“Jehovah is protecting the foreign residents.”—PSALM 146:9.
1, 2. (a) What challenges do some of our brothers and sisters have? (b) What questions arise?
“WHEN the civil war started in Burundi, our family was at an assembly,” says a brother named Lije. “We could see people running, shooting. My parents and 11 of us siblings fled for our lives with only the clothes on our backs. Some of my family finally made it to a refugee camp in Malawi, a journey of over 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles). The rest of us were scattered.”
2 Around the world, there are more than 65 million refugees who have been forced to leave their homes because of war or persecution. This is the highest number of refugees ever recorded.* (See footnote.) Thousands of these refugees are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many have lost loved ones and almost everything they own. What other challenges have they had? How can we help our brothers and sisters serve Jehovah and keep their joy when they suffer such trials? (Psalm 100:2) And what is the best way to preach to refugees who do not yet know Jehovah?
THE LIFE OF A REFUGEE
3. How did Jesus and many of his disciples become refugees?
3 Jesus and his parents became refugees in Egypt after Jehovah’s angel warned Joseph that King Herod wanted to kill Jesus. They stayed there until Herod died. (Matthew 2:13, 14, 19-21) Many years later, Jesus’ disciples “were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” because of persecution. (Acts 8:1) Jesus knew that many of his followers would be forced to leave their homes. He said: “When they persecute you in one city, flee to another.” (Matthew 10:23) Fleeing home for any reason is never easy.
4, 5. What are some of the dangers when refugees (a) are fleeing? (b) are living in a camp?
4 When refugees are fleeing from their home or are living in a refugee camp, they face various dangers. “We walked for weeks, passing hundreds of dead bodies,” says Gad, Lije’s younger brother. “I was 12 years old. My feet were so swollen that I told my family to go on without me. My father—not about to abandon me to the rebel forces—carried me. We survived day by day, praying to Jehovah and trusting in him, sometimes eating only mangoes that were growing along the way.”—Philippians 4:12, 13.
5 Most of Lije’s family spent many years in United Nations refugee camps. But there were dangers there too. Lije, who is now a circuit overseer, explains: “Most people had no work. They gossiped, drank, gambled, stole, and were immoral.” To protect themselves from the bad influences, the Witnesses needed to stay busy in the congregation. (Hebrews 6:11, 12; 10:24, 25) They used their time wisely so that they could stay strong in the truth, and many began pioneering. They reminded themselves that eventually their time in the refugee camp would end, just as Israel’s time in the wilderness ended. This helped them keep a positive attitude.—2 Corinthians 4:18.
SHOW LOVE TO REFUGEES
6, 7. (a) How does “the love of God” motivate us to treat our brothers? (b) Give an example.
6 “The love of God” motivates us to show love to our brothers, especially when they experience difficulties. (Read 1 John 3:17, 18.) For example, when the early Christians in Judea needed food because of a famine, the congregation organized help for them. (Acts 11:28, 29) The apostles Paul and Peter also encouraged Christians to be hospitable to one another. (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9) Since Christians are encouraged to show kindness to brothers who are visiting from other places, we should certainly show kindness to our brothers who are in danger or who have been persecuted for their faith!* (See footnote.)—Read Proverbs 3:27.
7 Recently, thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses were forced to leave their homes because of war and persecution in eastern Ukraine. Sadly, some of them were killed. But most of the fleeing brothers were welcomed into the homes of brothers and sisters in other parts of Ukraine and in Russia. In both countries, the brothers remained neutral, “no part of the world,” and continued zealously preaching “the good news of the word.”—John 15:19; Acts 8:4.
HELP REFUGEES TO STRENGTHEN THEIR FAITH
8, 9. (a) What challenges may refugees have in a new country? (b) Why do they need our patient help?
8 Some refugees are forced to live in another part of their own country. However, many others must go to a new country that is not familiar. It is true that governments may give refugees some food and clothing and a place to live, but there are still challenges. For example, the food may be very different from what they are used to. Some refugees who come from warm countries may not know how to dress for cold weather. Others may have to learn how to use modern appliances for the first time.
9 Some governments have programs to help refugees adjust to life in a new country. But often the refugees are expected to care for themselves after a few months. This can be very difficult. Imagine the things they are expected to learn all at once: a new language, new customs, and new laws about such things as paying bills and taxes, school attendance, and even child discipline! Can you patiently and respectfully help our brothers and sisters who have challenges like these?—Philippians 2:3, 4.
10. How can we strengthen the faith of refugees when they arrive? (See opening picture.)
10 Sometimes authorities make it difficult for our brothers who are refugees to contact the local congregation. Some government organizations threaten to stop helping our brothers. They may say that they will not allow them to live in the country if they refuse to accept a job that prevents them from attending meetings. Because they are afraid and feel helpless, some have taken those jobs. So it is urgent to meet our refugee brothers as soon as possible after they arrive. They need to see that we care about them. Such concern and practical help can strengthen their faith.—Proverbs 12:25; 17:17.
GIVE REFUGEES PRACTICAL HELP
11. (a) What do refugees need at first? (b) How can refugees show gratitude?
11 At first, we may need to give our brothers food, clothing, or other basic things.* (See footnote.) Even small gifts, such as a necktie for a brother, can mean a lot. Of course, refugees would not want to be demanding but would want to show that they are grateful for what others do. This will result in happiness for the brothers who are giving. Yet, it is important that refugees eventually try to care for their own needs. Doing this will help them to keep their self-respect and to have a good relationship with their brothers. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10) Still, refugees do need our practical help.
