Ted Oswald, World Relief Sacramento's Immigration Legal Services staff attorney, and Kevin Woehr, DOJ Accredited Representative with World Relief DuPage/Aurora, recently returned from Tijuana, Mexico as part of a team comprised of World Relief staff from across the U.S. advising asylum seekers at the border. Lea este artículo en Español, Aquí.
Ted Oswald, un abogado de la oficina de Servicios Legales de Immigracion en World Relief Sacramento, recientemente regreso de Tijuana, Mexico como parte de un equipo compuesto de personal de World Relief de todos los EE. UU. asesorando a los solicitantes de asilo en la frontera.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus taught us. So what does that mean for us here at World Relief? And what does it mean in the context of our work with refugees?
This Wednesday is World Refugee Day. For many, if not most of us, it will pass by largely unnoticed, especially in the midst of such turbulent times. We are in the middle of a global refugee crisis of unparalleled scale, yet often, it seems we have become accustomed to the pictures and stories of suffering and immune to the pain. Perhaps this is understandable.
When violent extremists burned down his mother’s medical clinic and attempted to kidnap him, Al and his parents fled Iraq and were eventually resettled in the U.S. Watch his incredible journey, then join the campaign to help refugees rebuild their lives.
It’s been over a full year since the first Executive Order that began a time of chaos and reductions in the refugee program – and kicked off a wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
Today marks the one year anniversary of the refugee travel ban. Hashim, Mariam and their children (pictured) arrived before the ban took effect.
What happens when an affluent, conservative, and mostly white church’s neighborhood is suddenly inundated with hundreds of international people?
That’s what happened to us.
In May of 2016, I was called as senior pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church, a prominent Oklahoma church with strong denominational ties to the Southern Baptist Convention. South Tulsa is well-known among the one million people in our metro area as the destination for Tulsa’s “white flight.” It is a relatively homogenous area, and our community boasts dozens of gated neighborhoods filled with luxurious homes. We are adjacent to the most popular retail stores, desirable restaurants and high-end gyms.
In the last few years South Tulsa has also become the temporary home of nearly 10,000 resettled refugees and immigrants. Families from all over the world now reside within blocks of our well-manicured church campus and first-generation children have begun attending our very best schools. Our community is no longer homogeneous.
And there is no doubt in my mind that we are better off because of it.
An Opportunity to Love
As I began to examine our changing community, it was obvious that there would be significant needs, as well as missional opportunities amidst the newly arrived families. Here in South Tulsa, God was bringing the nations to us, and the prospects of serving people from at least five different continents were promising.
The most glaring needs were among adult refugees and immigrants. At the time, new families were arriving weekly. Their children were thriving in South Tulsa’s local schools. Yet for many adults, integration was far more difficult. These families provided us with a unique opportunity to love and serve our most vulnerable neighbors, and to direct hope toward them in expectation and trust of God’s plan.
Our church is constantly looking for ways to improve our ministries. Initially, I pursued help from many organizations who were ahead of us in the field, but ran into several roadblocks. That’s when I reached out to World Relief. Even though they have no office in our city, they graciously jumped into the fray with us and began to share information, strategies, personal support, invitations to refugee events, advocacy support and even overseas training to help us become educated and equipped for the growing challenges we were facing.
Soon after our relationship with World Relief began, however, our most formidable obstacle emerged.
As the presidential election was heating up last year, so was the topic of refugees. The rhetoric on both sides grew quickly intolerable, and any space for reasonable dialogue fell by the wayside. When the executive travel ban was announced in February, we went through several weeks of conflict and distraction. I heard phrases like, “we are voting on whether or not ISIS gets a free pass into our country,” and I saw the difficult impact of those opinions on our ministry. One family organization who had been using our facility terminated the relationship with less than a week’s notice because they felt we were putting children in danger by holding English classes and serving Muslim people in the building.
Of course with several families from the Middle East now connected to our church, tension was building rapidly inside our walls. It was in the midst of this that I chose to advocate for welcoming refugees publicly.
One Sunday morning, I asked the congregation to affirm with me, out loud, that we would not let this one issue distract us from our call to the Great Commission. I also asked them to agree that we not allow the current political climate to infect our congregational unity. In both services, there was a hearty “Amen.”
Becoming A Congregation of Hope
As more members of the congregation stepped out in faith and began to welcome refugee and immigrant families, loving relationships began to form. Our congregation and these families realized they could learn a lot from one other, that each of them had something unique to give. The depth of those connections surprised them. And we were reminded once again that God is constantly at work in changing all of us. After six weeks of very intentional reconciliation of church members, we emerged stronger than ever.
Today we are becoming a multi-cultural church. Our international families are involved in nearly every part of our church life. We translate sermon notes into four languages and our Scripture reading is done regularly in multiple languages. Several international adults and children have been baptized or have dedicated their families to the Lord. And the surprise exodus of that family organization mentioned earlier? Well, it opened up rooms for us to serve even more refugee and immigrant families in our church.
Through God’s grace, hope is alive in South Tulsa. Our prayer is that God will continue working in and through us, and pull us forward, so that we might demonstrate His love and the hope of Jesus to those from the nations who are coming to us.
As I reflect on the changes in our church, I am amazed that all this has happened in less than a year. It is a testament to the fact that love always hopes, in all things.
For those who would prayerfully seek to take on similar endeavors in their own churches, I hope our story provides encouragement to you.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:13
Eric Costanzo has served as Pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church since May 2016. Eric has a B.A. in Bible from Oklahoma Baptist University, and both a Master of Divinity and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2013, he published his first book entitled Harbor for the Poor. Eric is married to Rebecca (2001) and they have four incredible children—\Adin, Noah, Abigail, and Kynzleigh. In his spare time he enjoys being run ragged by his four children and all of their activities (which includes coaching), traveling, reading, and collecting antique books.
Reports from multiple news sources have confirmed that the Trump administration is poised to set 2018 refugee admissions levels at 45,000—the lowest in the nation’s history. Here’s what the administration has said in its report to Congress to justify these historically low numbers, at a historically high time of need, and the facts you should know:
There is no way to securely vet all refugees who come to the U.S.
FACT: The integrity of security procedures in the U.S. resettlement program is evidenced by the fact that, while over 3 million refugees have been admitted to the U.S. since 1980, not a single refugee has committed a lethal terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Refugees are a security risk as demonstrated by the fact that the FBI is investigating 300 refugees for connections to terrorism.
FACT: 300 refugees is an immensely small fraction of resettled refugees in the U.S. and is not representative of the population writ large. According to CATO, 300 refugees represents less than 0.009 percent of all refugees admitted to the U.S. since 1975. It is a far cry from a statistically significant portion of the refugee population and should not have any bearing on our understanding of the resettled refugee population. Even if those 300 refugees were resettled to the U.S. in a single year, they would represent less than 1% of the total number of refugees accepted on average per year since 1980. 
Refugees are not terror threats; they are fleeing terror. Refugees are civilians who have fled their country due to fear of persecution or violence. By definition, refugees have not engaged in violence, persecution of others, or serious criminality. Persons believed to have engaged in war crimes, crimes against humanity or serious non-political crimes are disqualified from refugee status.
It is more cost-effective to help refugees in the region, in their first countries of asylum*.
FACT: Refugee resettlement in the U.S. is a solution with one-time, up-front costs that ultimately result in net fiscal gain to the U.S. as refugees become taxpayers.  Resettlement requires a short-term investment, but allows refugees to become full-fledged members of our society and economy, providing the refugee with a path to self-sufficiency and benefiting the American economy.
In 2016, over 72 percent of refugees resettled to the U.S. were women and children.  Many are single mothers, survivors of torture, or in need of urgent medical treatment. Women and girls are subject to heinous forms of persecution in wartime (such as gang rape) and suffer severe trauma that cannot be addressed in camps or difficult urban environments. Survivors of rape are often ostracized in their host countries, making them priorities for resettlement. For these women, resettlement is the only solution. No amount of aid in their host country could guarantee their safety and psychosocial recovery.
12 refugees can be helped in the region for every one refugee resettled to the U.S.
FACT: The comparison of one-time costs associated with resettlement with the long-term costs of assisting refugees for many years on end is not a reasonable one.
Refugees spend an average of 10 years displaced outside their countries of origin. For those refugees displaced for more than five years, the average soars to an astonishing 21 years. Refugees in these protracted situations require assistance over many, many years.
In stark contrast to the 21 years that some refugees spend in host countries dependent on temporary assistance, over the same period, resettled refugees rebuild their lives and contribute $21,000 more to the American economy than they receive in benefits.
The aim of U.S. refugee policy is for refugees to return home.
FACT: Of the world’s 22.5 million refugees, less than 1% have access to resettlement. In 2018, 1.2 million face extreme vulnerabilities or family reunification needs for which they are in need of resettlement. Yet fewer than 200,000 resettlement slots are available annually.
Refugee resettlement of a few is necessary for the successful local integration or return of the majority of refugees. Refugee resettlement relieves pressures on host communities and contributes to overall regional stability—contributing to the conditions necessary for the majority of the refugees that remain in the region to either integrate locally in their host countries or return home when it is safe to do so.
Conversely, retreating from resettlement commitments can have dramatic consequences for the eventual safe return of refugees—prolonging and sometimes even reigniting conflict.
Today, this risk exists in the premature return of Syrian, Afghan, and Somali refugees, which could further destabilize fragile and conflict-ridden countries. Over 600,000 Afghan refugees were induced to return from Pakistan in 2016—a six-fold increase from 2015—as Afghanistan struggles with growing insecurity, instability and gains by terrorist organizations. Such premature returns come at a time when growing instability in Afghanistan has required an increase in U.S. troop levels to reverse gains by terrorist organizations.
The number of refugees resettled is of no consequence to American interests abroad.
FACT: Refugee resettlement is not just a humanitarian program and a moral choice, it is a strategic imperative that promotes regional stability and global security in some of the most challenging parts of the world. Refugee resettlement is a critical foreign policy and national security tool—alleviating pressures on critical allies, helping ensure the international community maintains its humanitarian obligations, encouraging responsibility sharing, maintaining cooperation with allies for U.S. diplomatic and intelligence operations, and sending the message to terrorist groups that the U.S. welcomes those who reject terrorist ideologies.
Maintaining resettlement commitments is critical to the effectiveness of military, diplomatic and intelligence operations abroad and the safety of U.S. troops. Tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan nationals have put their lives on the line to support intelligence gathering, operations planning and other essential services, especially translation. These individuals and their families are often targeted by terrorist groups as a direct result of their cooperation with Americans. Resettlement is instrumental in ensuring their safety—a testament to the U.S. military’s commitment to leave no one behind.
Refugee resettlement signals support for those who seek liberty and reject ideologies antithetical to American values. Just as the U.S. offered refuge to those fleeing communist regimes during the Cold War, so too must the U.S. open its arms to those standing against terrorist ideologies, many of whom refused to join or be conscripted into terrorist groups, militias and state security forces persecuting fellow citizens.
The last thing that terrorist organizations like ISIS want is for the U.S. to be a beacon of hope, acceptance and inclusion for Muslims.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cannot safely vet more than 45K given that improved security vetting being put in place during the 120-day ban is more resource-intensive.
FACT: Even in the face of the worst terrorist attack on our nation’s soil on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush set an admissions ceiling of 70,000 refugees and continued to do so in the years that followed. Doing so signaled that the U.S. would remain a humanitarian leader and demonstrated that the administration understood the critical role resettlement plays in supporting our allies.
The global context was also different under President Bush. The global refugee population was nearly half of what it is today (12 million in 2001 vs. 22.5 million in 2016).
Refugees are too costly; they are a drain on local economies and take jobs away from Americans.
FACT: All evidence points to the fact that refugees benefit local economies and fill empty jobs in the workforce.
A July 2017 report by the Department of Health and Human Services, commissioned by the Trump Administration, found that over the past decade refugees have contributed $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost. 
Even with an admissions ceiling of 45,000 refugees, the U.S. will remain the world leader in refugee resettlement.
FACT: The average annual admissions ceiling since 1980 has exceeded 95,000. A refugee admissions ceiling of 45,000—the lowest level ever set—is a drastic departure from historic tradition, signaling a retreat in leadership on the world stage. Presidents from both parties in the past two decades have set robust refugee ceilings as a proud humanitarian tradition of welcome.
Last year, Canada resettled 46,000 refugees, more than the new cap. Canada is roughly one-tenth the size of the US population and economy (smaller, in both regards, than the single U.S. state of California)
Refugees are imposed upon unwilling and overburdened communities who wish to care for their own people first and foremost, not the foreign born.
FACT:. The private sector, faith institutions and local communities are all deeply invested and involved in welcoming refugees and helping them achieve successful integration in their new homes. They do so with a commitment and desire to reflect the values of America, and build better, stronger, more vibrant communities here in the U.S.
Communities are enriched—spiritually, socially, and economically—through diversity. Immigrants and refugees have enriched our nation, our community and our churches for generations through the unique cultures and traditions they bring. Hundreds of employers around the country work closely with resettlement agencies to systematically hire refugees (mainly in the manufacturing, hotel and food industries) in many industries that native-born Americans will not work in. Employers look to hire refugees because they find refugees to be among their most stable, reliable employees.
Thousands of volunteers and members of congregations donate tens of thousands of hours and in-kind contributions each year to support refugees, lowering costs to the federal government. Community members donate household items to help furnish a refugee family’s first apartment, teach financial literacy and cultural orientation classes, help new arrivals prepare for job interviews, mentor refugee families to help them adapt to the American way of life, and much more.
* UNHCR says "The ‘first country of asylum’ concept is to be applied in cases where a person has already, in a previous state, found international protection, that is once again accessible and effective for the individual concerned."
 “Trump’s claim that ‘more than 300’ refugees are subjects of counterterrorism investigations,” Washington Post, March 2017
 “These researchers just debunked an all-too-common belief about refugees,” Washington Post, June 2017
 “Fact Sheet: Fiscal Year 2016 Refugee Admissions,” U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration January 2017.
 “Rejected Report Shows Revenue Brought In by Refugees,” New York Times, September 2017
On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Those whom this directly affects have an all-too-clear understanding of the realities this decision creates. For those who may not fully understand DACA, The DREAM Act and Dreamers—and the issues surrounding each—we hope this brief primer will help.
What is DACA?
The short story is that DACA has provided a pathway for children and young adults who came to the United States with their parents to legally obtain a Social Security Number, driver’s license, enroll in college and work. While their parents either came to the U.S. unlawfully or overstayed their visas, these kids usually had no choice but to come with their parents, and this immigration policy helped provide opportunities for those youth who had already been in our country for years. DACA doesn’t offer a pathway towards permanent legal status or U.S. citizenship. It also doesn’t give individuals access to federal financial aid programs. It simply affords them the opportunity to further their own development, provide for themselves and their loved ones, and participate in their communities without fear of deportation.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), announced by President Obama on June 15th, 2012, has allowed immigrants who
were born on or after June 16, 1981,
arrived to the United States before age 16 and
have lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007
to be eligible for work authorization in the United States and protection from deportation for two years. These individuals are generally called “Dreamers,” named so after the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation first introduced in Congress in 2001 that would afford these individuals permanent legal status.
How many people have DACA?
According to the Department of Homeland Security, as of March 2017, 787,580, individuals have been granted DACA. Individuals from Mexico represent the largest number of DACA recipients, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and South Korea.
What does the termination of DACA mean?
It means that 800,000 children or young adults would––at a minimum––lose their jobs which may mean lacking the income to make payments on a car loan, rent, mortgage or school tuition or to help support their families. It could also mean being sent back to their countries of birth, even though many cannot remember living in any country other than the U.S., where they have grown up.
The White House and Department of Justice announced the termination of DACA on September 5, 2017. This means the Department of Homeland Security is no longer accepting any new applications for DACA. Those with DACA due to expire between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018, can apply for a two-year renewal by October 5, 2017. For others, DACA could end as early as March 6, 2018. Work permits issued under DACA will be honored until they expire.
What is the DREAM Act?
A permanent solution.
The DREAM Act is a bipartisan bill that would offer a permanent solution for Dreamers by allowing them to eventually earn citizenship if they go to college, maintain a job, or serve in the U.S. military. The latest DREAM Act was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on July 20, 2017, and a companion bill with bipartisan support has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.
What happens if Congress doesn't act?
If Congress does not pass a measure protecting DACA recipients, nearly 300,000 people in 2018 alone would lose their permission to work and be at risk for deportation, with DACA protections for all 800,000 individuals to be phased out by March 2020.
Both the Senate and the House need to pass it, and the President needs to sign a bill by March 6, 2018, in order for DACA recipients to continue to be protected from deportation.
But aren’t Dreamers here illegally? Why should the U.S. allow them to stay?
While their parents made the choice to enter the U.S. illegally or overstay a visa, Dreamers, who were children when they arrived, did not make that choice for themselves. There’s no place in American law that penalizes children for the action of their parents. For many Dreamers, the U.S. is the only home they’ve ever known. Passing the DREAM Act is an opportunity to fix the law so that Dreamers correct their situation, earn citizenship and remain the country they call home.
Where can I find more information?
The website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services has more information on DACA. Also, the Department of Homeland Security has posted answers to a list of questions about its plans to rescind the program.
Individuals who believe they may be eligible to renew DACA should immediately consult with an experienced immigration attorney or a non-profit organization (including many World Relief offices and local churches supported by World Relief) that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice to provide low-cost immigration legal services. Refer to this map for a site near you.
I support DACA and Dreamers, but am not sure how I—one person—can help. Do you have any ideas?
There are many ways you can help. Here are five simple ideas:
To take action, write your members of Congress urging them to support the DREAM Act.
If you’re a church leader or pastor, consider signing onto this letter which we will send to your Representative and Senator.
Write and submit an op-ed or a letter to the editor of the local paper about why you support Dreamers.
If you have a story to tell about yourself or someone you know who has DACA, consider sharing how it’s helped your or their life on social media. This is a human issue and we need to keep it humanized.
To support the work of World Relief, you can donate today.
Some time ago I spent a week in a Middle Eastern country visiting with Syrian refugees. Day after day on that trip, I sat on concrete floors in crumbling urban apartments with Syrian women and their children. Each time I looked into the women's faces, their empty eyes told the silent stories of losses and grief.
In Syria, these women had been comfortable, middle class women, just living their day-to-day lives. Then suddenly, one day, they were running for their lives. They had watched their friends and family members die. They had seen their communities exploding, literally. So they did the only thing they could. They grabbed their kids and crossed country borders in the middle of the night, sometimes with bullets chasing them, in search of some kind of future. In search of some kind of hope.
Fortunately, many of those women ended up safely in the neighborhood where I was visiting, where a church I knew very well was providing food and basic necessities for these refugee families. On the last day of my visit, the pastor asked if I would speak to 200 of these women. He explained how they came to the church once a week to get bags of food and to let their children play in a safe place. While the children played, the mothers attended meetings where they’d learn how to deal with grief, how to help with their children’s trauma, and how to adapt to a new culture.
