If you are starting your mornings of Lent like me, you are likely engaged in the ongoing battles of Lent Madness! Who will win the Golden Halo? This “saintly smackdown” has taught me much about some of the lesser known members of the “great cloud of witnesses” like Thecla (what’s with those demonic seals?), Egeria (perhaps we could use her expertise in getting our “first fire” to stay lit!), and Swithun (I really thought his name was a joke – sorry, Bishop Swithun), to name a few. But while we are enjoying this annual educational opportunity/competition, one of the members of the Supreme Executive Committee is on a pilgrimage in Africa with the Episcopal Migration Ministries. Scott Gunn was invited to join this group for an 11-day pilgrimage to Kenya and Rwanda where he and his fellow pilgrims can learn about the plight of Congolese refugees and the process they must go through to gain resettlement in the United States.
In a report by the Episcopal News Service, Deborah Stein, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, commented on the purpose of this trip: “What I hope the result of this trip will be is an increased understanding of what a unique and special program Episcopal Migration Ministries is in The Episcopal Church, and that more Episcopalians can see a place for themselves in this life-saving ministry.” This pilgrimage is part of the 75th Anniversary campaign #ShareTheJourney designed to raise awareness of the many ways that the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (that’s us, folks!!) works to facilitate refugee resettlement throughout The Episcopal Church. Just in case you’re a bit confused, the legal and canonical name of The Episcopal Church is The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.
The Share the Journey campaign was launched on June 16, 2014, just in time to mark the international observance of World Refugee Day on June 20th. This year’s General Convention in Salt Lake City will also provide events for those interested in these resettlement efforts.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there were 15.4 million refugees worldwide in 2013 and the number continues to rise with the many conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Congo. The ENS reports that “more than 5.5 million people have died in the Congo from fighting, disease and malnutrition in what is regarded as the deadliest conflict since World War II. About 2.5 million people have been internally displaced, and some 500,000 have fled the country’s protracted conflict, with the vast majority living in refugee camps in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions.” The UNHCR hopes to resettle 50,000 refugees from the Congo with between 70 – 90% of these resettling in the US. Resettlement is crucial for these people for whom the life expectancy in Syria has dropped 20 years going from 75.9 years in 2010 to 55.7 by the end of 2014. The conflicts have resulted in extreme poverty for the Syrians who have also experienced an almost country-wide blackout due to an 83% reduction in electricity.
“There’s no other durable solution for this group of refugees, who’ve been waiting for over a decade in refugee camps without hope of a future,” said Stein. “Some have been resettled or have found a way to stay in the country of asylum, but the rest are languishing away in camps. Even after arriving in the US, new challenges arise as refugees seek out new connections to rebuild their lives in safety and freedom,” she continued. “A strong network of caring neighbors and friends is the foundation of successful resettlement, and Episcopal Migration Ministries and our network of affiliates work to cultivate these supportive relationships in all 30 communities where we welcome refugees.”
Scott Gunn commented to the ENS: “I think Episcopal Migration Ministries is one of the most inspiring and least well-known ministries in The Episcopal Church. I’m eager to see transformation in my own life as I experience this pilgrimage, and I want to do whatever I can to share this journey with other people.”
The work of the Episcopal Migration Ministries is an important part of our Baptismal Covenant, specifically responding to our promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” And, as the Five Marks of Mission remind us, we are called to “respond to human need by loving service” and “to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.”
So, what can we do? First, we can follow the stories of the #ShareTheJourney pilgrims on their social media pages – Twitter (@EMMRefugees); Facebook here; the blog here; or through the media hub here.
You can also get involved by posting a photo of yourself holding a hand-written sign that says #ShareTheJourney with @EMMRefugees on Facebook or Twitter and then share it with Episcopal Migration Ministries on Facebook or tag Episcopal Migration Ministries on Twitter: @EMMRefugees. Please include the hashtag #ShareTheJourney in your post.
You can learn more about the Episcopal Migration Ministries here – http://www.episcopalmigrationministries.org/
But I wonder if the best thing we could do is to explore within our diocese and our congregations whether we can sponsor refugees right here or if we might provide much-needed resources to the churches and relocation centers which are already helping in this resettlement effort. For more information on how you can help – http://www.episcopalmigrationministries.org/how_you_can_help/church_co-sponsorship.aspx
Let us pray –
Our Gracious Lord,
There are many in Your world today who have been forced from their homes by persecution and violence.
Keep them in your constant care, and bring them to a place of safety.
Be the Good Shepherd to refugees who are in flight: guide them to the green pastures of safety.
Be the Everlasting Father to refugees who have lost home and loved ones: lead, protect and provide for them.
Be the Great Physician to refugees who are suffering: grant them healing and hope.
Be the Hiding Place to refugees who are languishing in camps: shelter their souls as well as their bodies.
Be the Deliverer to refugees who have been able to return home: restore their lives so that those who have sown in tears may reap in joy.
Be the Wonderful Counselor to refugees who have been resettled: help them find their way in a new land.
Be the Giver of all good gifts to those who serve refugees: empower them to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with You.
Be the Lord of lords to all the earth, that those who rule would do so in justice and righteousness, and no one would have to become a refugee anymore.
We ask these things in the precious and powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
(Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service)
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council