Our God is the God of the un-homed.
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Psalm 90:1)— Moses, the wanderer.
There’s a varnished wooden box upstairs. Painted on it in careful, black script is one woman’s story: Christine Glück, über Antwerpen nach New York. A paper sticker with a faded red star and the word “steerage” still holds to the side of the trunk.
As 2005 winds down, human beings all over the planet are on the move, like Christine was long ago. A body will shift position, we learned in physics, when something forceful applies pressure to it. Like loneliness or love. Loss or liberty. Maybe fear of God.
This year water floated people from Louisiana to Texas. As these lines are being written, my city awaits any evacuees flown out of New Orleans. They will be people who don’t have the resources to get out on their own. They will be people placed on planes, bound for destinations typically divulged only after the plane is in the air. “These may not be happy campers,” says Edwin Hullander of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Other people are moving this November because the overthrow of a corrupt government has brought its own new and fearful conditions. Or they’re moving because famine with its dry breath and bony knees has paid a visit. People are afoot because civil war in their land has become genocide. Sometimes closed borders swing open, unpredictably and precariously, and for a time human beings squeeze out.
Young couples willing to study are also on the move. Their countries of origin are anxious to help them get to the United States to take advantage of university programs. An impromptu backyard barbecue this past summer in Lincoln, Neb., brought together 20 agronomy graduate students. Their passports? Uruguay, Northern Ireland, Colombia, Canada, China, Argentina. Four Yanks.
Children move (or are moved) in international adoption programs. Little orphans from Vietnam, Guatemala, Russia, and Korea get new last names.
Sometimes families move in pieces, a few at a time, like cards being dealt. That’s how it is for one tiny woman who speaks just enough English to open a tiny restaurant in an empty storefront on an old main street in far southwest Iowa.
Even young suburban couples move. Nothing was particularly wrong with their house or school or church. But success suggests newer, bigger, more comfortable. Moving five or six miles in a big metro area likely means new schools, different stores, neighbors, and congregation.
Small-town, high-school grads on the Great Plains move because jobs are scarce. So they rent in Denver or the Twin Cities or Kansas City. A medical doctor from Pakistan opens a practice in Germany, while Latinos willing to do difficult, dangerous, and dirty work come to meat-packing plants in western Kansas.
Some people will move when a wall comes down or a wall goes up. A woman shops at a thrift store in Omaha. She left Khartoum, Sudan, because radical Islam presented Christians with blunt choices: slavery, exile, or death.
God spoke through Moses of his special love for the alien, the widow, and the fatherless. Flesh and blood without a protector, without rights, those most easily overlooked and easiest to take advantage of. Refugees all. Our God is the God of the un-homed.
It’s November. The calendar of the Christian Church has moved to “End Times.” This worship focus is designed to comfort the believer living in the tent cities of this earth. To put an arm around the bent shoulders of the widow, to relax the homeless man in his anxiety, to talk with the orphan of her place at her Father’s table. This is God’s offer in Jesus Christ. This is our offer too, Christians: refuge.
Living Hope Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE