We need cities of refuge, not border walls

Jun 20, 2018 by

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There was one picture in the Bible story book we had at home that struck special fear in me as a child. It showed the sheer terror in the face of a man fleeing for his life to a city of refuge, his avenger in hot pursuit, as in the illustration on the left.

The Bible story was based on a passage in Deuteronomy 19 in which designated sanctuary cities were to be provided as safe havens for those who might have accidentally caused someone’s death and which resulted in some family member of the victim seeking revenge.

Today millions of refugees around the world are fleeing in similarly desperate ways, including many from gang-ridden neighboring countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to the south of us. In most of these cases, however, they are not in flight because they have caused harm to others, but because they are in danger of being murdered due to gang-corrupted governments (traditionally supported by our country) which are unwilling or unable to rid themselves of drug-financed cartels who make life increasingly unbearable and unsafe.

Not only do many of these people deserve to have “cities of refuge” to flee to — in Central America itself as well as along our southern border — but “underground railroads” to help them find their way to such sanctuaries.

I just got a copy of the book, When Humans Were Sold As Chattel, compiled by William A. Good for the local Long’s Chapel Preservation Society, that describes some of the heroic work of conductors and hospitality providers for the underground railroad that helped countless slaves fleeing with their families to freedom in the north and in Canada prior to the Civil War. The parallels are striking, with African-American families in the South making heroic efforts to stay together and find a decent and safe life for themselves, and with compassionate people of amazing courage and at great sacrifice helping them along their way.

Present-day versions of underground railroads and cities of refuge could be a part of an answer to our refugee crisis, and would be a far better and more humane investment then pouring countless billions in more border walls.

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this post first appeared.

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