5 Words That Can Change a Nation

Photo by Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch

In 2008 my wife and I were in her childhood home of Kenya when violence after the country’s election broke out—resulting in the death of over 1,100 people and the displacement of thousands more. As we witnessed the devastation in the lives of our friends and the Kenyan people, we felt called to act. And in 2013, ahead of the next elections, we returned to Kenya to participate in peace and reconciliation workshops and a peace march with local pastors. In the Kibera slum of Nairobi, and in Molo, in the White Mountains—two places where some of the worst inter-tribal violence took place—we saw communities embrace forgiveness for acts committed against one another. We saw tears shed and commitments made to be followers of Jesus first, Kenyans second and tribal community leaders a distant third. The subsequent elections were largely peaceful and celebrated as an important step forward. And so it was with great sadness that we learned this year’s elections in July had once again been disputed—largely along tribal lines. Following the Kenyan Supreme Court ruling that the elections needed to be re-run, the country was plunged into an economic crisis as investors and others fled the resulting uncertainty.

Coincidentally, this weekend found us back in Nairobi just days after the re-run election, only to find the country more deeply divided and polarized than ever and facing an uneasy peace. The root causes of the turmoil are being hotly disputed amongst factions and there is little desire for compromise amongst the political elite. Meanwhile, the working poor—those living barely above the poverty line—are seeing their already fragile lives caught in the political cross fire,  escalating rhetoric and disappearing livelihoods. Tales of violence and killing abound, though much of this will never surface in the mainstream media because what happens in and around the slums of Nairobi and the most rural parts of the country is only partially recorded.

A Challenging Question

So what, you might ask, has this to do with America?

On Sunday my wife and I listened to a Nairobi pastor preaching into the crisis, explaining the ways in which we as individuals can either calm or inflame a crisis. He laid out five characteristics that he believes make this current Kenyan crisis perhaps more profound and harder to resolve than previous ones. After all, Kenyans stared into the abyss in 2008. They are naturally peace-loving and optimistic people. Surely it could not descend into serious open conflict again?

As is often the case here in Africa the Pastor used a colorful metaphor to catch his congregation’s attention – and ours. He identified five characteristics that polarize and inflame crises, characteristics that each one of us can too easily embrace. And he called us to examine our own hearts, challenging us with this question:

“Are we promoting unity, as we are called to do by Christ and the apostle Paul, or are we so entrenched in our own beliefs and self righteousness that we are actually promoting division and fueling crisis?”

The 5 Characteristics

  1. An attacking mouth — Insensitivity to the reasons others might hold a different view, and worse, an incapacity to understand how our positions and words might make them feel. By our words we don’t just express disagreement, we attack, discredit, inflame, and in so doing—polarize.

  2. Blind eyes — Ignorance. An almost wilful blindness to the complexity of issues that often underlie people’s different views; a willingness to accept the narrative that corresponds to our own preference without examining facts that would be uncomfortable.

  3. Cold shoulders — Indifference to the plight of others, so long as “I am all right”. The opposite of love, this Pastor suggested, is not hate—it is indifference. His argument? At least if you hate someone your emotions are engaged. It is worse to be relegated to the status of non-person, someone whose concerns and views are simply irrelevant to you and your view of the world.

  4. Dead ears — Inflexibilty. An unwillingness to re-examine one’s own views, a preference for certainty, even when it is misplaced, over inquiry and uncertainty.

  5. Empty Hands — Irresponsibility. Denial that one might have contributed in any way to the crisis, instead searching to always put the blame elsewhere, and to always find scapegoats.

Does the Shoe Fit?

In the most sophisticated nation in the world we might assume that none of this applies. But I must ask, can we truly open the newspaper each day, watch the news, or scroll through twitter, facebook or other social media and not recognize that perhaps “the shoe does fit us too?”

Disagreements in human relationships are inevitable, yet just as marriage disagreements do not have to lead to breakdown, neither do they have to in civil society.

But genuine reconciliation requires a heart that is open and a willingness to forgive and reconcile. Indeed, the ability to reconcile is one key sign of a maturing Christian faith.

And so I challenge us as we look to the deepening divisions in our own society. Do we have something to learn from this courageous Kenyan Pastor, challenging his followers to recognize their own part in the crisis and examine their own hearts, attitudes and behaviors?

“Little children let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”
John 3:18   


(ABOVE PHOTO: Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch)


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Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.

#GivingTuesday 2017

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This year for #GivingTuesday, you can make a tangible difference in the lives of refugees and immigrants.

How?

  1. Below, find the local World Relief office closest to you.
     
  2. Click the link to learn what you can do on or before November 28 to welcome refugees and immigrants from around the world.

VIDEO: Roots of the Tree — Addressing Belief Systems

Elias Kamau is the World Relief Country Director for Kenya. In the video below, he discusses the World Relief approach to sustainable change.

We at World Relief often spend 2-3 years in a community before introducing technical programs, because we believe and recognize that transformation must happen from the inside-out. We know that in order for behaviors to change, belief and value change must first lead the way. And that that change must be rooted in local leaders, addressing local challenges, with local solutions.

Too often, Elias notes, the international community expects instant and easy solutions to massive challenges. But it is vital that we take our time in finding the right solutions, rooted in culturally appropriate lessons, in order to address causation, not just effect. We must come alongside communities, at the right times, with the right local voices, seeking not to solve, but to understand. We must understand the unique values that drive action. That spectrum of understanding, Elias says, is vital for success.

Single-focus, short-term interventions fail to ensure sustainability – in fact, they often breed dependency. Yet through a holistic, nuanced, roots-based approach, harmful beliefs and behaviors can be changed, driving sustainable life-giving results.

We believe the video above gives insight, and helps bring to life, how this kind of transformation happens. And at World Relief, we believe this approach is the only way to achieve lasting change in a community.

 

 

 

Fact vs. Fiction — 10 Things You Need to Know about the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions

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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:

FICTION #1:
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.

FICTION #2:
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. [1]

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.

FICTION #3:
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. [2] 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. [3] 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.

FICTION #4:
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.

FICTION #5:
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.

FICTION #6:
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.

FICTION #7:
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).  

FICTION #8:
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. [4]

FICTION #9:
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)

FICTION #10:
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."

[1] Trump’s claim that ‘more than 300’ refugees are subjects of counterterrorism investigations,” Washington Post, March 2017

[2] “These researchers just debunked an all-too-common belief about refugees,” Washington Post, June 2017

[3] “Fact Sheet: Fiscal Year 2016 Refugee Admissions,” U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration January 2017.

[4] “Rejected Report Shows Revenue Brought In by Refugees,” New York Times, September 2017