I read an article today about a man who left a church sanctuary for the first time in three years. My heart sank, and tears welled up at the thought of this man separated from his family for 1,095 days. I wonder and imagine what those uncertain days felt like for him. Did he live with and in fear, anxiety, and heartache? How did his faith sustain him? Heart wrenching for what he suffered and the countless others in the same predicament. I pray for God's mercy and help.
I was then challenged and convicted at the same time. Are our churches a sanctuary, haven, and place of refuge for all people seeking help? Are we equipped and designed to receive people in the time of their need and distress? Have we created, cultivated, and nurtured a culture and environment that speaks to what we value or should value - caring for all people and paying careful attention to the orphans and widows, the immigrants, the helpless and disenfranchised? Our call is to love, shepherd, care, pastor all people. How do our programs, budgets, and resources speak to what we value? Ultimately, do our churches carry the heartbeat of the Father, prepare the way, and point the people who enter into our church buildings and engage with our ministry to find refuge in our God? Do people see the Rescuer in their need for rescue?
An immigration law professor states, "Churches and other places that can help illegal immigrants are "sensitive locations" with special rules (and for publicity reasons), as such, enforcement actions are generally avoided. For that reason, that is why immigrants seek churches as a sanctuary because the authorities recognize and honor these "sensitive locations." Amazing! The governmental authorities recognize and, to a degree, honor the place of worship (and while some of it is for publicity reasons, nonetheless, it does benefit those in these terrible situations).
What about us, the people of God? What about us, the leaders and pastors of churches? How well are we doing to ensure our churches, places of worship, fellowship, and gatherings are a safe harbor, haven, and sanctuary for those in time of need? Of course I'm speaking primarily from a spiritual standpoint but literally too, if need be. Can people safely come into our atmosphere without judgment, fear, or shame and lay their burdens down and find a body of believers who really live what they preach - the love of Jesus Christ? Can people take off their masks and simply be where they currently are and find help? Church it is time. We were made for this moment and this is the reason we exist. I believe in the power and authority of the local church and the global CHURCH. We are called and destined to positively affect change in the lives of others, our communities, society, and culture.
Lastly, loving people does not mean we accept or condone behavior or a lifestyle that does not align with God's word. However, loving people means we extend grace and then apply truth because we point them to God's very best, his son Jesus Christ, and let the Holy Spirit do what only He can do.