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)