At Pentecost, God sent his Spirit to his people—the Church—in order that they might have a helper, an ever-present companion, and a source of sustenance along their pilgrimage. Because the Spirit lit upon and within the disciples of God, each one is privileged to become these things—helper, companion, sustainer—to the people around us. This means the Spirit that came to us at Pentecost is the same Spirit that directs us to refugees, directing us to do Holy Spirit things for and with them.

The radical help, radical accompaniment, and radical sustenance of the third person of the Trinity in each Christian can be activated by the Church toward refugees. The result is radical hope.

Radical Help

The Spirit of God brings strength. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26). He strengthened the children of God in the upper room in Jerusalem. He strengthened them to carry on the work of God, to follow and to shepherd, to persevere in trials. The Church today, endowed with the same Spirit, can be strong in the face of injustice.

The miraculous works of the prophets, the disciples, and Jesus himself were made possible because they were anointed with the Holy Spirit. The Church today has that same Spirit and can therefore do the same things our forebears did, and more (John 14:12-14). Healing and liberation are possible for Christians now, in our own lives and in the lives of refugees. Because the Spirit clothes us in power from on high (Luke 24:49). Because the Spirit is one of bravery and fearlessness (Rom. 8:15). Because the Spirit frees people from sin, violence, and death (Rom. 8:2-6). Because the Spirit helps us speak truth to power (Micah 3:8).

War, persecution, and protracted uprootedness—these are the places where Christians can show how strong they are because of the Spirit, and what they are strong for. The Holy Ghost descended and enlivened to remind us of Christ’s ways and to teach us about sin and righteousness in the world (John 14:26; 16:8-11). Now the Church has the privilege to imitate that descent and enlivening among the dispossessed by the power of the Spirit within us. The Spirit is always ready, able, and available. Let refugees say the same of us—and then let us point to our own helping advocate.

Radical Accompaniment

The Spirit of God is a fellow traveler. Coming down from heaven, he entered the hearts of pilgrim people. Such is the nature of our “God of the Tent”.[1] The Spirit was with the people of Israel in the desert, setting up residence in the tabernacle and in the midst of God’s people (Is. 63:11). Ever since, God has always journeyed with his uprooted children.

Recall the classic icon in which the Trinity is pictured in the persons of three aliens received and fed by Abraham in his tent near the trees of Mamre (Gen. 18:1-15). The image paints a true picture: God himself comes to his people as a traveler and an alien, identifying with the sojourners in Arabian deserts and in the person of Jesus Christ, the refugee. So too we can accompany transient people, both empathizing with their experience and living out practical companionship, esprit de corps—the spirit of fellowship and loyalty.

The Spirit of God sets up his tent within our hearts. He dwells within us (Ezek. 36:27; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Tim. 1:14). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all set up their tents in the Promised Land “like a stranger in a foreign country” (Heb. 11:9). Let us also establish our tents among the literal tent settlements, the slums, the refugee camps, and resettlement neighborhoods that surround us. Such companionship imitates God’s companionship to all people, and particularly the open-tent nature of Pentecost. For wasn’t Pentecost inclusive of the whole world? Didn’t the followers of Christ speak the languages of far distant lands?

Utterly amazed, they asked, “Are not all these men Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! – Acts 2:7-11

The Church of God, like the Spirit of God, knows the essential splendor of diversity. It is massively inclusive of cultures, languages, tribes, and classes. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13). Many uprooted people fall into despair because of their marginalized, impoverished position, but also their position as different and excluded. The Church, however, can demonstrate they need not be aliens any longer, but can become brothers and sisters—and are already brothers and sisters in humanity through the imago Dei. They are not objects of scorn or fear, but people to be seen and loved.

Pentecost breaks down barriers. It proves that human difference is not a thing to be loathed or feared, but rather embraced. In the spirited light of Pentecost, there is no room for racism or prejudice. And if the Spirit enables the Church to speak to the whole world, how much deeper the language of love and hope than all our mortal tongues!

