The United Nations’ (UN) World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 each year. This event honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. Some communities dedicate an entire week that includes World Refugee Day to encourage people to think about the lives of refugees and the human right to a secure place to that one can see as “home”. (www.timeanddate.com/holidays/un/world-refugee-day )
By Bishop Peggy Johnson
Last December in my New Year’s video statement and a related article, I declared 2018 to be the “Year of the Migrant.” There are more than 65 million displaced people living in our world today; and we, the people of God, have a mandate to show them love and hospitality:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)
“For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34
The mandate is clear. To live out these commands in this day and time, with immigration being a highly controversial issue, is far more difficult but also far more crucial.
World Refugee Day is June 20, 2018; and I hope that each of our churches will mention this on Sunday, June 17 and 24, during worship. Make people aware of the plight of millions. Help congregants understand the intolerable political climate that exists in many countries due to war, unstable governments, famine or natural disasters.
Remind our flocks that our resettlement program for legal immigrants in the U.S. is an important part of our national value system. For the Christian, it is part of our commitment to Jesus.
Help people find ways to get involved and offer help, even just a little bit. We have a United Methodist Advanced Special fund for donations: National Justice for Our Neighbors Advance #901285 (Creating a welcoming community by providing immigration legal services, education and advocacy.) And we can communicate in many ways to our lawmakers that we support humane immigration policies.
Years ago, when I was serving in a local congregation in Baltimore, a man from Ethiopia came to my church. He was seeking asylum in the U.S. due to political unrest in his home country, where he was a respected educator. He narrowly escaped with his life after being kidnapped and tortured.
The church afforded him many helpful support systems during his long journey through the immigration process. This was because he had a face and a story; and it was because the common humanity they shared was compelling. This talented and personable man eventually received asylum status and a green card, and it was partly due to the advocacy and support of this little church.
Today he is a productive member of society. I saw a picture of him on Facebook recently standing next to his son who just graduated from high school. His story taught me that every church can do one thing, help one person, raise one voice for advocacy.
Compassion for the stranger does not have to spin into partisan political controversy. Respond only as the Lord lays it on your heart, as the “Lord loves a cheerful giver.” Remember always that we are all sojourners on this earth, living a common life under the watchful eyes of a loving, merciful, welcoming God, who bids us to be loving and merciful and welcoming as well.
Please download, use and share this toolkit from the Refugee Council USA, so that your church and others can promote and advocate for this important cause using various means in the weeks and months to come: