Jesus as a fugitive. Migrant Sarah and migrant Abraham. Joseph in the hands of human traffickers. Economic migrant Ruth. The Lord as a guest. And what about those who are on their way, on the run or in a foreign country today?
These are the paintings that the exhibition called “God Loves foreigners” presents to us. Its primary purpose is to present the biblical concept of hospitality – love for the incomers, guests and foreigners (philoxenia). It asks about our relationship to the people on the run and to asylum seekers and it takes the biblical texts that concern them. It tells the stories of various biblical characters and describes their experience on the journey away from home, the experience of being foreign. How does the Bible look at foreigners, solidarity or hospitality? Do we have aliens to welcome or just to tolerate? Is it to host them, or just to help them survive? People on the run have disappeared from newspaper headlines but have not disappeared from the walls of Europe or its countries. They are still looking for a place to live. The exhibition shows that if there is really (so often misused) the phrase ‘Christian values’, then one of those values definitely concerns the kind of care we provide for foreigners, especially those in a difficult life situation.
Inspiration from our neighbours in Austria
The Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren prepared the exhibition in cooperation with the Austrian Bible Society, with the support of the Czech-German Future Fund and Gustav-Adolf-Werk e.V.
In addition to Germany, it was also presented in Hungary, Romania and France, but originally in Austria. Here it was created in 2012 by the Austrian Bible Society, which kindly let us create a Czech version free of charge.
The exhibition is in the form of 12 large-format posters (80×200 cm). Each poster contains photos, pictures, and Bible verses on the subject and a text on theme of a biblical experience of alienation (in Czech and German). From the first to the last panel, the visitor symbolically goes all the way from the decision to leave home, through the distressful journey, to the problems associated with entering a new environment.
Since October, the exhibition has been visiting the churches of ČCE and will be available to schools and other interested parties throughout the Czech Republic. It also wants to bring a Christian voice to the Czech public debate. In a situation where we are confronted on a daily basis with the rejectins voiced by political representatives, and quick solutions with zero tolerance, we as Christians, have to hear and show what the emphases and challenges of the Bible are.
The ceremonial opening of the exhibition took place on September 26th in the ECCB church Prague-Střešovice and there was also a discussion with people who have experience with migration or of being refugees.
In the evening, musicians from Syria and Uzbekistan provided accompnyng performances, and there were typical foreign specialties provided: Ukrainian borscht, stuffed pies or bread based on Iraqi recipes. Everything was prepared by foreigners who once found shelter in the Střešovice church and gradually became their members or friends.
The Synodal Council issued a statement in July 2018 on the situation of refugees in the Czech Republic, expressing concern about the attitude of the Czech government. Specifically, there was at that time a group of 450 people who were stuck in a fishing boat near the Italian shores. The Czech government, based on the Prime Minister’s words in July this year, will not meet the urgent demands of Italy and will not help any of the migrants.
An extract from the statement reads: “By its rejection, the Czech Republic is betraying the principles of the civilized world, of which it wants to be a part and which, among other things, is based on the tradition and values of the Christian faith. We are convinced that our country is able to cooperate effectively with other European partners and institutions against economic migration and organised human trafficking. At the same time, we trust governmental and non-governmental organisations, and we believe that our society has enough self-confidence, moral strength and effective tools to support those in need.
Jesus’ words about helping a fellow in need are clearly expressed in the Gospel. Faced with immediate threats to real people, we must not remain disdainful and indifferent.
Michael Pfann, Jiří Hofman