12, 13. (a) How can we offer refugees practical help? (b) Give an example.
12 We do not need a lot of money to help refugees. What they need most is our time and love. For example, you can show them how to use public transportation or how to shop for healthy but inexpensive foods. You can also show them how to get things such as a sewing machine or a lawn mower so that they can use them to earn a regular income. Most important, you can help them to become a part of their new congregation. If possible, offer them transportation to meetings. You can also explain the best way to preach to people in the territory, and you can work with them in the ministry.
13 When four young refugees arrived in one congregation, various elders gave them practical help. They taught them how to drive a car, how to type a letter, and how to apply for a job. They also showed them how to schedule their time so that they could put Jehovah’s service first. (Galatians 6:10) Soon, all four became pioneers. Because of the elders’ help and their own efforts to set goals in Jehovah’s service, they progressed as Christians and avoided becoming part of Satan’s world.
14. (a) What temptation do refugees need to resist? (b) Give an example.
14 Like all other Christians, refugees need to resist the temptation and pressure to put material things before their relationship with Jehovah.* (See footnote.) Lije, mentioned earlier, and his brothers and sisters remember the important lessons about faith their father taught them while they were fleeing. They say: “One by one, he threw away the few nonessential belongings we carried. Finally, he held up the empty bag and said with a smile: ‘You see? This is all you need!’”—Read 1 Timothy 6:8.
CARE FOR THE GREATEST NEEDS OF REFUGEES
15, 16. (a) How can we strengthen our brothers’ faith? (b) How can we help them emotionally?
15 Refugees need more than food and clothing. They need emotional support and encouragement from the Bible. (Matthew 4:4) Elders can help by getting literature in the language of the refugees and by helping them to contact brothers who speak their language. This is very important because many refugees have been forced to leave behind everything they were familiar with. They are missing their family, community, and congregation. They need to sense Jehovah’s love and compassion among their fellow Christians. If they do not, refugees may look for help from others who are from the same country but who do not serve Jehovah. (1 Corinthians 15:33) When we make them feel part of the congregation, we work with Jehovah to protect “the foreign residents.”—Psalm 146:9.
16 Jesus and his family could not return to their home as long as those persecuting them were still ruling. For similar reasons, refugees today may not be able to return home. Others, however, may not want to return home. Lije says that many parents who saw family members raped and murdered in their country do not want to take their children back there. To help our brothers, we need to show “fellow feeling, brotherly affection, tender compassion, and humility.” (1 Peter 3:8) Persecution has caused some refugees to avoid associating with others, and they may feel ashamed to talk about their suffering, especially if their children are near. Ask yourself, ‘If I experienced such pain, how would I like to be treated?’—Matthew 7:12.
WHEN WE PREACH TO NON-WITNESS REFUGEES
17. How does our preaching bring relief to refugees?
17 Many of today’s refugees come from countries where our preaching work is restricted. Thanks to zealous Witnesses, thousands of refugees are hearing “the word of the Kingdom” for the first time. (Matthew 13:19, 23) Many who are “loaded down” are finding comfort and relief at our meetings and are quick to say: “God is really among you.”—Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Corinthians 14:25.
18, 19. How can we be wise when we preach to refugees?
18 We need to be wise and “cautious” when we preach to refugees. (Matthew 10:16; Proverbs 22:3) Be patient as you listen to refugees when they speak, but do not discuss politics. We should follow directions we receive from the branch office as well as local authorities so that we do not put ourselves or others at risk. Because refugees come from different religions and cultures, we need to learn about and respect their feelings and opinions. For example, people from some countries have very strong opinions about how women should dress. So when we preach to them, it is good to dress in a way that will not offend them.
19 We want to help people who are suffering, even those who do not serve Jehovah. When we do, we are imitating the good example of the Samaritan in Jesus’ illustration. (Luke 10:33-37) The best way to help people is to teach them the good news. One elder who has helped many refugees said that it is important to tell them right away that we are Jehovah’s Witnesses. We should let them know that we are there first of all to help them understand the wonderful hope offered in the Bible rather than to provide them with material assistance.
20, 21. (a) What good comes from showing refugees genuine love? (b) What will we learn in the next article?
20 When we show genuine love to “foreign residents,” it brings good results. A Christian sister related that her family had to flee the persecution in Eritrea. Four of her children had to travel for eight days across the desert. Finally, after an exhausting journey, they arrived in Sudan. She said: “The brothers there treated them like close relatives, providing food, clothes, shelter, and transportation. Who else would welcome strangers into their home just because they worship the same God? Only Jehovah’s Witnesses!”—Read John 13:35.
21 What about the many children who arrive with their parents? In the next article, we will learn how all of us can help these families to serve Jehovah joyfully.
In this article, the word “refugees” refers to people who have been forced to leave their homes because of war, persecution, or natural disasters. They may be forced to live in a new country or another part of their own country. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) says that 1 out of 113 people around the world is forced to leave home.
See the article “Do Not Forget Kindness to Strangers” in The Watchtower of October 2016, pages 8-12.
As soon as possible after a refugee arrives, elders should follow the direction in Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will, chapter 8, paragraph 30. To contact a congregation in the refugee’s homeland, elders can write to their own branch using jw.org. In the meantime, they can ask discreet questions about a refugee’s congregation and ministry to discern his spiritual condition.