by Tim Cha
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given
them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the greatest?”
Jesus answered, “The greatest and most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel:
The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is One and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, all your understanding, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
Love God, love neighbors—simple enough, right? But who exactly are our “neighbors,” and how should we love them? For Australia, the matter of defining “the neighbor” has increasingly become an issue of heated debate as growing numbers of asylum seekers from all over the world seek refuge underneath the Southern Cross.
The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship defines an asylum seeker as someone who “is seeking international protection … whose claim for protection has not been decided by the country in which he or she has submitted their claim. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.” Asylum seekers are people seeking to escape the unstable and threatening conditions in their country (e.g. war, persecution) by fleeing to another country for protection. Very broadly speaking, Australians generally view the topic of asylum seekers and immigration negatively from what I have been able to research and from those I have spoken to. Australia has implemented strict regulations on asylum seekers and immigrants concerning processing and detainment, with a detainment period for refugees that is currently the longest and possibly the most controversial of refugee-accepting nations. Claims to justify these policies are understandable—possible overpopulation, cultural and social clash that would ensue, national security being threatened, economic and political inability to sustain the increased population, unfair use of taxpayers’ dollars, authenticity of asylum seekers’ conditions, a deteriorated national identity, among countless other claims.
Even though these claims are understandable, some are not completely justifiable when Australia’s refugee intake is considered on a larger scale. Australia is a continent roughly the same size as the United States, however with a population of only 15% of the United States’ population, at 20 million. Given that most of Australia’s land is desert and virtually uninhabitable, overpopulation still seems quite unlikely. The possibility of invasion also seems small, as 84-97% of all asylum seekers are genuinely seeking safety from real threats and risk their own lives travelling to Australia.
Australia is ranked 13th in the global economy, 32nd of the 71 refugee-accepting nations, and 14th of the 29 developed refugee-accepting nations—per capita, the U.S. accepts twice the amount of refugees as Australia. Australia hosts one refugee for every 1583 Australian people, whereas Britain hosts 1 for every 530 people, Tanzania hosts 1for every 76 people, and the poorest nations are the ones taking in the most refugees.
It is impossible to ascertain all the levels at which asylum seekers affect the Australian world, but these few statistics seem to prove otherwise to the general claims against asylum seekers. Facts and logistics aside, I believe God’s command to love our neighbors should still take precedence. Australia has a responsibility to give refuge to its asylum seekers, and realize that they are not strangers or enemies, but they are in fact neighbors, families with children, our brothers and sisters who bear the image of the living God.
However, my personal opinions are, I have to admit, utterly and completely biased. In the early 1970s, a young girl and her family living in the mountains of Laos began their dangerous journey to flee the war-torn country. Her shocking stories detail how she and her family had to escape from soldiers ordered to shoot at sight, cross the rushing Mekong River that had notoriously claimed many lives of those before her, struggle against the fears of rape, captivity and persecution, witness the loss of friends and family, and endure sickness, hunger, weariness, and death. As an asylum seeker herself, she finally gained refugee status and citizenship in the USA where she met her husband, who had faced a similar struggle, and was able to begin her life anew. Forty years later, her youngest son is writing the very blog post that you are reading. If they had been denied, I most likely would not be where I am today. It is impossible for me to choose otherwise when my entire life is a product of my parents being asylum seekers themselves who were given refuge and safety. How can I deny to others what I have been given?
It seems so simple when Jesus puts it in that profound way that he does so well—(1) love God, (2) love neighbors … check, set, done, and off to heaven we go! But if we briefly take a moment to look at our lives, it quickly becomes apparent that these two simple commands are much easier said than done. I wish I could love God more than I do with all that I am, enough for me to give up my life in its entirety to him; and I wish I could love my neighbors purely without any trace of prejudice or selfishness. But even though this may be the current condition of our hearts, I believe that as Christians, each day we should strive to live up to the standard that we are called to. If it is in fact our prayer that the Kingdom of heaven come and that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10), then I believe our actions, indeed our lives, should be invested in a world where people from every tribe, nation, and tongue are standing in complete brotherhood before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9). I recognize that it’s definitely not easy, that it may seem idealistic and naïve, that it even risks our own safety! I admit that I don’t fully understand the economic, cultural, and political ramifications of what such a precarious lifestyle may have, but I do believe that God calls us to take a risk by living up to his call for loving Him and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Perhaps when it is the Kingdom of God that we seek first, then all other things will be given as well (Matthew 6:33). When our response can finally echo the simple, bold truth that “to love God with all your heart, all your understanding, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices,” then maybe Jesus will too reply: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”