With the help of a Palestinian Christian friend who translated my words into Arabic, this is what I said to the women:
“I wish I didn’t have to stand up here in front of you. I would much rather sit beside you on a cushion on the floor and have a cup of tea with you. I would love to snuggle your baby in my arms. And I would love to hear your story. I know you each have a sad story, and if I heard it, I know I would weep. I know you are good and loving women. And I’m sorry you have lost so much. I am sorry you had to flee to a country, a city, and a house that’s not your own.
I can imagine in your own country, you were strong women who graciously served others.
I can imagine you making delicious food and sharing it with your family and friends.
I can imagine you caring for your mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers and friends, just like I do.”
That’s what women do. We are compassionate. We give. We serve, protect, and work hard to make the world better for the people we love.
Wherever I go in the world, I discover we women are a lot a like. We may have different clothes, hair, religion, culture or skin color, but in our hearts we are the same. That’s why we can look into each other's eyes and feel connected. We can talk without using words. We can smile, we can hug, we can laugh. And sometimes we can feel each other’s pain. While I was with those women, I prayed that God would help me feel their pain. And oh how I wished I could remove it, or help them carry it.
“Your Faith Has Healed You”
I told the women gathered before me that while I prayed for them the night before, I was reminded of the story in the Gospel about the woman who had been sick for many years. No one could heal her body or comfort her mind. People had given up on her and were ignoring her. But she believed Jesus could heal her if she could just touch his robe. So she pushed silently through the crowd that followed Jesus. She was afraid he would turn her away if he saw her, so she stayed quietly in the shadows. Finally, she reached out and touched his robe.
Immediately he stopped, “Who touched me?” He asked.
“Power has flowed out of me and I want to know who touched me.”
She was afraid, certain he was angry and would punish her, but she felt compelled to answer, “It was me. I am the one who touched you!”
The crowd hushed, anxious to see what this great man would do.
Jesus simply looked into her eyes and said, “Daughter your faith is great. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
I told the women that when I read that story I wondered why Jesus stopped and made that frightened women speak up, and I prayed for God to help me understand.
This is why I think Jesus stopped: I believe Jesus wanted that woman to know he saw her.
She wasn’t just an anonymous person in a huge crowd. She was an individual woman and he saw her.
Jesus knew she was suffering and it broke his heart. He called her daughter so she would understand how much he loved her. He said she had great faith in her God and he honored her for it. And he healed the wounds of her body and soul.
As a Christian, I believe Jesus shows us what God is like. He shows us that God sees each of us as individuals. He calls us sons and daughters because he loves us. He honors our faith because he knows it can make us strong. He cares when we suffer. He wants to bring healing, comfort, and peace into our lives. Some verses in Scripture even tell us that Jesus weeps, which means that God weeps, too. He weeps for all of His suffering children.
“I Will Not Forget You”
Then I looked at the women seated before me and said this,
“I wish I could end the war that’s ravaging your country. I wish I could gather all the money in the world to make your lives easier. I wish I could bring back all that you have lost. I can’t do any of that, but I can do this: I can go home and tell others what I’ve seen. I can tell people how you are suffering and how amazing Christians are lovingly walking with you. Both you and your Christian friends need the prayers and support of Americans. And I will tell my friends that.
"I will also tell my friends how beautiful, strong, and loving you are. I will tell them you are women of deep faith, women who adore your children and grandchildren, just the same way I adore mine. Women who sacrifice willingly for those that they love.
"I will tell them that when I look into your eyes, I see that we are all a part of the same human family, all created and loved by God. I will not forget you. I will pray for you. I will tell your stories. I will weep when I hear anew of your suffering, and I will rejoice over any goodness that comes your way.
"Truly I will not forget you. God has placed you in my heart.”
It was over three years ago that I met those women. Since then I have told their stories many times. They and their stories continue to break my heart, but they also compel me to action.
One final story has impacted me greatly...
After their home was destroyed by rockets, Hana and her children fled Syria to relative safety in a neighboring country. There they found leaders like Saeed and Clara providing help and hope for refugee children. I hope that as you watch, their story inspires you as much as it inspired me.
More than 80% of the beneficiaries of our programs are women and children. World Relief works through local churches to protect, celebrate, and raise the value of women by taking a holistic approach—addressing immediate needs and harmful belief systems simultaneously. Learn how you can join us and create a better world for women.
Since 1975, when Lynne & Bill Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church, Lynne has been an active volunteer in the compassion ministries of the church. She has served with ministry partners in Chicago, Latin America, Africa, and more recently in the Middle East. Increasingly, Lynne is partnering with women in conflict zones who are committed to reconciliation, peacemaking, caring for refugees, and creating a better future for their children. Lynne is actively engaged with a grassroots organization, One Million Thumbprints, which raises awareness and funds for women suffering from the violence of war in Syria and Iraq, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In recent years she has traveled repeatedly to the Middle East to meet with Syrian refugees, Iraqis displaced by ISIS, and Israeli and Palestinian women working for security, dignity, and peace for all the people living in the Holy Land. Lynne and Bill have two grown children, Shauna and Todd, one son-in-law, Aaron Niequist, and two grandsons, Henry and Mac, who run the family.
In his farewell address to the nation in 1989, President Ronald Reagan, borrowing a line from Jesus, described the United States as a “shining city on a hill” for those seeking freedom, a place “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace” whose “doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Over the course of centuries, the United States certainly has been a place of refuge for many fleeing persecution and “yearning to breathe free,” which is an honorable legacy. But when Jesus talked about a “city on a hill,” he was not referring to the United States of America, nor to any other nation-state. Jesus told His followers that they—those early disciples who would go on to form the earliest church—were the light of the world, which, like a city atop a hill, could not be hidden." (see Matt. 5:14) “Let your light shine before others,” Jesus told them, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
Faced with a global refugee crisis unprecedented in recorded history, now is the moment for the church to shine, not to hide our light. Millions of displaced people, desperate for hope yet reviled and feared by many, will decide what they think of Jesus based on how His followers throughout the world respond to this crisis, whether with welcome, love, and advocacy, or with apathy, fear, and scapegoating. Across the nation and the world, local churches are seeing this moment of crisis as a chance to live out Jesus’ instructions, shining their light, so others may look to and glorify God.
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus told His followers, each of us—you. He continued: "But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:13–16)
Our ultimate hope is that the church would shine its light through the refugee crisis. As we access the same power that rose Jesus from the dead, we pray God’s people would rise up as never before to welcome strangers, each doing what God has called all of us to do:
To bind up the brokenhearted.
