Leviticus 19: 33-34 (NRSV)
33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
65.6 Million people have been forced to leave their home in 2016. 22.5 Million of them are refugees. 30% of them are hosted in Africa, 26% in the Middle East, 17% in Europe and 16% in the Americas and 11% in Asia and the Pacific.
65.6 Million people: 102,329 visitors can be seated in the Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. You have to fill up the Ohio Stadium almost 650 times in order to have all displaced persons seated. And yet, the mass of people is composed of individuals. Men, women, youth, children. All of them have names, faces, hopes, fears, families and their individual life stories. I recently met one of the 65.6 Million. My husband and I were in vacation in Italy. A young man was sitting in front of the supermarket waiting for someone who would need some help and give him some coins as compensation. I asked: “Where are you from?” “From Nigeria,” was his answer. I gave the young men 1 Euro and said: “God bless you.” But I did not ask: “What’s your name?”, nor did I dare to enter into a deeper conversation. I was in vacation and I wanted to enjoy myself instead of being involved in the sad reality of one of 65.6 Million migrants. But I wasn’t able to forget the young man. I remember his posture. He seemed to be depressed, and yet, he kept on waiting. He is one of the many foreigners on my European continent whom my country Germany does not treat like a native-born. He is not allowed to enter Germany. He has to stay in Italy although Italy has far more migrants because it is located at the Mediterranean Sea. And I, visiting Italy, I had a heart full of pity for him, but my love was not deep enough to even ask: “What’s your name?”
There are 65.6 Million people on this earth who are forced to migrate. We in the global Methodist family of the World Methodist Council proudly say: “We are 80 million people, amongst them nearly 13 million United Methodists.” If we all become loving and caring neighbors, seeking justice for those on their way, the lives of our fellow humans will be changed.
Ephesians 2:19 (NRSV)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.
It was in a worship service earlier this year. I was part of the congregation in Wiesloch in the South West of Germany. We celebrated Holy Communion. The pastor invited all we wish to receive Christ’s love and to follow him to the table. That morning a woman from Pakistan attended the United Methodist congregation for first time. She had her daughter with her. Some of the congregants in Wiesloch are voluntarily working in the shelter where asylum seekers have to live and they speak of their church and tell people that all are welcome to worship. The woman and her little daughter came to the table. We all were standing in a circle. After having received the sacrament we were holding hands and received the blessing. Although I knew nearly nothing at this time of the woman from Pakistan, I realized: Here at the Communion table we are one. No one is a stranger. No one has more rights than the others. No one has to leave in the fear to be kicked off. We altogether are here because Christ guarantees the rights to be fellow citizens in God’s household for us.
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner was born in and grew up in Eppingen, nurtured by a small UMC congregation in southern Germany. She studied at the United Methodist Theological Seminary in Reutlingen and served as pastor of congregations in Karlsruhe-Durlach, Hockenheim and Darmstadt-Sprendlingen before her appointment as superintendent of the Frankfurt District in 1996. In February 2005, she was elected bishop at the Germany Central Conference in Wuppertal - the first woman elected to the United Methodist episcopacy outside of the United States.