Serpents and Doves. Fire Service and the Refugee Crisis.

He watched as some of his countrymen were turned away.

My grandfather came over from Italy in the early 1920s. Sitting under his white grape trellis in Queens, NY, he recounted his journey from Naples, Italy to Ellis Island. All alone, he had some clothes, a little money and some advice from an uncle. Many of his journeymen were denied entrance, even in the shadow of the iconic Lady Liberty. For my grandpa, an illness like pink eye or a parasitic worm were grounds for rejection. “They would look in your eyes," he said, pulling his lower lid down and pointing. To be granted entrance into the United States of America, he recalled, you had to have a name of a relative with whom you were staying and the address. He watched as some of his countrymen were turned away.

The current refugee crisis is unlike my Grandfather’s life. Today, war has torn Syria apart, with millions of innocents caught in the middle. We face a complex dilemma not easily solved with an open borders policy; amongst the sheep are wolves. There are many passages in the Bible commanding followers of God to care for orphans, widows, the helpless, and homeless. There are also passages that chide the reader to use wisdom, to not strike a hand in a pledge, to not be reckless.

I’ve been in orphanages for Haitian children in the Dominican Republic; they live in wretched squalor. My heart breaks for the refugees around the world who find themselves forgotten, imprisoned in a land that is not their own. Death came to their country, and they are victims. We should be crushed when we see innocent humanity pinned against the wall of oppression and war. We should deeply grieve when we see the limp bodies of children wash up on Mediterranean beaches. Our souls should mourn!

I do not have an answer for what we are facing right now. I’m embarrassed by the extremists who act like children, caricaturing opposition arguments and dismissing concerns as if they are baseless. As a follower of Christ, I have a commission to help those who are helpless and a duty to guard those who are close to me. The theme of protective shepherd runs deeply through the Bible.

We have an obligation to confront oppression regardless of its origin. Whether from home or abroad, the Christian faith is appointed to lifting the wounded, needy and hurting while pushing back the darkness. There are blessings for those who welcome a stranger. There is danger for those who foolishly, even with good intentions, let in a wolf. Paris should never happen again. Toronto is unacceptable!

PMFD gear racks. For the firefighter, their PPE - Personal Protection Equipment - is the more important gear they have. With training and wisdom, they are always mindful of what their first calling is, personal safety.

They are the rescuers of the helpless, the extinguishers of evil.

As Chaplain of our volunteer fire department, I serve those who serve. They are the rescuers of the helpless, the extinguishers of evil. Whether at a car accident or in a dwelling fire, they champion the cause of those who cannot fight for themselves. I'm immensely proud of the bravery of the men and women of Palmer Municipal and surrounding fire agencies. But, they are not fools. Yes, they run into burning buildings and toxic smoke with others running out, but they first and foremost desire to return home to their families, they have much to lose.

For a firefighter, in every scenario, they first seek to protect themselves, not in fear but to fight another day. From gloves and masks to reflective clothing and helmets, if they do not care for themselves first they reduce their effectiveness in helping others.

We can be no different. We cannot turn a blind eye to the needs of the refugee, just as a firefighter won’t ignore the dispatch tones. But we must do it with wisdom, so we can live to rescue another day. Do you think this crisis will not happen again? We must be ready.

I believe Christians should risk extravagantly. How can we claim to possess God's love and avert our eyes? This passage in the first letter of the Apostle John is very jarring.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 1 John 3:16-17

Jesus also said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

I believe both risk and watchfulness are essential. We are called to stoop down to the hurting and vulnerable as we keep watch over our flock. May God grant us the wisdom to know how to do both well.

As I finish this writing, the crew of Palmer Municipal FD is being called, at 10:25 PM, for a motor vehicle accident with injuries. May our country be as brave, as wise and willing to risk for the sake of others as first responders!

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17