Refugees in their own country

A Christian Science perspective.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, an estimated 27 million people remain displaced by conflict inside their own homelands.

One heartbreaking story is that of the Rohingya people in Myanmar (Burma). Members of a Muslim minority, they are denied Burmese citizenship even though their families have lived in the country for centuries. Enduring the ravages of ethnic violence, the Rohingyas are prohibited from leaving designated areas for work, to forage for food, or to seek medical treatment. Identified as “eternal outsiders,” they are denied the rights of citizenship and human rights and are virtually forgotten by the world.

News of this situation jolted me out of my Western comfort. I could see how much I had taken for granted my rights as a citizen of a country such as Australia, which gives me protection from injustice and deprivation. But the thought of the untenable position of so many people as outsiders without a national identity challenged me to pray for a solution.

As the problem seemed overwhelmingly complex, I began my prayers by affirming that all of God’s children are under His loving government. Each individual as the complete expression of God has a unique place to fulfill. I was encouraged by the way Jesus rallied his disciples with the words, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). In other words, God’s power and presence would provide whatever was needed to find the solutions. This was a powerful way to begin my prayers.

I thought about the patriarch Isaac, who faced a situation similar to that of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. The Bible tells us that he had to leave his own land of Canaan because of famine, and find refuge in Gerar, the land of the Philistines (see Genesis, Chap. 26). Isaac established himself in his new home and became prosperous. As Isaac’s people multiplied in numbers, Abimelech, the king of Gerar, became fearful and directed Isaac to leave his country. This unjust action by the king revealed his belief that good was limited and had to be protected from those of another race. As far as Abimelech was concerned, Isaac was an outsider and had no rights or place in Gerar.

As I continued to pray, I became conscious that this evil of limitation was one of the problems facing many countries where ethnic violence is rampant. The material-mindedness of fear, envy, limitation, and prejudice attempts to destroy brotherhood and take away human rights. These rights are the natural outcome of God’s love for all His children, enabling them to express His gift of dominion and freedom. As God is the source of all goodness, there can be only abundance for all His creation.

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, viewed citizenship in a way that lifts it above the limitations of nations bounded by lines on a map. In her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she writes, “Citizens of the world, accept the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God,’ and be free! This is your divine right” (p. 227).

Acknowledging our world citizenship brings into sharp focus our relationship with all people. This citizenship is all-inclusive and allows for no sense of hate, separateness, or violence. To be a citizen of the world means that we can accept everyone as our neighbor. Understanding the unlimited nature of the resources that God is supplying to His creation, we can resist the fears that would condemn another to the status of outsider. As the Bible states, “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge” (Proverbs 14:26). God’s placement of His children can never be annulled.

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