During today’s lunch hour I watched Global Immersion Project’s webinar, “Confronting the Refugee Myths.” If you missed it, you can watch it here. After catching up on a few tasks I realized that it was after 2 and I scooted over to Plates2Go to get a sandwich.
I mentioned to the woman serving me that I was running late because I listened to a webinar on welcoming refugees. Her response summed up the challenge in a nutshell: overcoming fear. She said she is afraid that by letting in refugees we are letting in terrorists. I replied that I understand it takes courage but that our screening process makes it almost impossible for a terrorist to infiltrate. (I could have mentioned that Jeremy from Preemptive Love Coalition says we should be more worried about homegrown radicals, but I wanted to dial down the fear not amplify it.) Then she told me about a friend in law enforcement that told her about the theft of over $39,000 worth of UPS uniforms. She is concerned that this is the prelude to a terrorist attack. I pointed out that this sounds like a plan for old-fashioned crime at holiday time.
After a little more conversation she said that as a Christian she knows she is supposed to trust in God, and that she is supposed to help others. She said that she will probably do the right thing but she is still afraid. I agreed that it can be hard and that courage is acting especially when we are afraid.
Sometimes leadership is having these conversations over and over. Calling people forth to their better selves in spite of the fear. These conversations can be like lights that chase out the darkness. It is easier to be brave when we know other people share our concerns and our resolve. Right now the media is amplifying the fear. So those of us who want the end of the story to be different must step up our courageous actions. Counteract the Governor of Georgia who is trying to discourage churches in Atlanta from sponsoring Syrian refugee families. The Governor is proposing legislation to cut off all benefits to Syrian and Iraqi refugees. One church already responded that they will meet whatever needs a family presents. How do we create a welcoming place for them in the midst of this kind of hostility?
This is the challenge posed by the Global Immersion Project. They invited Global Relief to give an overview of the facts. In the 1970s the United States welcomed over 200,000 refugees a year–mostly from Southeast Asia. Last year we let 85,000 refugees in and only a fraction are from Iraq and only 1,682 from Syria. We can do more.
Our screening process is already extremely thorough. First the applicants have to pass the security vetting, then complete the cultural orientation. Then they are matched with a refugee organization. Refugee organizations depend on their local partners who are mainly churches and other volunteer organizations.
The refugees do not get much aid. They have to pay for their own plane tickets via a loan. Then they receive a stipend for 6 months. Generally the refugees–mostly families–are integrated enough to make it on their own. European governments are much more generous and they begin the screening process once you are in country.
The challenge we face is creating a welcome environment for refugees arriving today. With 30 Governors publicly saying that they are not welcome, it is important that people of faith who believe that God calls us to a different kind of hospitality Write and Go.
Vicki from We Welcome Refugees encourages people to make their voice heard either by using the automated system on their website to write to their elected officials or by calling congressional representatives while they are home for Thanksgiving. The electeds’ staff keep a tally and right now voices of compassion are outnumbered by people calling in fear and anger.
The other call is to go: donate coats and household goods or money to refugee organizations, partner with churches in Europe to help refugees, participate with your place of worship to sponsor a family, or be a friend to a refugee. Remember they have left everything they know for life in the United States. Sometimes they are still overwhelmed with concern for the safety of loved ones left behind. Sometimes they are grieving other losses of career or the life that might have been. Or they are just plain homesick.
As a follower of Christ I welcome refugees as an act of obedience to Jesus’ direction (Matthew 25: 35-39), and because it is the right thing to do. The Golden Rule is not unique to American Christians afterall. And if bombs were turning Sacramento into rubble and I had to flee I would hope that others would welcome me and help me to begin the slow process of rebuilding my life.
I have already sent letters to my Governor, Senators and Congresswoman. I am seeking ways to do more. My congregation is preparing to sponsor families. Wherever they are from I intend to do my utmost to make them feel welcome. Please join me.