To love our neighbors.
To do justice.
To love mercy.
To pray without ceasing.
To practice hospitality, and to learn to receive the hospitality of others.
Maybe just to take a plate of cookies across the street, trusting that smile can overcome a language barrier.
To write a letter to a congressperson, or gently speak up at the workplace water cooler when someone repeats a false rumor about refugees.
Perhaps to forego a vacation to give sacrificially for those whose travels were involuntary.
To stand with our persecuted brothers and sisters, mourning with those who mourn, rejoicing with those who rejoice.
To proclaim the love of Christ in word and deed to those who don't yet know Him.
Our prayer is that as the church lets her light shine and steps into the good works God has “prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10), the displaced of our world will praise our Father In heaven.
Adapted from Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir, available on Kindle for $1.59 throughout the month of July. For more about the book including a Bible reading plan and small group discussion guide, visit www.worldrelief.org/seekingrefuge
Approximately 70% of all refugees resettled by World Relief are for family reunification. So when we saw the video below, we were deeply moved.
Produced last year, "Dyan Comes Home" captures the story of one Sudanese family resettled by Catholic Charities, fueled by the commitment and care of volunteers from The Village Church in Forth Worth, TX.
Having seen similar stories unfold in the lives of refugee families we serve and at airports around the United States, we hope you'll be as inspired as we are to continue welcoming refugees to the U.S. and to make moments like this possible for more families.
How Loving Our Neighbors Makes Space For Success
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” — Galatians 5:14
Original reporting and photo below courtesy of Noell Dickmann/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
We can’t wait for June 20th. It’s World Refugee Day and World Relief is ready to join with activists and advocates to bring awareness and focus to issues facing refugees around the globe. We believe that truly loving our neighbor can be the key to moving displaced men and women from simply surviving to truly thriving.
Originally living in Myanmar, Wai Hinn Oo and his wife, Nang Shwe Thein, dreamed of safety and a place to live in peace. They’d spent a decade living in fear, being wrongfully arrested and forced into labor. Hinn decided they could stay no longer. Finally, in the middle of the night, they fled their home. Hopping trains with no water and terrible breathing conditions, they made it to Kuala Lumpur, where they lived as undocumented refugees for six years. But when it was time to give birth to their first child, they knew they needed help. Without an option of returning to Myanmar, and unable to provide adequate safety for their child in their current conditions, they reached out to the UN Refugee Agency. After being vetted for two years, the couple was finally resettled, an ocean away, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin by World Relief. In fact, Hinn and Thein became the very first family resettled by World Relief’s then-new Fox Valley office. And while they felt lucky to be safe, they were unsure if they would be able to survive the unknowns they still faced in an unfamiliar country, with a new culture, and a new language. After years of hiding and running, they couldn’t have imagined the feeling of being welcomed that awaited them.
In partnership with World Relief Fox Valley, members of Water City Church joyfully greeted the family at the airport and provided them with a modest, yet fully stocked, apartment and a “Good Neighbor Team” to fill their fridge and welcome them into their new home and community. In addition, World Relief offered the family ongoing resources, training and education upon which they could build their new lives. Hinn and Thein were welcomed as neighbors into a community of support, which gave them just what they needed to begin the hard work of resettling. They are so thankful for the way a local church on a different continent embraced them and for the continued support and encouragement they have received from World Relief.
At World Relief, we believe that to love is to welcome. That’s why we continue to commit ourselves to resource, support and welcome refugees from all around the world. Loving displaced people means seeing them, not simply as a number or as a group in need, but as unique individuals with stories to be celebrated and honored—their losses and victories, their survival and resilience, and their contributions and cultures.
This past February, Hinn and Thein celebrated a significant milestone as they marked five years of life in Oshkosh—a span in which they started a family, purchased a home and became actively involved in their work and community. Their story is a beautiful and successful example of what is possible when we take Jesus at his word to welcome and love one another as neighbors.
As we approach World Refugee Day on June 20th, we invite you to speak up for refugees—advocate by calling lawmakers and congress members, download a World Relief prayer card and commit to praying for refugees in a specific area, and consider donating to help World Relief show refugees great love by extending a much needed welcome.
Margaret Hogan is a writer living outside of Chicago with her husband, Blaine, and two daughters, Ruby and Eloise. She worked at Willow Creek Community Church as Performing Arts Director for the high school ministry before she left to work as a freelance writer. She currently writes for World Relief, and continues to write scripts, articles, devotionals, curriculum, for churches and nonprofits all over the county. Most recently, Margaret authored The Hope Book for Willow Creek’s Celebration of Hope.
Susan Sperry, Executive Director of World Relief Dupage Aurora, has worked within refugee resettlement for over 15 years. Susan says, “The shocking thing is that many refugees we work with now have been displaced far longer than I have done this work. They are the true experts on the realities of displacement and resettlement, and I encourage you to read stories written by refugees to learn more about their experiences.
Recently, we asked our social media followers to submit questions to be answered by Susan, along with Alison Bell, Senior Resettlement Manager at World Relief Dupage Aurora. Susan notes, “Each resettlement office around the country has threads of continuity and similarity, but also a lot of difference. The responses about local programs for refugees are based on programs offered in the western suburbs of Chicago, and may not fully reflect individual local agency programs.”
Susan, can you help us better understand: Who is a refugee?
A refugee is someone who has had to leave their country and can’t return due to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group.
How does a refugee end up in the U.S. and what role does World Relief play?
Refugees are first given “refugee status” by the United Nations, which then refers groups of refugees for resettlement in countries like the U.S. With 21.3 million refugees worldwide according to the UN, the proposal that the U.S. welcome 50,000 represents .002%. The U.S. evaluates these groups and agrees to accept a certain number each year. Then each refugee must undergo a thorough vetting process including security screening, in-person interviews with U.S. officials, biometric screening and medical checks. Only after refugees pass each step will they be admitted to the U.S.
The U.S. Department of State has agreements with agencies, like World Relief, to provide services to refugees who are admitted to the U.S. Services begin from the time refugees are met at the airport as they enter the country and continue as the agency completes all of the government required services and other support services offered through local programs and partnerships.
The flow of refugees coming in has decreased dramatically in our city. Are refugee applicants still being vetted anew or has the ban stopped that?
