Refugees and the Power of Relationships

We are seeing the largest global displacement of persons in our lifetime. The UN estimated that there were 65.3 million forcibly displaced men, women, and children in the world at the end of 2015. This includes refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people. One of every 113 persons on Earth has been forcibly displaced from their home. Of those 65.3 million people, 21.3 million persons are considered to be refugees. A refugee is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” So, refugees are persons who were forced to flee their homes and whose needs could not be met in the asylum country to which they originally fled. Refugees do not want to be refugees. Fleeing to a third country is their final viable option.

These statistics are shocking, but do they compel you to act and to journey with refugees? How do we move from apathy to empathy as Americans feeling far removed from the refugee crisis? I would argue that forming relationships with refugees, listening to their stories, and giving them a seat at the table will help us move from being indifferent bystanders to passionate advocates. 1 John 4:18 proclaims “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” We are urged to care for and show compassion to others, including strangers and enemies. We need to not be afraid. We can find strength and comfort in the assurance of God’s sovereignty.

One way to form relationships with refugees is through sponsoring. The need for sponsors of refugees is immediate and urgent. The U.S. has committed to accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees and 85,000 total refugees by the end of September 2016.

My church community in Chicago is in initial stages of cosponsoring a refugee family with RefugeeOne. Cosponsoring a refugee family involves welcoming the family at the airport, preparing their first (culturally-appropriate) meal, stocking their pantry for the first few weeks, raising financial support, and most importantly mentoring them for the first six months. Through mentoring the family, we will seek to help refugees overcome social isolation, enhance their language skills and cultural understanding, and ultimately aim to get them to self-sufficiency.

Not only do relationships with refugees have the power to change our hearts and minds, but relationships also have the power to heal refugees.

Taking it one step further, in the book Seeking Refuge, authors Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir argue that we need to move beyond hospitality to becoming like family. Relationships are essential in our pursuit of acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly. When biblical justice is motivated by relationships and becomes personal, God gives us the strength we need to not burn out.

Not only do relationships with refugees have the power to change our hearts and minds, but relationships also have the power to heal refugees. The authors suggest that relationships can lead to healing for those who have experienced unspeakable trauma and ongoing culture shock. Can you imagine having no option but to move to a foreign land where, in order to survive, you must become fluent in a new language so you can get a minimum-wage job even though you were previously a doctor, a lawyer or other professional position? I can’t. Refugees have lost what feels so fundamental to most Americans – human dignity. In addition to challenging physical circumstances, many refugees have experienced trauma that will stay with them forever. In SeekingRefuge, the authors explain,

Trauma is a reality impacting many refugees, so if we want to serve well and not be hurt ourselves, we need to understand it. But it is not an insurmountable barrier: God made human beings to be remarkably resilient, and we see that as we witness refugees experience healing and overcome the traumas of their past.

While we cannot change their past, we can be present and walk along side them as we all move forward together. Refugees can heal and adjust by getting to know people in community that will journey with them.

We at Loop Church look forward to the experiences we can share with our refugee family. We hope to be teachers, advocates, and friends. We hope the experiences we share will change us and break us. Through relationships and through prayer, we also feel compelled to advocate on refugees’ behalf. We need to advocate for refugees in our communities to our elected officials. Many refugees do not have voices in their new communities and in our government. We’re called to be their voices and to not be silent.

With all of this in mind, I urge you. I urge you to befriend people who are not like you, to listen, and to acknowledge that all are made in the image of God and are therefore are our sisters and brothers in Christ. I urge you to pray for displaced people everywhere. Pray for peace. Pray for wisdom as you interact with refugees. And finally, I urge you to advocate on their behalf at both the local and national level. Recently, refugee resettlement has been controversial because of fear of who we might be letting into the country. Share stories of the voiceless and marginalized. Have the courage to counter fear with love.

In an article included in Micah Challenge USA’s  Live Justly study,  Nicholas Wolterstorff concludes that “in the absence of justice, we are not truly flourishing; in the absence of justice, shalom is impaired.” Refugees need champions for their causes so that they feel welcome, so that they experience Christ’s love, and so that the cosmos may draw ever so slightly nearer to the kingdom of God, “where justice reigns and shalom is achieved.” Pass it on.

--Through the Holy Spirit's leading, Claire McWilliams actively seeks to live justly through all facets of life -as a Christ follower, Chicagoan, Dordt College alumna, civil servant, church elder, worship planner, chorister, daughter, sister, and friend.