the coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan [which] will be … with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:9–12).
It would seem unfair for God to make men believe what is false, but note carefully that Paul clearly shows that such error only follows a prior refusal to love the truth. God has so created men that if they will not believe the truth, their thought processes lead them to believe what is false.
What is this condemnation of which Paul speaks? A little earlier in the same letter he gives a good, brief description of it: “Those who do not know God … and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus … shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might …” (1:8, 9).
By all means, let us spread the Good News, but let us not neglect the scriptural warnings of the consequences for those who reject it. And may the reminder of these consequences spur us on in the ministry of evangelism that God has committed to his people.
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