There are days I wonder why I was so fortunate to be born at the time and place I was. How is it that I have had a reasonably comfortable life while millions of people worldwide face challenges and suffering about which I know so little? These thoughts generally bring me back to a verse from Luke’s Gospel: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48b). I have, indeed, been given much: a loving family, darling granddaughters, a good education, a lovely home, reasonable health, loyal friends. Sure, life isn’t perfect but compared to what I hear about situations elsewhere, I am incredibly rich! At my age, it doesn’t seem likely that I will travel to the foreign lands or start some productive inner-city ministry but I can share what I’ve been given. Right now, I have a voice in this blog. I can communicate the issues and concerns so that others may also feel called to do what they can. Of course, I don’t think just writing a blog is enough, but it’s a start. And I can do more with my own stewardship of the resources I have been given.
A few weeks ago, I posted the story of the #ShareTheJourney pilgrimage to Kenya and Rwanda sponsored by Episcopal Migration Ministries. The eight pilgrims from the US have been sharing their stories of the plight of the refugees they met on their travels. As I sit comfortably here in my well-appointed physics office, I struggle to imagine what it might be like to face the pain of losing my home and my country. Of the 15.5 million refugees around the world, less than 1% will be resettled. That’s heartbreaking! Episcopal News Service reports:
Episcopal Migration Ministries is one of nine agencies partnering with the U.S. Department of State to welcome and resettle refugees to the United States. Across the church, Episcopal Migration Ministries works with 30 communities in 26 dioceses….In 2014, Episcopal Migration Ministries and its partners helped to resettle 5,155 of the tens of thousands of refugees who came to the United States through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) screening process. They’ll work to serve as many people this year, as the United States plans to resettle 70,000 refugees.
The Refugee Act of 1980 began the work of resettlement is response to the increasing number of refugees fleeing communist regimes in Southeast Asia. Prior to then, individual churches sponsored visas for the refugees but, with the numbers growing in the 1970’s, this process was insufficient. Even before this, The Episcopal Church was involved in refugee resettlement. During World War II, our Household helped find homes for people escaping Nazi oppression. Funding came from the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief – now known as Episcopal Relief and Development. In 1988, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society partnered with Church World Service to establish the Episcopal Migration Ministries.
According to ENS, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) primary focus is on repatriation. If that is not possible, the next best option would be citizenship or legal residency in the host country. Resettlement in one of the 20-plus nations that accept refugees is the third option. “The success of resettlement programs depends on partnership and coordination. We must have resettlement countries willing to receive refugees,” said Paul Kenya, a resettlement officer working for UNHCR in Rwanda, in an interview with Episcopal News Service in Kigali. Partners must be available to do interviews, coordinate medical examination and travel logistics before refugees can safely enter their new country. To get everything ready, it’s a lengthy process taking an average of two years for each family unit and can be complicated by any change in family structure like a birth and marriage. Once approved, for resettlement, the time frame speeds up and the family is prepared through cultural orientation classes.
About 30 years ago, my pastor’s family sponsored a Cambodian family of four. The Puth family spoke little English, which made their first few weeks quite a challenge. I recall vividly trying to communicate with Spring (names changed for privacy) to determine if she thought she might be expecting her third child. She was indeed, so we spent a lot of time teaching childbirth customs in the United States. Having a common language would have been very helpful! As a church family, we learned to appreciate differences and the need to overlook behavior that wasn’t familiar to us at first. Hygiene habits were a curiosity as was the Puth’s decision to pull their mattresses on the floor to sleep. I think we all could have benefited from some cultural orientation!
You can find more of the background story from the ENS website at this link –
An important goal of the pilgrimage in March was to inspire each participant to come home and share the stories of what touched each of them so that they can become advocates for the refugees they met. Our friend from Lent Madness and Forward Movement fame, Scott Gunn reported that of the 2.7 million refugees from the Horn of Africa and Africa’s Great Lakes region, 99% will not be resettled, so it’s important that we do whatever we can to foster greater stabilization in the region.
Another pilgrim, Spencer Cantrell, the gender violence fellow at the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project in Washington, DC, found a striking contrast between the refugee camp and the urban program in which she works. She’s looking for ways to share her experience with the church now that she’s at home.
The stories of the pilgrims are engaging and eye-opening. You can read more of them here:
While traveling, each pilgrim was encouraged to blog about their experience. You can read some of their blogs at this link –
And here’s a link to one such blog by the Rev Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, in which he speaks of the 50 HIV-positive women who share in a farming cooperative in Rwanda –
So, what can we do? One example might be to work locally. One blogger reported: “The community of Boise, Idaho has made a commitment to welcoming refugees through its impressive Refugee Resource Strategic Community Plan. EMM’s affiliate partners at the Agency for New Americans have partnered with city agencies, transportation officials, health care providers and many other stakeholders to adopt a model of communication and creative problem solving that is benefiting the entire community. A program that teaches refugees how to drive is just one of many positive offshoots to emerge from this collaboration.” Do we have any refugee groups in our Household? What can we do to welcome and support these families during this time of tremendous transition in their lives? How might we share the abundance that God has given us with God’s children in our communities? I’d love to hear your ideas and learn if there are initiatives with which to partner in our Household
…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35 – 40)
Let us pray –
Almighty and merciful God,
whose Son became a refugee
and had no place to call his own;
look with mercy on those who today
are fleeing from danger,
homeless and hungry.
Bless those who work to bring them relief;
inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts;
and guide the nations of the world towards that day
when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and of peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
— Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council