A Texas pastor originally from Iraq is urging the Church to get out of politics amid the swirling debate about travel bans and do the work of ministering to refugees because "God is sending the nations here."
Jalil Dawood, lead pastor at Arabic Church of Dallas and founder of World Refugee Care, has just released a new book he wrote to inspire other Christians to reach out to the millions of refugees in need, both in the U.S. and overseas.
"There is a lot of misinformation about how to deal with refugees [today]," Dawood said in a recent interview with The Christian Post about his own journey of being a refugee, which he recounts in detail in The Refugee: A Story of God's Grace on One Man's Road to Refuge.
"God is sending the nations here. And God wants us to reach out to those people," he emphasized.
In 1982 in the middle of the brutal Iran-Iraq war, an 18-year-old Dawood managed to slip out of Iraq and make it to Rome with the intention of acquiring refugee status in the United States as two of his brothers had done previously.
Although he was raised in a traditional Christian family in Baghdad and was persecuted as an infidel in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, he never felt as though he had a real connection with God. Yet while in Rome, Dawood had an unexpected encounter with the Lord when he heard an American named Steve sharing the Gospel at a club where he had gone to learn English and watch movies. He ended up at a Bible study soon thereafter where, as he writes, he heard the Gospel message clearly for the first time in his life and accepted the Lord. Steve and his wife, Marilyn, ultimately discipled him and became like family to him and prayed for him when he was approved to come to the United States.
Dawood was shocked as an Iraqi to hear an American talking about God because he always considered America the most godless of places. These beliefs were reinforced by the immorality he saw in American movies and the messages he received growing up from Saddam Hussein's information propaganda machine.
Such mindsets and stereotypes are still strongly prevalent in Iraq, the pastor told CP.
In the Middle East, "[Americans] are considered to be unclean, we are considered to be Zionists, we are considered to be Israelis, we are considered to be Westerners ... wild, uncontrolled, promiscuous."
While some of that has changed due to the internet and more people having access to media, he noted, the prevailing view is that the West is still not a place where God dwells.
"And my story is not a unique one," Dawood said. "My story is to remind people that God is alive and He's working and we need to join His movement. And His movement is for people to come here and we are to reach them here or the refugees in Europe or the Middle East."
When asked what he would say as an Arabic Christian pastor to every American church if he had the chance to speak to the congregation for five uninterrupted minutes, he said: "I would say, stay out of politics, help refugees, and share the Gospel with them."
"I was extremely disappointed in the American Church when everybody went out, protested President Trump stopping certain nations from coming here because there are millions of Christian refugees in the Middle East and nobody cares about them," he said, lamenting how political it has all become.
"These are the last days and God is bringing the nations to us. Refugees are a mission opportunity, not a political agenda."
So what advice does he have for Christians who want to help and minister to refugees but struggle with the tension about how many the Unites States should accept and the security issues present today?
"The governments need to protect us and prevent any evil from coming here. That's their job. But we, the Church, we need to do our job of reaching out to those people and share the Gospel with them," he said.
This ministry charge is backed up with a lot of Scripture and Christians must not forget that Christ was once a refugee, Dawood was quick to add.
"The Bible has more than 70 references about how to treat aliens and strangers among us. It even says that some have entertained angels without knowing it," he said, referencing Hebrews 13:2.
"And the people of Israel were refugees in Egypt and God reminded them time and time again that they were once all strangers in a different land so be kind to the aliens and strangers. And the Bible puts aliens and strangers in the same category as orphans and widows," he said.
Likewise, when Paul preached to the Athenians on Mars Hill in Acts 17, "he told them that the Lord determined your borders for one reason only, that you might know Him," Dawood explained.
The same holds true today, he argued.
"So we need to know that God is moving people that they might know Him."
Refugees will never forget the help they are given and just as Steve and Marilyn showed him kindness, fed him, and shared the love of Jesus with him, such a witness impacts Muslims in particular quite profoundly.
"The Quran tells the Muslims not to be a friend with the infidels, people from other religions," Dawood said.
"But what happens is that when you express kindness and do something kind, that will confuse the person in a positive way."
Their thought process is, he continued, "'Well, if he is an enemy and he is doing good to me, that doesn't make sense. Should I continue feeling this animosity toward this person?' It will make him think deeper than what his book says."
And when Christians do exhibit this kindness, it is simply obedience to the Lord.
"The Lord says, 'I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me water, I was naked and you clothed me. When I was in prison you came to me. And when you've done it to the least you've done it to me."
Dawood became a pastor 10 years ago and preaches the Gospel at Arabic Baptist Church in Dallas. His parish is comprised mainly of immigrants and refugees.
"If you're afraid of terrorism, refugees are your neighbors," Dawood writes in the book. "Whether you voted Republican or Democrat, refugees are your neighbors. If you've never in your life spoken to someone from another country, refugees are your neighbors. And what does the Bible say you're to do to your neighbors? Love them."