World Refugee Sunday on June 16 & 23 reminds us of God's heart for the forcibly displaced: "For I was hungry, and you fed me"

By Kaisa Golding |
Wheat harvest
Unsplash/Paz Arando

In 2023, nearly 282 million people from 59 countries and territories faced acute food insecurity and needed urgent food and livelihood assistance according to the 2024 Global Report on Food Crises. Their report also lists five of these countries/territories (Palestine – Gaza Strip, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Somalia and Mali) likely to reach catastrophe levels – starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical acute malnutrition.

Many of these countries/territories contain active conflicts. Food is a common weapon of war that has been used against civilian populations for centuries. Current conflicts are not an exception.

Forced displacement goes hand in hand with acute food insecurity. The 59 countries/territories with food crises account for 90 million individuals forcibly displaced from their homes. Most are internally displaced in their own countries (64 million), and the rest are refugees, asylum seekers and migrants seeking resettlement elsewhere. Behind these huge numbers are human beings – men, women and children made in the image of God.

I live in Europe, and across my continent, anti-immigrant sentiment is growing. Mainstream and social media are filled with messages of fear about migrants. Terror is being cultivated toward the other.  And yet only a small percentage of the world’s forcibly displaced ever even make it to Europe. Most reside in Africa and the Middle East, either internally displaced in their own country, or in neighboring countries where they have fled. These are the places where most hunger crises are, and the millions of displaced children are often the most affected. 

The Bible is filled with stories of welcoming and caring for those who are in need. Jesus tells one of those stories in Matthew 25: 31–46 to illustrate to his followers how important this is. In Matthew 25:35 (NLT), he says, “For I was hungry, and you fed me.” This inspired the theme for this year’s World Refugee Sunday: hunger.

On June 20, 2001, the United Nations launched the first World Refugee Day to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention. World Refugee Sunday takes place on the Sunday immediately before or after World Refugee Day. In 2024, churches across the globe are invited to join together to pray for refugees and internally displaced people on June 16 and 23.

World Refugee Sunday is an initiative of the Refugee Highways Partnership (RHP) in cooperation with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) that was launched more than 15 years ago. The event raises awareness and prayer for refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide. This year RHP is encouraging the global Church to reflect on and pray for those who are suffering unimaginable pain caused by acute lack of food.

A website for the World Refugee Sunday (iwas.live) provides a variety of resources for churches. It includes Sunday School materials for children and youth. There is also a section we call “Global Kitchen.” It has a collection of recipes churches, small groups, family and friends can make as well as discussion questions they can use to discuss the situation of the forcibly displaced while sharing a meal together. Inviting someone from a refugee background to join in the preparation and sharing of the meal further enhances this experience.

Although the global refugee crisis is growing, hope is not lost. In my role as global coordinator of the Refugee Highway Partnership, I’ve witnessed God calling everyday people to be the hands and feet of Jesus as they bring hope to refugees all along the highways that they travel.

Just the other day, I heard a beautiful story from North America about a refugee family that came to the attention of a local church group. Under imminent risk, the family had to leave their baby behind because the baby did not yet possess a passport. The church rallied into action and petitioned government officials. Just before Christmas, the baby was reunited with their family in the US. And what a powerful testimony to this family of Christ’s love in action through his Church.

All along the ‘highways’ that refugees travel, ministries, churches and individuals are embodying Jesus’s words in Matthew 25 by welcoming the stranger and finding creative ways of feeding the hungry. For example, one of our local partners in the Middle East found ways to consistently feed 300 Iraqi families who had been forced to flee ISIS throughout the pandemic. Another local partner in Southeast Asia established a school for forcibly displaced children. Yet another local partner, based in Kenya, is empowering refugee youth across Africa through youth leadership training.

Jesus’s exhortations in Matthew 25:31–46 are for all of his followers. Wherever you find yourself, today, how might God be calling you be able to play a part in welcoming the stranger?

Kaisa Golding is global coordinator of the Refugee Highway Partnership, an international network of churches, agencies and individuals serving forcibly displaced people. The RHP seeks to, together, advocate on behalf of refugees and serve the body of Christ by helping connect and equip the Church to welcome and assist refugees.

The views expressed in this or any other opinion article do not necessarily reflect the views of Christian Daily International.