My Refugees, My Family

The first of my family to arrive on this continent were refugees, French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution, imprisonment and the threat of death in 17th Century France.

Louis XIV gradually increased persecution of Protestantism …, ultimately ending any legal recognition of Protestantism in France and forcing the Huguenots to either convert or flee in a wave of violent dragonnades [quartering troops – dragoons – in Huguenots houses to intimidate and physically abuse the protestants]. (Wikipedia, Huguenots.)

Today is World Refugee Day, which brought to mind my ancestors who left France for England in 1660 and arrived here in 1680, hoping to find the freedom to worship according to their conscience, become fully accepted members of society, and live at peace with their neighbors and with the authorities.

Jan Luiken, Expulsion from La Rochelle of 300 Protestant families Nov 1661 (Wikipedia)

This is the same freedom and peace called for by the U.S. Constitution adopted a century after their arrival.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … . (First Amendment to the United States Constitution.)

The Bible also calls us to freedom in our ability to worship God. Jesus himself said so:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36.)

And if a person chooses to follow someone other than Jesus, the Son of God, the Bible says they have the freedom to do so without being prevented by those around them.

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. (Romans 14:4a.)

The Bible goes on to say that those who stand in Jesus remain on firm ground.

And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4b.)

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11.)

The freedom to choose to worship otherwise than Jesus is what makes the freedom to worship Jesus possible at all, at least when it comes to freedom from government interference.

A Government Endorsing Religion Is a Government Oppressing Religion

Once the government begins to pick which religions are worth protecting, even promoting, and which are worth denigrating all hope of freedom is lost – even if your religion is among the favored.

This is what my ancestors learned firsthand. The rulers persecuted them for their faith and promoted the faith of others. The freedom to worship, even for the favored faith, was dependent on the approval of the king. That is no freedom at all.

And so my ancestors became refugees, seeking refuge in a place that eventually became known as the Land of Freedom. Remembering them, their faith, and the welcome they received in this new land is how I want to commemorate World Refugee Day and my fellow descendants of refugees and those seeking refuge now wherever they might be seeking it in this world.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
(Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, 1883.)

Statue of Liberty

Jesus Takes in Refugees

I remember too that in Jesus, the strong foundation rock of our faith, we find our true and eternal refuge.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
(Psalm 18:2.)

He cares for the captives and sets them free, for the oppressed and rescues them from danger.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19.)

The refuge found in Jesus is not just spiritual, but physical. He proved these dual aspects throughout his ministry of healing and teaching. Raising Lazarus from the dead pointed to the truth of eternal life, but it was done by way of actually raising him from the dead. The physical act was not merely incidental. Jesus gave physical life back to Lazarus and turned his family’s suffering into joy.

This is what it means to be free in Jesus, to follow his teachings and his example:

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32.)

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:2.)

To follow Jesus then is to do as he did. I’m glad people did that for my ancestors seeking refuge over three centuries ago.

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9 Responses to My Refugees, My Family

  1. Pastor Bob says:

    Well said.
    The brevity of the counter point may seem cruel, but is not. Brief only.
    Many do not want the refugees to impose their religion upon the land they have arrived in.
    The government is stuck in this, trying to maintain some type of neutrality.
    Values held by a country are not because the religion is adhered to, but perhaps out of respect.
    This country has held to Judaeo-Christian ethics because they WORK.
    The Constitution has a key thought form the Bible in it, synopsized this way:
    -You have the right to your religious beliefs or none at all. You have the right to express those, others have the right to accept or reject. Frequently there are consequences to the rights you choose to exercise.

  2. Linn says:

    I attend a church where many of the members are applauding what is currently occurring with families at the southern border. Sunday, we commissioned a team gong to work with African migrants in Spain, many of whom just arrived in Europe on boats that were turned away from several ports. I no longer understand the American mind on refugees.

    • Tim says:

      I am hoping to avoid current events as I can’t host present-day political discussions.

      • Tree says:

        Thank you for that. I know and love people on various opposing sides of these current events. I want to have a few blogs to read that let me rest from those particular topics.

    • Pastor Bob says:

      This issue is hard to face, but we see it EVERY DAY.
      The base issue is how do respond when we need to use both love and firmness.
      Here a law has been broken, NOW WHAT?
      No matter what action is taken, the detractors are there, they see other options as the preferred way to resolve this.
      All actions have consequences, some are justified, some are clearly called for, some are not, some consequences are clearly incorrect.
      Jesus balanced toughness with love, His kind words did give firm guidance, so we cannot just say WWJD, because often there was no simple answer there, or here.

  3. roscuro says:

    The Huguenots were a complicated group. They had their militant side, especially in their early years and tried to gain political control in France. There was basically a civil war between the two sides for over thirty years in the last half of the 16th century; and while the Catholics were responsible for the horror of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and other brutal attacks, the Huguenots also committed crimes and atrocities such as the Michelade. But, when Louis the XIV, the Sun King, revoked the Edict of Nantes which granted freedom to the Huguenots, and quartered his dragoons in Huguenot communities, then, indeed, the Huguenots, who had by then become peaceable and law-abiding subjects, were cruelly treated.

    Knowing the full history of groups such as the Huguenots helps put into perspective modern perceptions of certain groups of refugees. Both Protestant and Catholic groups fled to North America at different times. The other side, could and did, in the case of the Irish Catholics fleeing the potato famine, argue that in the past the Protestants or Catholics were militant people, liking to establish religious dominance in the land in which they made up the majority, and it would be perfectly true – not just the French Wars of Religion, but also the Thirty Years War that devastated much of northern Europe, and the War of the Three Kingdoms between Puritan, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic in England, Scotland, and Ireland show that Protestants and Catholics were equally capable of slaughter and brutality in their determination to hold political sway. But neither Protestant nor Catholic established the same dominance in North America, despite some abortive attempts by extremists, such as the Irish Catholic Fenians and the Protestant Orangemen to bring their arguments over the Atlantic ( The vast majority of people simply want a quiet and peaceable life, and if they can find it, they are less likely to demand that their religion be the dominant one.

  4. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    That Emma Lazarus poem is so moving. It holds compassion up as the greatest good, not wealth and fame and colonial power. We seem to have strayed far from those values in our time.

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