Can you help?
This was the somewhat desperate question asked of me by the refugee resettlement agency. A family of six was scheduled to arrive within 24 hours and the house they were going to live in had not received clearance by the city inspectors. The family, a mother with four kids and a grandmother, were refugees from Rwanda who had fled to Cameroon. After years in a refugee camp they had been transported to the Sudan and were in route from the Sudan to Paris and then to Chicago, they’d be here the next day, after a grueling 36 hours of travel. The church and I, having participated in refugee resettlement for a couple of years, decided that we could house this family for a few days. It was summer, no Sunday School, and the building was mostly unused during the day. We set up six beds in one long room. Next door was a living room like space with a television. Downstairs was a fully stocked kitchen and bathrooms with showers. In short order we had everything ready, including food in the refrigerator. The family arrived, along with staff from the refugee agency, about 4pm on a warm sunny afternoon. After the trauma and the challenges of travel, the family was nearly catatonic. Over the next week the church was filled with the sounds of a family coming back to life - kids playing outside in the playground, food being prepared in the kitchen, and faces that began to smile with eyes that shone from rest and hope. By the end of the week the agency had the house ready and the family moved on, but the members of that church, who had opened their doors, were forever changed.
“Come, you that are blessed by God, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for 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…” (Matthew 25:34-35).
Who is the stranger?
Did you know that there are about 60 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, and the number is growing daily.
Forcibly Displaced people fall into several categories:
IDP’s: Internally Displaced Persons: about 40 million people have been forcibly uprooted and displaced within their own country due to violence and conflict. They remain in their country but not in their homes. They are not protected by the government and have no access to resources.
Asylum Seekers: In 2014 1.66 million people submitted applications for asylum. A potentially even larger number of people are waiting to make it through the legal system to apply. Asylum seekers are at a distinct disadvantage in that they have zero resources available to them. A number of agencies focus solely on helping asylum seekers, such as Freedom House in Detroit. The criteria that grants one asylum are: cannot return to home country because of a real risk of being killed due to one’s race, religion, ethnicity, politics, or because one is a member of a particular group such as the LGBTQ community. And, I read recently that there are women in South America who fall into the “particular group” category because they are in marriages they can’t get out of.
Refugee: a refugee is someone who has been forced out their home and country because of a real risk of death and violence. There are about 20 million refugees in camps around the world today. Most refugees today are fleeing Syria, followed by those fleeing Afghanistan as well as Africa, South and Central America, and other countries in the world that are experiencing conflict. Refugee resettlement is a long, arduous process. A number of international agencies, often affiliated with the United Nations, work with the governments that have created refugee camps with the intent of resettling as many people as possible. Each person considered for resettlement undergoes intense back ground checks, health and psychological evaluations. Refugee status can take years to acquire and even longer to receive the needed approval to be resettled in another country.
Migrants - a term used frequently, all individuals who cross a border into another county is a migrant. However migrant differs from IDP’s, asylum seekers, and refugees in that a migrant can still seek the protection of its home government.
Here in Southeast Michigan the largest resettlement agency is LSSM - Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. They have partner affiliates with other agencies, such as EMM - the Episcopal Migration Ministries. It is anticipated that we will receive nearly 1000 refugees, beginning in about 18 months, or as soon as President Obama gives the clearance for resettlement to begin.
Refugees are resettled first in countries and cities where they already have family members. If there are no family members with whom to be reunited, refugees are resettled in regions where there are other people with whom they can form community.
Every effort is made to ensure that refugees are resettled into community, for it is with community that people are able to rebuild their lives and move from despair to hope.
How can you help? As refugees begin to arrive in SE Michigan I will receive requests from LSSM for assistance. This will be a request for immediate action: a team of youth or adults to greet a refugee family at the airport, a team of people who can set up a house or apartment including making beds and organizing a kitchen, a team of people who can acquire new or gently used clothing or household items, a team of people who will go to the grocery store a stock the kitchen with culturally appropriate food for the family. Some churches may choose to take on a larger, more expensive portion of resettlement, such as sponsoring a family by paying for the expenses to migrate including Visas, airfare, the items in their new home, and so forth.
And, be sure to stop by the LSSM booth in the vender hall and pick up materials on refugee resettlement.
Thank you, Bishop Gibbs, for your support in enabling me to attend the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services conference earlier this month, and for encouraging our participation in refugee resettlement.
The Diocese of Michigan has a long history with refugee resettlement, and now we will have that opportunity again.
Thank you also to Christ Episcopal Church, Dearborn, and our Vestry, who also supported this endeavor and the trip to Baltimore to attend the LIRS conference earlier this month.
We are informed and formed not only from Jesus’ words in the Gospel, to help the stranger, but also from Deuteronomy we are reminded that we are to help the stranger for we too were once strangers in a strange land. If we reach into the resources of our corporate soul, there resonates a grief from a common loss of home, of the places our ancestors left behind, may this grief inform our compassion and inspire us to heal the broken and the wounded with love. May we do this with God’s help.