Radical Sustenance

Finally, the Spirit that came to us at Pentecost brought with him a sustaining power. It is through the sustenance of the Spirit that the Church has persevered through sufferings and trials over the millennia, and will be sustained until the Second Advent of Christ. “The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146:9).

God sustains us not only in our physical needs, but in our spiritual, emotional, and psychological needs as well. He quenches thirst (John 4:14). He gives understanding and life (Job 32:8; 33:4; John 6:63). The Holy Spirit provides an all-sufficient anointing (1 John 2:27) and, ultimately, salvation (Matt. 1:20).

It would do little lasting good for people to be fed and clothed if they are not also sustained in love. Like us, once aliens from God, today’s refugees need to be known as brothers and sisters, need to feel loved and valued, need to know they are seen and heard. “Life loses all significance for a man if he has the feeling that he remains ignorant, neglected or even despised.”[2] The Spirit of God in his Church is one of love, life, and peace among men (Ezek. 39:29; Rom. 8:6).

Perhaps the most common image associated with the Holy Spirit is water. Fountains. Rivers. Flow. Slaked thirst. Baptism. The Church cannot itself be the water that is eternally satisfying, but it can preach and point to the Fountain of Life and the Tree of Life, the leaves of which are “for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:1-2). Because of what the Spirit has done and is doing in us, his Church, we must ourselves be life-giving (John 7:38). We must be for the uprooted and the poor everywhere, if nothing else, the merest scent of water.

At least there is hope for a tree:

If it is cut down, it will sprout again,

And its new shoots will not fail.

Its roots may grow old in the ground

And its stump die in the soil,

Yet at the scent of water it will bud

And put forth shoots like a plant. – Job 14:7-9

Radical Hope

If all of this is the power of Pentecost for the Church and for the refugee—radical help, radical accompaniment, radical sustenance—then it is made alive and manifest in radical hope.

The hope that, by the blood of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are “no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:19). The hope gifted to Abraham and his descendants when they set up their tents in the sands of ancient Palestine. “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9-10).

Pentecost was a practical outpouring of the gospel and goodwill to the world, and it was also a vision of a future human community composed of many marginalized people. A community where God dwells with all manner of men and women, where he wipes the tears from every eye and where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:3-4). A community in which:

The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. – Isaiah 65:19-21

It sounds like the absolute antithesis of the world’s refugeeism. And this is the hope that comes from God through the working of the Holy Spirit in his Church.

The Church must joyously remain in step with the Spirit. Our sanctification—our daily conversion—is not a purely spiritual endeavor. It is inextricably tied up with how we live in the world, among creation and its human stewards. The hope of Pentecost is in what the Spirit does for the people of God, but also what the people of God can then do for the world.

The gospel of hope is for all people. The call of the Church at Pentecost and throughout the Scriptures is to share in the life of all humanity—to proclaim the gospel, to seek the good of all people, and to share in their suffering. Care for the poor, advocate for the weak, do justice, practice peace, have hope for believers and not-yet-believers alike. The Spirit of Pentecost enables us to see refugees as they are and see the future as it will be.

Like the awe-filled, generous, fellowshipping community that emerged from Pentecost (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37), the even greater vision of a future new creation, without the tears of refugee children, without the wars and droughts that drive them hence, without mourning or crying or pain, without death, was foreshadowed at the inclusive dinner table of the upper room. The Spirit of God came to dwell on men in holy fire and in every tongue. And in the New Jerusalem described in Revelation 21, we see that, as presaged at Pentecost, every uprooted people will bow the knee in praise. Refugees from Syria, economic migrants from Colombia, political prisoners from China, child soldiers from Sudan, and the Church of God to the ends of the earth, will approach the glory of God and the Lamb. “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it” (Rev. 21:24).

[1] Gioacchino Campese. Religion and Social Justice for Migrants. Rutgers University Press. 2007

[2] Emilianos Timiadis, Metropolitan of Calabria. The Urgency of a Common Diakonia in the Churches. Swanwick Consultation, World Council of Churches. Digest of the 1966 World Consultation of Inter-Church Aid at Swanwick, Great Britain. 1966.

Posted by Griffin Paul Jackson

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