A letter to pilgrims on hospitality

Refugees and displaced persons supply fingerprints as a way to establish and track identity.  Photo: Creative Commons
Refugees and displaced persons supply fingerprints as a way to estalish and track identity. Photo: Creative Commons

“My faith teaches that compassion, mercy, love and hospitality are for everyone: the native born and the foreign born; the member of my community and the newcomer. I will remember and remind members of my community that we are all considered “strangers” somewhere, that we should treat the stranger to our community as we would like to be treated, and challenge intolerance.”

This is one of the first paragraphs in the 2013 document, "Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders”, developed on the initiative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, and drafted by several leaders of different faith communities.

All major world religions affirm the principle of hospitality. In Christianity, the Bible offers us many examples of people who had to flee and seek refuge. Abraham and Isaac could be regarded as economic refugees: “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land" (Gen 12:10). Also Isaac fled to foreign lands in order to escape the famine: “Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines” (Gen 26:1).

Even at an early age, Jesus Christ himself was a refugee. The story of fleeing to Egypt (see the words of an angel to Joseph in Matthew 2:13: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him”) is one of a political refugee, of someone who is compelled to leave since he is being regarded as a threat for the political powers that be.

Hospitality plays a prominent role in biblical tradition. In Leviticus, Israel is reminded of having once been a foreigner itself: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Lev 19:33-34). The letter to Hebrews reminds us of the importance of hospitality: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).

Jesus Christ offers the most powerful image, identifying himself with a stranger: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt 25:25–36).

Since its founding nearly 70 years ago, advocacy on behalf of and support for refugees has been central to the mission of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Millions of Europeans were displaced during and after the Second World War. Back then, every sixth Lutheran was either a refugee or an internally displaced person. Immediately after the end of the war, Lutherans around the world mobilized to provide assistance. The LWF has remained true to this vocation, supporting several million refugees worldwide.

Today we are once again faced by an immense refugee crisis. According to the latest statistics, more than 60 million people are refugees worldwide. The statistics are revealing: whereas 20 years ago about80 percent of the people fled their homes because of the consequences of natural disasters, today around 80 percent of people flee their homes due to armed conflict and violence. It is our task not to close our hearts to the suffering of our neighbors, but to meet them with Christian love, seeing in everybody the image of God, whose dignity is to be honored. 

Christians are called not only to show hospitality to refugees and victims of war, violence and armed conflict but also to fight the root causes of forced migration and to advocate for peace, justice and reconciliation in the world. The struggle for peace and justice is not an easy one and is often so arduous that some lose heart and their initial optimism. Jesus Christ who heals and brings justice, who calls “blessed” those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6), is the one who can give strength and hope in this struggle. He witnessed to God’s love in the midst of exclusion, hatred and power struggles. In Jesus Christ we see how genuine justice enters directly into the world corrupted by sin and seeks to bring into it healing and transformation and to restore broken relationships. The risen Christ offers hope to all who are about to lose it in the midst of brokenness. The liberating Word of God promises that brokenness, hatred and fear will not have the last word.

Liberated by God’s grace, we are called to be witnesses of God’s capacity to make all things new, to spread compassion, love, mercy and hunger for justice in the world.


Prayer for Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers

God, no one is stranger to you.

And no one is ever far from your loving care.

In your kindness watch over migrants, refugees and asylum seekers,

Those separated from their loved ones,

Those who are lost

And those who have been exiled from their homes.

Bring them safely to the place where they long to be

And help us always to show your kindness to strangers

And those in need.

We ask this through Christ our Lord,

Who too was a refugee and migrant

Who travelled to another land

Searching for a home. Amen.


Rev. Anne Burghardt, is Secretary for Ecumenical Relations, Department for Theology and Public Witness at the LWF. She is attending the annual LWF Council meeting, this year held in the historic German town of Lutherstad Wittenberg. Some 49 members of the LWF Council from member churches around the world are holding their annual governance meeting. The Council oversees the work of the LWF between Assemblies. This year’s meeting theme is Grounded in God’s love - discerning God’s future. It is the last of the present Council before the LWF Assembly next year, at which a new Council will be formed.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.