So much of my life is spent around students that it’s hard not to bring these experiences into the blog at times. This week, as I was working on preparing Bible study for my group at the Onsted Senior Center, a student came to my door because he noticed a poster I have on the side of my filing cabinet. It’s one I got at the prayer service at the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center that many of us participated in while in Austin for General Convention. You’ve likely all seen this one – it depicts the Holy Family heading toward Egypt with the caption: “In the Name of These Refugees and ALL Refugees.” Without an explanation, he asked why I had the poster. Now, you have to remember that this is at Hillsdale College, a bastion of very conservative politics, so I was a bit guarded in my response not knowing him very well or what he might be thinking. I said a little about Episcopal Migration Ministries and The Episcopal Church’s support for all refugees. Well, I needn’t have worried this time. This young man spent the summer in Lebanon teaching English in a Syrian refugee camp. I’m eager to hear more of his experience in the future.
All this got me to thinking that Nuts and Bolts hasn’t said much about the refugee situation recently – and then our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issued a statement responding to our current Administration’s ceiling for refugee admissions in 2019. Here’s the media release:
The Episcopal Church is gravely disappointed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement yesterday [September 17, 2018] that the administration has set the refugee admissions ceiling for next year at 30,000. This is the lowest ceiling in the history of our country and is one more effort to pull the United States back from our leadership in addressing humanitarian crises. Further, the retreat from refugee resettlement flies in the face of our nation’s history of being a place of refuge to persecuted persons. The Episcopal Church, through the ministry of Episcopal Migration Ministries, is committed to welcome for all.
“As followers of Jesus Christ, we are saddened by this decision,” said Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry. “Our hearts and our prayers are with those thousands of refugees who, due to this decision, will not be able to find new life in the United States. This decision by the government does not reflect the care and compassion of Americans who welcome refugees in their communities every day. Our faith calls us to love God and love our neighbor, so we stand ready to help all those we can in any way we can.”
Episcopal Migration Ministries, having resettled more than 90,000 refugees since the 1980s, is the Episcopal Church’s foremost response to refugee crises. Working in partnership with offices and groups within the church as well as with governments and nongovernmental organizations, Episcopal Migration Ministries provides vital services for thousands of refugee families upon their arrival in America: English language and cultural orientation classes; employment services; school enrollment; and initial assistance with housing and transportation. For each family, the goal is self-reliance and self-determination. After years of living in limbo, refugees have the opportunity to begin again on a strong foundation that honors their stories and dignity, thanks to Episcopal Migration Ministries. Support EMM as we continue to welcome newly arriving refuges and support those families already here.
After the news of this greatly reduced cap on refugees, the Episcopal News Service (ENS) reported: “The United States was a worldwide leader in refugee resettlement just two years ago, when more than 80,000 refugees were welcomed into the country with help from the nine agencies with federal contracts to do that work, including Episcopal Migration Ministries.” According to this article, the ceiling for the year ending on September 30, 2018 was 45,000 but, as of today, only 20,918 have been admitted.
The canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Charles Robertson told ENS: “It’s a disheartening week in the life of our country. The administration’s announcement that we will only be receiving up to 30,000, down from 85,000 just two years ago, refugees is particularly sad given that refugees are indeed the most highly vetted group of people in our country and, therefore, pose little threat to our security and our way of life.”
Lacy Broemel, the refugee and immigration policy adviser for the Episcopal Church, added: “Slashing the refugee resettlement admissions number to a historic low is tied to this administration’s efforts to clamp down on legal immigration. This effort is having grave impacts on families and vulnerable persons. We urge members of Congress to do all they can to maintain or resettlement system, protections for asylum seekers, and compassionate solutions for all immigrants.”
Discussing the refugee and immigration crisis seems especially appropriate after hearing our Gospel lesson on Sunday. Jesus reminded us that the one wishing to be greatest must be the servant of all and then he brought a little child into the disciples’ midst and said: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37). As you all may remember, women and children had little status in the culture of Jesus’s day, maybe just a bit higher than slaves. Jesus is telling us that when we welcome the most vulnerable, the most powerless, we are welcoming him. And not just Jesus, we are ultimately welcoming God. This is the message for us if we want to live as Jesus desires us to live, if we want to live life to the fullest for God. Our refugees and immigrants are some of the most vulnerable and powerless in our society today. We must speak out for them.
There’s a verse from a poem I heard last year that has stuck with me: “No one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” which speaks of the motivation behind the desire to flee from one’s homeland. I decided to search for the whole poem and found that the poet, Warsan Shire, is a Somali-British writer and poet in her 20’s. She wrote these words in her poem “Home” addressing the truth that the majority of refugees and immigrants are not seeking government handouts but safety for their families from oppressive and abusive leaders. The poem is moving and real and graphic:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough…
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.
Yes, we must speak out.
The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) has posted an action alert on their website reminding us that our General Conventions as far back as 1979 have addressed refugee concerns. Once again, EPPN has made it very easy to contact your legislators; all you have to do is fill in your information and they will forward the letter to the appropriate people. And, EPPN has a great page of resources on refugee resettlement for you and your congregations. You can also find the Episcopal Church Policy on Immigration and Refugee Issues here. You can also find the entire article, “Presiding Bishop, Church Respond to Further Cuts to the US Refugee Resettlement Program” from ENS here.
Let us pray –
Lord Jesus, when you multiplied the loaves and fishes, you provided more than food for the body, you offered us the gift of yourself, the gift which satisfies every hunger and quenches every thirst. Your disciples were filled with fear and doubt but you poured out your love and compassion on the migrant crowd, welcoming them as brothers and sisters.
Lord Jesus, today you call us to welcome the members of God’s family who come to our land to escape oppression, poverty, persecution, violence and war. Like your disciples, we too are filled with fear and doubt and even suspicion. We build barriers in our hearts and in our minds.
Lord Jesus, help us by your grace,
to banish fear from our hearts that we may embrace each of your children as our own brother and sister;
to welcome migrants and refugees with joy and generosity, while responding to their many needs;
to realize that you call all people to your holy mountain to learn the ways of justice and peace;
to share of our abundance as you spread a banquet before us;
to give witness to your love for all people as we celebrate the many gifts they bring.
We praise you and give you thanks for the family you have called together from so many people. We see in this human family a reflection of the divine unity of the Most Holy Trinity in whom we make our prayer: Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
(United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council