Rick Warren, Bill Hybels Urge Christians Not to Ignore Refugee Crisis

Refugees and migrants sleep inside a tent as they wait to cross the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Greece, January 21, 2016. (REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A number of Christian church leaders, including Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, spoke out about the vital need for believers to follow Jesus' footsteps and help refugees.

They spoke at the GC2 Summit at Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois, on Wednesday which featured sessions focused on the ongoing refugee crisis that is gripping the world, most notably with the millions of people in Syria and the surrounding region fleeing civil war and seeking refuge in Western nations. Evangelical pastors spoke alongside relief groups, such as World Vision and World Relief, about the urgent need for the Church in America to get involved and help in meaningful ways.

Rick Warren focused his message to the audience at Naperville, alongside all those watching via livestream, on the life and mission of Jesus Christ, and urged believers to care about the things that Jesus cared about.

"Jesus loves the Church, and he loves the world," Warren said.

The Saddleback pastor also pointed out that Christ was indifferent to things such as personal danger, politics, and even religious traditions — "He valued relationships much more than rules," he added.

"Jesus never got angry at irreligious people. He only got mad at people who should know better. All of the woes in Matthew 23 and Luke 11 are for religious people. And that's why the common people and the street people loved Jesus. The only people who had a problem with Jesus were the religious ones. When Jesus saw people taking advantage of the poor, he got angry," the pastor continued.

He said that Christ also got angry when people did nothing to help others, and when the need of children went unmet.

"The largest refugee crisis in our lifetime right now is going on, and people are ignoring it. Actually, they are closing down the borders. I have been to some of the largest refugee camps in the world, but have never seen anything like this," Warren said about the main topic of the conference.

He then talked about Saddleback's efforts throughout the years to send help to refugee camps, and said that people are currently without water, with no sanitation, and no food.

"Why must we care about these refugees? Why must we care about foreigners? Why must we care about immigrants? What the Bible sometimes calls aliens, foreigners, strangers in the land? Because God commands it. All throughout Scripture, God says you are to treat people who are out of their country kindly," he continued.

The pastor pointed out that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees, and did not return to Israel until King Herod died:

"God commands it all throughout Scripture — 'You must take care of the foreigner, for so were you.' And love demands it. The Bible says that 'to him that knows to do good, and does it not — it is sin.' That's why for the past 15 years Saddleback has sent over 26,000 members around the world."

Warren explained that to fulfill the Great Commission, people have to "love what Jesus loves, we have to be indifferent to what Jesus is indifferent to, and we have to be angry at the things Jesus gets angry about. And we have to sacrifice for what Jesus sacrificed."

He also insisted that the "whole business of Christianity is to go out into the sores of life, where people are bleeding, and hurting, and dying, and take up the cross. And if we are not doing that, I doubt our Christianity."

Another video message was delivered by David Platt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, who said that people need to realize that the migration of people occurs "under the ultimate governance of God."

"And Acts 17 says God is doing it all for a reason — that people might seek Him, feel their way toward Him, and find Him," Platt told the audience.

"Our God aims to be sought, found, and enjoyed by all the peoples in the world, and He oversees their travels toward that end. In His goodness, God even turns the tragedy of forced migration into the triumph of future salvation," he said.

At the same time, he suggested that the Church is also called to take care of its own.

"It is all together right for the Church to consider specifically how to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Such care for refugees is not only right, it is required," he said.

Platt also brought back the discussion to the story of Jesus, and His family's plight as He was to be born.

"He came as a baby boy. First story we have about Him, following His birth, is the exodus to Egypt, driven to a foreign country by a murderous king," he said.

"This God is not distant from us, God is not detached from the people we are, and the pain we experience; God is present with us. He is no stranger to suffering, He is familiar with our pain. He has not left the outcast and the oppressed alone. In a world of sin and suffering, God has come to us, and He has conquered for us."

The International Mission Board's president further called on people to choose justice and mercy when thinking about refugees.

"We all know the story of the Good Samaritan, and all he did for the man in need — he took him, cared for him, provided for him, paid for him. He sacrificed everything he knew, without question, or hesitation," he noted.

Several of GC2's afternoon sessions focused on more of the specifics surrounding the refugee crisis, and included discussions on understanding Islam and IS, questions around domestic refugee resettlement programs, and featured the testimonies of refugees.

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, warned that if the crisis is looked at only through a geopolitical lens, there will be a failure to see "the faces of the people" in need.

"We will fail to see these individuals made in the image of God as mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. We will put a label on them — we will label them refugees, migrants, Muslim; label them with something that allows us to take an entire class of human beings that God created and write them off or put them on a shelf somewhere where we don't have to look at them, we don't have to think about them, and we can treat them as a class instead of as individual human beings," Stearns warned.

He also shared a letter he received from a 10-year-old Muslim girl that moved him deeply, which read:

"Peace be to you, I am talking to you on behalf of the Syrian children, I am calling on you, the people of the other world, have you ever thought of the children of Syrian? Syria is in pain. Syria is bleeding. Syria is crying for her children. Her children were her candles, and they have faded out. We are crying, and Syria is crying blood," the girl writes, sharing that her father was killed and she won't see him again.

Stearns insisted that the girl deserves an answer, and invited all listeners "to be an answer to this little girl's desperate cry for help."

He said that answering such a call "will put a smile on the face of God."

Bill Hybels, the founding and Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, was one of the last speakers of the night, and specifically addressed church leaders and pastors. He talked of the importance of church leaders experiencing "second conversions" in life, which he described as "life-altering, heart-shattering movements of the Holy Spirit."

"One of the most important things in the life of a leader is to live submitted enough to the Holy Spirit, that on a fairly regular basis, you get your heart wrecked over something, that you then bring with passion and sincerity to your church," Hybels said.

The Willow Creek pastor added that leadership is about moving people, about encouraging and inspiring them to get directly involved in an important cause.

"When you first become a Christian, God gives you a new heart," he said. "God increases your capacity for love, to wrap your head around more than just one issue in your church and in your life."

Hybels concluded by stating that he is proud that he sees the Church standing up for the refugee issue.

"I just hope and pray you make sure it fires up in you first, not just conceptually, but deeper than that," he added, and said that compassion and justice are not a burden, but "an opportunity for God to expand our hearts."

The conference also promoted the National Refugee Sunday event, which is scheduled for June 5, and will include awareness, prayer, and videos that churches around the country can get involved in.

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