Refugee arrivals to the U.S. have continued this spring, but have been much slower than usual. Uncertainty surrounding the Executive Order led to a pause in most new vetting of refugee applications, so everyone who is currently arriving was already approved for resettlement prior to the Executive Order.
What impact does the Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2017 have as it relates to the 120-Day refugee resettlement ban?
Through two court cases, federal judges halted the implementation of the President’s Executive Order from March, including the 120-day moratorium on refugee resettlement. The administration appealed both cases, and on June 26, 2017 the Supreme Court agreed to consolidate these into one case and hear it in October. In the meantime, the Supreme Court is allowing for partial implementation of the Executive Order.
This means that the 90-day ban on travelers from 6 countries (Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria) and the 120-day moratorium on refugees is in effect beginning June 29. There are exceptions to this implementation; for refugees, the exceptions mean that refugees who are close family members of people already in the U.S. (defined by the State Department to include parent, spouse, child, an adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or sibling) could still be welcomed into the U.S. during this time period.
At World Relief, we advise that anyone with questions about their own situation contact an immigration attorney or Department of Justice accredited representative for specific guidance about what this means for you.
How have the policies of the new administration impacted your day-to-day work?
With the dramatic cuts ordered in the number of refugees to be welcomed to the U.S., we have lost World Relief offices and some staff expertise due to budget cuts. Our work has shifted to a greater focus on expanding our base of funding and our partnerships with churches, volunteers and community organizations. We also continue to advocate with Congress to maintain the programs and funding needed to provide the services refugees need to achieve stability and move toward healthy integration.
Are we able to sponsor refugees or refugee families directly?
While individuals and churches can’t sponsor refugees directly, they can serve as co-sponsors with local resettlement agencies to assist in resettling refugees.
Do you have any advice on key strategies countries could implement in order to create effective and inclusive communities, thereby enabling productive citizenship for immigrants?
While we don’t have specific advice for other countries, within the U.S. we highly recommend the Welcoming America initiative. This is a great resource for communities seeking to be more inclusive of immigrants and refugees. The Welcoming Pittsburg Plan is an excellent example of how these resources can be implemented.
I've often wondered about the children in this crisis. How many have been orphaned and where do they end up?
Over half of the 21 million refugees in the world are children. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) aids refugees and displaced people around the world, including children. According to UNICEF, in 2015-16, over 300,000 children—unaccompanied or separated from families—were registered after crossing borders alone. They often end up in refugee camps, and face possible exploitation or abuse. The U.S. does welcome some unaccompanied children, but also makes a priority of single mothers with children as part of our humanitarian resettlement program.
How can those who live in cities that don't see many relocated refugees best help?
There are so many ways you can help!
Share facts about resettlement with others who may not know much yet.
Pray for refugees around the world, and those resettling into the U.S.
Speak up and advocate with your Congressional Representatives, asking them to maintain policies that welcome refugees. Learn more about one specific opportunity June 12-16, 2017.
Welcome everyone. You may not know any refugees, but you likely interact every day with people who face hardships or feel unwelcome. Find ways to give and serve others in your own community, and contribute to making your community one in which everyone feels welcome.
Can you tell us what the first year in America might look like for a new refugee family?
Refugees are faced with completely starting over during their first year, and relationships with people within their own language group and with Americans are vital to their success. During their first 30-90 days in the U.S., refugees receive services to assist them to stand on their feet. These include receiving social security cards, enrolling children in school and starting English classes. During the next three months, adults begin working and learn to pay bills, bank independently and become more familiar with American culture. The latter months are focused on becoming increasingly independent, building stronger English and working toward greater integration into their communities.
What kinds of jobs are refugees able to obtain once they arrive in the country? What if they don’t speak English?
Refugees are legally able to work when they arrive to the country, and many begin in entry level jobs in manufacturing, hospitality or meat packing industries, depending on the local jobs available. Even if they don’t speak English, many refugees are able to find their first job with the help of job placement agencies or resettlement agencies.
How does World Relief help refugees become economically self-sufficient?
Similar to all immigrants throughout American history, it takes time for refugees to be fully self-sufficient. Initially, refugees are assisted by World Relief or a job placement agency to find a “survival job," usually a low-wage job that helps pay basic bills. From there, we aim to help refugees plan toward future career and financial growth. Learning English is key to long-term financial growth, and World Relief encourages all refugees to continue learning and practicing English. Community volunteers play a key role with both English practice and employment-related networking.
What kind of social services are in place for refugees upon their arrival in the U.S.? Are these services under now under threat?
Initial case management services are provided by resettlement agencies, like World Relief. Longer-term services vary by region, but may include case management, employment services, after school programs, counseling and medical case management. Many communities also provide social services to refugees through mainstream programs or through refugee-specific services offered through private foundations, churches and community groups.
The president sets the number of refugees admitted each year, and funds for services are allocated by Congress. Once Congress drafts initial budget proposals for FY18, we’ll have a better idea of what services may be at risk of cuts.
Navigating the complexities of U.S. laws, systems and social services must be daunting for new refugees. How does World Relief help with this?
During their initial months in the U.S., World Relief takes an active role in assisting clients to apply for eligible services and provides orientation to understanding U.S. culture, laws and available services. Volunteers and churches also play a vital role in helping refugees navigate their new country. By partnering with World Relief and refugee families, they walk with refugee friends as they find their way in a new country.
Tell us about a typical day for you and your staff in DuPage. Do you work directly with refugees, or are you mostly working on advocacy and settlement logistics?
This is always a fun question to answer, because there are no typical days. Most of our staff works directly with refugees and immigrants, and days may involve the following: home visits; appointments with clients, volunteers or government offices; coordinating service logistics for newly arrived refugees; cultural orientations and trainings; completing paperwork and case notes; and inter-office service coordination. We always engage in a lot of problem solving with the many stakeholders we work with.
What other organizations are working with refugees here in the U.S.? What distinguishes World Relief from them?
There are nine organizations that resettle refugees in the U.S., and many others that serve refugees once they have arrived. Like World Relief, many of these organizations are faith-based and work with volunteers. World Relief is the only evangelically-rooted resettlement agency whose mission is explicitly to partner with local churches to serve the vulnerable.
Do you do any work with refugees in their home nation before their arrival in the U.S. in terms of preparation and education? Do you work in refugee camps?
While World Relief does work in several of the countries either producing or hosting refugees (including Jordan and South Sudan), we do not have an active role in these locations preparing refugees for U.S. resettlement.
What is the most important message you want to convey about refugees here in the U.S.?
