© 2016 Robert Osburn
“Our people open their homes to five, six, even 10 people at a time.” Rev. Dr. Musa Filibus was describing the extraordinary nature of the refugee crisis in Adamawa state in northeast Nigeria, and the remarkable response of the Body of Christ to suffering all about them.
Their open-hearted response to suffering during “the worst crisis in their history” tells a story that we cannot ignore amidst the safety and security of the West.
As the Lutheran bishop of the Mayo-Belwa Diocese of the Lutheran Church of Christ, Musa explained that setting up camps for refugees, or internally displaced people, was out of the question. The churches simply were not prepared to manage the camps. So, their church (and churches in other denominations) all agreed that the refugee crisis would be addressed by having their members open their homes to those who had lost theirs to Islamic radicals.
My mind drifted back to the first time I met Musa. It was August 1994, when I met him as he arrived at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport. Part of the next day he spent in our home, half-asleep from jetlag, eating a meal of very unfamiliar American food, and wondering how our 40 year-old home could look (to him) like it had just been built. (If you have traveled in poor areas throughout the world, you will know that premature aging of structures is common.)
13 years later, in 2007, when he was the Africa Secretary for the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr. Filibus opened his home to our third son and his friend (also a Matt) as they backpacked through Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. It is no exaggeration to write that Musa’s home was a very welcome haven for our Matt and his buddy.
Now, in June 2016, twenty two years after first hosting Musa in our home, I was hearing from him. In 2013 he had voluntarily given up the luxuries of life in one of our world’s most sought-after cities to be one of the leaders serving some 2.2 million Lutheran believers in Jesus in what was a hell-hole, thanks to Boko Haram. This man of God, whose pastoral heart makes him a true and gentle shepherd, leads the way as Nigerian Christians open their homes to internally-displaced refugees who have nowhere else to go from the vicious attacks of Boko Haram.
The questions of tribal affiliation, denominational affiliation, even whether folks are Muslims, Christians, or animists are no longer relevant, he told me. Without any United Nations support, or support from the Nigerian government, believers in Christ simply open their homes, and welcome these folks into their family life. “They share their meals, their lives…This is the best way to treat those who are suffering. They feel more human in homes than in refugee camps.” And, besides, the problems of security in the camps, along with the need for latrines and for proper management, make home hosting the best way to meet the need of the hour.
When I asked him to quantify the tragedy in his area, all he could say was that there are thousands of displaced people living in homes with those who are willing to be the hands and feet of Christ.
I thought of the poverty of these people. In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product per capita in Musa’s region was $1407, while in the USA it was $48,480. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (II Corinthians 8:2 NIV).
We talked for nearly 30 minutes, and I asked Musa what US believers could do. “Pray” was his first response, but he also asked us to advocate with international organizations (e.g., United Nations), the US State Department, and the US Agency for International Development. His biggest concern, he said, is knowing how to care for the large numbers of those displaced and suffering because of Boko Haram's brutalities.
For a larger frame of reference about the scale of Islamic destruction in northern Nigeria, I encourage you to go to www.StandwithNigeria, sponsored by the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. Their 85-page report is the most current and detailed report available. Their founder, Southern Baptist Randel Everett, told me that, in his opinion, the humanitarian crises in northern Nigeria is the worst anywhere in the world today. A month ago, when I first re-connected with Musa, he (Musa) wrote, with deep, searing pain, that Christians in his region had felt so abandoned. He wondered why the world ignores the bloody martyrdom of Christians at the hands of Islamic terrorists.
This brings me full circle to the very simple act of welcoming a foreign student to one’s home. In the next several months, hundreds of thousands of new students will descend upon the US from every nation under the sun. They come not as refugees, chased from their homes and hunted like beasts. But, like Musa 22 years ago, they come to study and to learn.
Who knows? You may introduce them to Jesus, the living, loving Servant King whom we follow. You may disciple them to be Christ-animated redemptive change agents. Or, you may simply provide a welcome respite and a meal, all in the name of Jesus Christ, to a student weary after long hours of exhausting travel to the US.
Whatever the case, you will inherit the Kingdom. Just like our brothers and sisters in Nigeria.
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For…I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Matthew 25:34, 35c ESV)