One standard, One God in the Education of Refugee Children

By Pastor Prosper

Does Leviticus 24:22 apply to the education of refugee children? It reads, “There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the strangers as well as the native, for I am the Lord God.” (NASB). Answering this question is part of our responsibility as God’s global family of believers. Ensuring equal access and standards in the education of refugee children is, according to Leviticus, our godly mandate.

“The refugee crisis” brought the current number of people on the move to 70.8 million. Refugees are not numbers but human beings. They are not a phenomenon which you only read about in newspapers or watch on TV.  They are with you. Whether or not they live next door to you, they are your neighbors.  They are one of us.

The crisis of displacement is as old as the human race. The Bible is filled with stories of displacement, in which God made His purpose known through the movement of people. It is unbearable to imagine with simplicity how sound-minded people, easily make the choice to leave their home countries and become an asylum seeker, if not by coercion. By experience it is hard to spend part or all of your life on the move, to “enjoy or benefit” from a refugee life – a conclusion many arrive at simplistically.

My reflection is a heartfelt call for prayer during this month of refugee awareness. It is unfortunate, that some believers share the worldview that people on the move are somehow selfishly in search of a much better life.  The closing of national borders and doors to refugees or asylum seekers, should raise grave concerns to believers. The church is called to care for refugees and immigrants. No believer is exempt from this call that comes from the mouth of God Himself.

In my ministry of 23 years, I have seen refugees and displaced people greatly and positively influence and impact the growth of the church in their hosting countries. I have personally seen and still see in this movement, God’s intentionality to expand His Kingdom, as in the days of the early church. This is not a new theology, but a call for a new way of thinking about refugees and displacement. In the movement we see people scattered, but in God’s economy they are yet gathered for His cause, His Kingdom, His body -the Church. I am calling for that oneness of vision and heart and unity without which, we will keep asking God to send the harvesters while they are already with us! 

Unfortunately, the global church is not fully aware of God’s hand in the movement of millions of His people. Without this consideration, we are left with a narrow vision of God’s unseen intention in what we call the “refugee crisis”. Too many refugees remain, in the minds of many, a threat or a burden on the shoulders of their family, country, churches and communities. Perhaps this attitude is birthed out of fear, indifference or having less room in one’s heart for the foreigner.

Against my will, I have been for 26 years (half of my age) on the move. I have personally been an asylum seeker in different countries, on different continents. I have been exposed to different systems dealing with asylum seekers or refugees. I have been in different churches and have met both local and international missionaries and church leaders. Personally, and as a family, I carry wounds and scars from the lack of one standard in the way in which refugees are treated. 

The mandate of an equal standard for the stranger and the native in Leviticus 24: 22, is often treated as a foreign or optional verse and concept for many believers to work towards. Let me quickly state that serving refugees is not a job or an optional recommendation, but a mandate, a call. The education of refugee children will carry no weight, if refugee children are not seen as having equal value and dignity as our own children. Their education will carry no weight, if the Gospel carries no weight in our lives. Educating refugee children from a Christ centered perspective is expanding God’s Kingdom. The call is urgent.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic proved that all nations and people can very quickly experience vulnerability in the face of a threat outside of their control or causing.  COVID-19 has taken the lives of people from all strata of society, rich and poor, stranger and native.  Innumerable consequences are certain, and even when solutions are found to manage the spread and fatality of the disease, our society will need time to heal from the wounds and consequences of the disease. I am calling the church to consider another similarly devastating threat hunting millions of refugee children down – the threat of not having access to a quality education of “one standard.” This too, will have a wide-reaching impact, and the potential to kill the future of generations to come psychologically, economically, and spiritually. The time is now to pray and act before it is too late.

COVID-19 compounds the already tragic and hard conditions in which 70.8 million refugees are living. Their daily life is exposed to insecurity and violence, food and water instability, sexual abuse, and an even greater limitation of access to health care and education of their children. This double standard of treatment is happening in the very eyes of many muted voices of the Body of Christ that should speak for them. Don’t we, in reality, see the urgency to pray but also to act together? 

According to UNICEF, 13.5 million children are currently uprooted in Africa, including those living as refugees, migrants or internally displaced. According to a UNHCR report, the education of refugee children is at a heightened level of crisis, with more than half of the world’s school-age refugee children out of school. https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2019/8/5d67b2f47/refugee-education-crisis-half-worlds-school-age-refugee-children-education.html

Some of these children have lost hope. Many are exposed to trauma, drug addiction, criminal activities, mental health conditions, family breakdown, social isolation, alcohol, poor health, sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases due to early marriages or sex trafficking in the refugee camps where they live, and extreme poverty. There is a sense of being forgotten, left in isolation and misery, and the local church is not always able to respond adequately and effectively. Worse, the refugee camps in which many people are hosted can be a nursery bed where child soldiers of armed groups are recruited. Those children and youth recruited, continue to perpetuate the circle of violence in their countries of origin, and participate in future conflicts or wars, which then contributes to the perception that refugees are to be feared and a threat to society.

The permanent solution for the refugee crisis is either in repatriation, integration or resettlement. The education of refugee children is a major and crosscutting factor, in the success of that long-term solution. Quality education from an early age, gives refugee children the opportunity to be citizens of the entire world. Education will make them equally effective and competitive. The right time for education is now – while they are still young and in their first hosting countries.

The earlier we intentionally invest in the education of refugee children, the better we will prepare these children for a successful life, in which they can become the person that God intended them to be.  Whether in their home countries, hosting countries or a third country of resettlement, they will be able to contribute to the redemptive renewal of their communities and pursue their calling. Our silence and delay, in responding with action as a church called to “one standard” in the treatment of foreigners and natives, contributes to what will be the failure of millions of future homes, hostile communities, weakened or voiceless churches, failing in our prophetic mission to represent Christ. Pray and be agents of change for God’s glory, through obeying God’s call for one standard for those on the move.

Shalom.