I have gotten to know Al, a volunteer who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Iraq, and often speaks at events with World Relief. Al’s response to this question sticks with me: refugees want the same things we want. They want peace, freedom and safety. They want to contribute to their new community. They are fleeing the same type of violence that we are afraid of, and they care about the refugee program being safe and secure, just like U.S. citizens do. Above all, they want to build a good life for themselves and their families, and hope for good things for future generations.
Susan Sperry is the Executive Director of World Relief Dupage/Aurora. Previous to her role as Executive Director, Susan served in a variety of roles in the Dupage/Aurora office, including Refugee Services Director, Resettlement Director and Community Relations.
Alison Bell serves as the Senior Resettlement Manager for World Relief DuPage/Aurora and sits on the Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force. With a BA and MA in urban studies, Alison oversees social services and case management for refugees, asylees, and victims of human trafficking served by World Relief throughout DuPage County.
[The following post was written by Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief.]
In today’s connected world, the rapid dispersion of half-truths—and even blatant lies—is disturbing. This is especially true as it relates to the discussion around the ban of refugees to the United States.
As Christians, we should care about this. If truth is malleable, the very foundation of our faith is undermined. The words of Saint Augustine, “Let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master,” are often paraphrased to say “All truth is God’s truth.” Careless disregard for the truth should be unacceptable to us.
For some people, the refugee ban seems an assault on Christian and American values. As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it so succinctly, “There is no fine print on the Statue of Liberty.” At the same time, others see the ban as eminently sensible and a necessary step to protect us from terrorists.
I don’t aim to impugn motives to one group or the other. People hold different views, and the right to those differences and the freedom to express them is not only part of our American tradition, but the very essence of what makes us unique as a nation.
However, what is important is that the opinions that shape government policy are based in truth.
When this administration says we don’t know who refugees are, is this true? When it focuses on the threat of terrorism, is it exaggerating risk and distorting our individual and collective judgment so that we deny those who deserve our compassion?
Experts can debate and disagree as to whether the ban will keep us safe or actually lead to further radicalization and increased risk. However, these are the indisputable facts about refugee admissions, and experts’ judgments need to be informed by them:
The refugee admission process is the most thorough of all entry processes into the U.S.
We do know who these refugees are. They go through a multi-step process that generally lasts anywhere between 18 months to 3 years, and includes fingerprinting, biometrics, retina scans, and multiple interviews by different agencies, including the United Nations, State Department contractors, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. World Relief—the organization I lead that resettles refugees—receives a thorough biographic report compiled by the U.S. State Department on each refugee we receive before they enter the country.
The effectiveness of the process is demonstrated by the fact that, of the roughly three million refugees admitted since 1980, none has ever killed a single American in a terrorist attack.
The Cato Institute’s research puts the annual risk of a refugee-committed terrorist killing on U.S. soil at 1 in 3.6 billion.
Nothing within this executive order would have prevented 9/11, nor the more recent attacks in San Bernardino or Orlando.
At least 5,700 fewer persecuted Christians will be allowed to come to the U.S. as refugees in Fiscal Year 2017 than in Fiscal Year 2016 as a result of the order’s dramatic cut to the overall number of refugees allowed, despite the president’s stated concern for persecuted Christians.
In the past decade, the U.S. has never received more than a fraction of one percent of the world’s refugees annually, and it has received more Christian refugees than those of any other faith background.
Of the 19,324 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. since 2012, 47% have been children thirteen years of age or under, while just 13% have been men aged 21 through 40.
There are lots of opinions around these issues, but those are the hard facts. So, let me ask you, how afraid do you think we should be of this program? We cannot let fear overpower truth.
As a Christian, I do not believe Jesus died for us so that we could live comfortable lives behind walls, indifferent to the suffering of others. In fact, he explicitly modeled through his life radical compassion for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger, and even for his enemies.
Today let us choose to do as he did—especially for those in desperate need. Let compassion and truth be our guide. Let us not succumb to fear any longer.
Tim Breene is the CEO of World Relief, a global humanitarian relief and development organization that stands with the vulnerable and partners with local churches to end the cycle of suffering, transform lives and build sustainable communities. With over 70 years of experience, World Relief has offices in the United States that specialize in refugee and immigration services, and works in 20 countries worldwide through disaster response, health and child development, economic development and peacebuilding.
Over the past few days, we’ve seen an outpouring of responses to the resources we have provided on how to stand in solidarity with refugees. During this critical time, your efforts mean the world. Here’s an updated list of ways you can show support for refugees right now:
Dear President Trump and Vice President Pence,
As evangelical Christians, we are guided by the Bible to be particularly concerned for the plight of refugees, individuals who have been forced to flee their countries because of the threat of persecution. Evangelical churches and ministries have long played a key role in welcoming, resettling, and assisting in the integration of refugees from various parts of the world. As such, we are troubled by the recent executive order temporarily halting refugee resettlement and dramatically reducing the number of refugees who could be considered for resettlement to the U.S.
The Bible teaches us that each person — including each refugee, regardless of their country of origin, religious background, or any other qualifier — is made in the Image of God, with inherent dignity and potential. Their lives matter to God, and they matter to us. While the U.S. has in recent years received only a fraction of 1 percent of the world’s refugees annually, we believe the refugee resettlement program provides a lifeline to these uniquely vulnerable individuals and a vital opportunity for our churches to live out the biblical commands to love our neighbors, to make disciples of all nations, and to practice hospitality.
Our faith also compels us to be concerned with the well-being of families. Most of the refugees admitted to the U.S. in recent years are family reunification cases, coming to join a relative already in the country. A temporary moratorium will unnecessarily delay families whose cases already have been screened and approved from being reunited.
We fully affirm the important role of the U.S. government in vetting and screening those considered for resettlement to our country; indeed, it is a God-ordained responsibility of government. However, the U.S. refugee resettlement program’s screening process is already extremely thorough — more intensive, in fact, than the vetting that is required of any other category of visitor or immigrant to our nation — and it has a remarkably strong record. While we are always open to improvements to our government’s screening process, we believe that our nation can continue to be both compassionate and secure.
We would ask that you reconsider these decisions, allowing for resettlement of refugees to resume immediately so that our churches and ministries can continue to live out our faith in this way.
We are praying for you and for all of those in positions of civil authority, that God would continue to grant you wisdom and guidance.
Shirley V. Hoogstra
Council for Christian Colleges and Universities
President & CEO
Korean Churches for Community Development
National Association of Evangelicals
Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon
The Wesleyan Church
World Vision U.S.
