Building a Community of Safety and Belonging
A reflection from World Relief Chicagoland Executive Director Susan Sperry.
June is World Refugee Awareness Month. And on June 20th, we celebrate World Refugee Day. This year, the theme of World Refugee Day is focused on the human right to seek safety.
Whoever they are, people forced to flee should be treated with dignity. Anyone can seek protection, regardless of who they are or what they believe. It is non-negotiable: seeking safety is a human right.
Wherever they come from, people forced to flee should be welcomed. Refugees come from all over the globe. To get out of harm’s way, they might take a plane, a boat, or travel on foot. What remains universal is the right to seek safety.
Whenever people are forced to flee, they have a right to be protected. Whatever the threat – war, violence, persecution – everyone deserves protection. Everyone has a right to be safe.UNHCR
Who are the people seeking safety?
This is a time of visible conflicts. You might think of Ukraine. There are millions of others who have fled their homes due to less-publicized conflict in places like Ethiopia, Myanmar, or South Sudan. Many of these people become refugees. And during Refugee Awareness Month, it is important that we tell their stories of leaving home to seek refuge.
And yet there are others too – people who arrive in the United States seeking protection from violence because of their identity, religion, or views.
June is National Immigrant Heritage Month, so we also have the time to consider our immigrant neighbors who left beloved homelands, friends, and family…to seek safety and a place to live freely.
This month, I am reflecting on the key reason why both refugees and immigrants must have the right to seek safety: each one is a human being. Those of us who follow Jesus believe in the concept of the “Imago Dei”: that each person is made in the “Image of God.” Let’s explore a few reasons why that makes such an impact on how we treat our immigrant and refugee neighbors.
1. Remembering the Imago Dei Transforms Our Relationships from 2D to 3D
I recently had a conversation with a pastor about what it means to cultivate deep relationships. This pastor framed the conversation as taking a relationship from two dimensions (2D) to three dimensions (3D). By necessity, all of us have “2D” relationships. There are people we know of and we know about, but we don’t know in-depth. We know their outer image, but it’s more of a caricature. We may not think of them as a complex individual with the same level of joy, pain, and experience that we have.
A person becomes “3D” when we spend time together. By talking, laughing, eating, and being human together, we gain insight into their joys, pains, dreams, and fears. When we share life together, we become better able to see the image of God in the person before us and also recognize it within ourselves.
That’s also how we begin to understand each other’s potential. We recognize their capacity to love, create, and build relationships — and that those are qualities we share by virtue of being humans, created in the image of God.
Relationships that move from 2D to 3D begin the process of building community. And in community, where we recognize each other’s humanity, potential, and limitations, we can create safety and space for each other to thrive.
2. Developing Relationships and Belonging Requires Time
In more than 20 years with World Relief, I have seen thousands of people resettled and thousands more immigrants become a part of the World Relief community in Chicagoland. And I have experienced the many ways that being together in community is rewarding and transformative for all involved. In my friendships with immigrants and refugees like Deborah, Jerome, Mohammad, Durmomo, and many others, I have gained an appreciation for the way that the image of God manifests in the creativity, wisdom, and compassion of those around me. Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog series from my friend Durmomo about this!
In each of these friendships, investing time with each other has transformed a 2D image in my head into a 3D understanding in my heart. I am deeply grateful for how these relationships and how we continue to shape each other.
3. Our Value as Humans Gives us the Right to Seek Safety
Christianity, and many other faiths, emphasize the fact that human life is precious. This common thread across cultures is backed up in the theological belief of Christians, that humans created by God and loved by Him, are valuable and important. When someone’s life is threatened, they should have the right to seek safety so that they can experience peace, a relationship with God and others, and the opportunity to use their God-given talents and passions. As Christians, we can protect that opportunity by creating a welcoming space.
I believe that together, we can form a movement to serve the vulnerable people among us. That includes extending safety to refugees and immigrants who have fled war, violence, and persecution and allows us to see the value in every human life. We welcome them. Whoever they are, wherever they come from, and whenever they arrive.
Ali’s Story: A Refugee Pharmacist Using His Career to Give Back to Others
Finally, I’m Home: Raphael’s Story of 8 Years Waiting for Resettlement