Download PDF of this letter.
Join us in urging Congress and local officials to end the moratorium and resume the resettlement of refugees as soon as possible. Sign the refugee petition now.
The Changemaker series features stories from our work around the world. It is our hope that these stories will inspire, encourage, and enrich you. The following post was written by Emily Gray, SVP of U.S. Ministries, World Relief.
Over the last year, the word ‘refugee’ has come to symbolize much of the fear, uncertainty, and division plaguing our nation. As our country struggles to grapple with ever-evolving international complexities and rapidly shifting political tides, refugees have, in many ways, become synonymous with this messy, somewhat chaotic and confusing environment. Used as scapegoats, singled out as potential risks to our security, criticized as drains on our economy, and intimidated with threats, their presence in America has too often been devoid of the peace they’d hoped for. In seeking refuge, many have instead encountered hardship, isolation, and even overt hostility. And as the world confronts worsening headlines on a daily basis, often provoking greater impetus to stereotype, the plight of the refugee in America is intensifying.
Despite our nation’s long and proud tradition as an open and compassionate society, many people now see refugees as a problem rather than as vulnerable people who have suffered horribly in often horrific circumstances. These are people who have needed considerable strength and courage to make the journey to a new beginning in a foreign land, people whose presence can enrich both our culture and society, as well as the individuals and churches that come alongside them in love and compassion. Refugee resettlement touches a deep nerve, but one all too often untouched by the personal experience of befriending and welcoming these vulnerable people.
But there is another narrative about refugees, one that we see everyday at World Relief. It is the story of churches who partner with us to welcome and befriend these refugees. It is a story of love and compassion, one that replaces fear and distrust.
Because of Christ’s command to us, to love our neighbor and to welcome the stranger, churches across America are responding to the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees with compassion and hospitality. Through joining Good Neighbor groups, donating welcome kits, and hosting ‘Refugee Sundays’, our church partners are providing hope, light, and transformational love to this uniquely vulnerable group of refugees and immigrants.
Glen Ellyn Covenant Church, in Illinois, answered God’s calling to step out in faith and welcome over 150 Burmese and Bhutanese refugees to their congregation in 2013. They did so in striving to follow the example of Jesus, who left the comforts of heaven for the messiness of this world. And something remarkable happened. Pastor Mike Langer explains,
“It was the most powerful thing I’ve ever been involved in. They taught me so much, gave me so much, and I am so grateful to God that He placed them in our midst. We love to see ourselves as a church become more aware of what it truly means to trust God, to be citizens of God’s kingdom, and to understand the radical implications of Jesus’s teachings. Our Bhutanese and Burmese friends helped us to do that.”
In this journey, lay the opportunity for positive transformation not only for immigrants themselves, but for the community that welcomes them and ultimately for the church and the growth of the Kingdom of God.
Love is our mission. We are called by Jesus to welcome and to love. And we respond in love because we were first loved by Him and because we know that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18.) We offer compassion for those who need our help, stand up as champions for those who are marginalized, and love sacrificially.
Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to answer God’s call to be good Samaritans, and to welcome the stranger. Regardless of what lies ahead, the church must always be ready to educate others about refugees and immigrants, advocate on their behalf, and give to organizations who work directly with these foreign-born individuals and families. We have the chance to step out in faith and literally change the future for refugees and immigrants. Let us answer this calling with courage and conviction.
“The Lord watches over the foreigner, and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146:9 NIV)
Since the presidential election in the United States on Tuesday, we’ve received many questions from church leaders and other concerned friends regarding the path ahead for World Relief’s work with refugees and immigrants. While this aspect of our work is only one part of our larger global mission to empower the local church to stand with the vulnerable—including our aid and development work in communities throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East—we believe that this is a unique moment for the Church.
Tuesday’s election concluded a presidential campaign season that was uniquely divisive. That division is being felt within the U.S. Church as well. Despite differing on political issues, however, what can and needs to unite followers of Jesus is our commitment to living out His commands and the teachings of Scripture. While we respect and collaborate with governmental authorities, our ultimate trust is in God, who “watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146:9 NIV). Throughout the Old and New Testaments, followers of God are repeatedly called to “do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor, [to not] exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow” (Jeremiah 22:3 CEB).
The Church is called to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13 NIV)—literally, to practice loving strangers—mindful that Jesus Himself was once a child refugee, forced to flee from a tyrannical genocide. Whenever we welcome one of “the least of these” in Jesus’ name, we welcome Him (Matthew 25:40).
That’s why—even as we anticipate the impending Presidential transition in the U.S.—World Relief’s mission remains to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable, including the displaced and the persecuted.
As has been the case for decades, today teams of World Relief staff and volunteers from local churches in cities, suburbs, and small towns throughout the United States will be gathering beds, sofas, and household items to furnish new apartments for arriving refugees. At airports across the country, our teams will welcome newcomers who are weary from their travel and nervous as they arrive in a country and culture they have never known. Our staff and volunteers will walk alongside these newly arrived refugees, helping them to rebuild their lives.
Many refugees and other immigrants feel uniquely vulnerable right now. We believe that this represents a unique moment for the Church. Today, local churches have the opportunity to demonstrate moral courage by standing with the vulnerable in new and unprecedented ways—offering a warm welcome, a reassuring smile, practical assistance, and consistent advocacy for more compassionate policy towards carefully vetted refugees and their families.
We deeply value our longstanding relationship with the U.S. State Department, and we look forward to working with the new administration to welcome and resettle refugees, just as we have with the past six presidential administrations. And regardless of the course the new administration sets, World Relief’s mission remains the same—to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.
President Reagan once called the U.S. “a shining city on a hill” for those searching for freedom. On one hand, we ought to be proud of our country’s history as a beacon of refuge for those fleeing persecution, and we pray that the brightest moments of our national history of welcoming refugees and immigrants are still ahead of us.
But we must also remember that when Jesus first spoke of “a city on a hill” (Matthew 5:14), he was not speaking about the United States. Rather, Jesus was addressing His personal followers, those who would become the earliest Church.
In the face of the greatest global refugee crisis in recorded history, World Relief’s prayer is that the Church—the largest social network on the planet—will seize this unique moment, letting its light shine like a city upon a hill, so that millions of displaced people around the world will find great love and compassion—both of which are at the heart of God.
Please donate today to help us seize this unique moment to serve refugees, immigrants, and the vulnerable around the world.