The need is great and sometimes, as an individual, I find them overwhelming. Where do we begin? What can I do? This afternoon as I was driving around running errands I heard an interview on “Here and Now” (NPR) with a young man from Texas who joined with other teenagers to write a 35-page amicus brief (friend of the court) in support of greater funding for the Texas school systems. More than 600 Texas schools are suing the state for their claim that Texas is underfunding its school systems. Zaakir Tameez, now a freshman in college, reported that his local school district has great disparity in educational opportunities for its young people and “that’s just not right.” These young people took on the issue for their peers because they believed that injustice was being done. Here’s the link for their brief – https://hisdstudentcongress.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/amicus.pdf
And you can find highlights of the radio interview here – http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/09/17/texas-school-funding-fight
I bring this issue up because it demonstrates that we can have a voice if we choose to speak out. Goodness, these were teenagers who saw the inequity around them and did something very tangible. We can, too.
The refugee crisis is so hard to wrap our minds around because it’s not really right in our face. Our Scriptures are pretty clear, though: these are our neighbors and what we do for the least of these, we do for Jesus. Our Presiding Bishop Katharine issued a statement earlier this week that is worth repeating here:
The children of Abraham have ever been reminded to care for the widow and orphan and the sojourner in their midst, who were the refugees and homeless of the time. Jesus charged his followers to care for the least of these and proclaim the near presence of the Reign of God – in other words, feed the hungry, water the thirsty, house the homeless, heal the sick, and liberate the captives. We cannot ignore the massive human suffering in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, nor in Asia and the Americas. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and our lives are bound up with theirs. The churchwide ministry of Episcopalians has included refugee resettlement since the refugee crisis of World War II. It continues today through the leadership of Episcopal Migration Ministries, and I urge your involvement, action, and support. Read about their work below, and share these opportunities with friends and co-workers. You will discover anew the power of good news in the face of the world’s tragedies.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
Included in her statement were the following suggestions:
Congregational and individual responses
The Syrian Civil War, now in its fourth year, has unleashed a humanitarian emergency in which severe war crimes — including indiscriminate massacres, persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, sexual and gender-based violence, and other humanitarian abuses — have become widespread. According to a recent UNHCR report, more than 4 million people (through the end of 2014) have fled their homes to escape the war in Syria, adding to a worldwide total of nearly 20 million refugees, half of whom are children. This is the largest and most widespread refugee crisis the world has known since World War II.
While record numbers of people are being forced to flee, powerful images of refugees fleeing Syria are compelling the world to action.
The media is publishing articles on a daily basis chronicling the most recent events and statistics. This crisis is complex geopolitically and historically (see here). The terminology can also be confusing. Follow Episcopal Migration Ministries on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date.
Here are some articles that can help shed light on this subject –
Violence Has Forced 60 Million People From Their Homes, The Atlantic
Exodus of Syrians Highlights Political Failure of the West, New York Times
‘Refugee’ or ‘migrant’ – Which is right?, UNHCR
Crossings of Mediterranean Sea exceed 300,000, including 200,000 to Greece, UNHCR
One Syrian Boy’s Plea, Al Jazeera America
In 2015, the United States is welcoming 70,000 refugees to our country as new Americans.
The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, through Episcopal Migration Ministries, works in partnership with its affiliate network, along with dioceses, faith communities and volunteers, to welcome refugees from conflict zones across the globe. Your local resettlement agency is always preparing for arriving families and in need of financial support, resources and volunteers. Contact an Episcopal Migration Ministries affiliate near you.
As a global leader in refugee resettlement, the US can and must do all that it can to welcome Syrians to the United States. Reach out to your Senators, Representatives, and the White House and ask them to support a robust refugee resettlement program and significant increase in Syrian resettlement. The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) has written a sample letter you may send to your members of Congress urging them to support increasing the number of refugees resettled by the US in 2016. You can find this letter on the EPPN action center here. http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/episcopal/app/write-a-letter?0&engagementId=130613 (All you have to do is fill in your information and the Episcopal Public Policy Network submits the letter to the appropriate legislators for you. It couldn’t be easier!!!) Join the Episcopal Public Policy Network to receive updates and policy action alerts to your inbox. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Follow Episcopal Migration Ministries on Facebook and Twitter. Share news articles and story online and through your social media networks. Generate discussions in your community about the issues refugees are facing.
Join the #RefugeesWelcome global social media campaign urging governments to welcome refugees to their countries.
If you’re a teacher, use UNHCR’s toolkit for teaching young people about migration and refugees.
If you are in a congregation, use the Prayer for Syria as part of your Sunday or daily worship.
Here are some possible action items – I know that Episcopal Migration Ministries’ local affiliate is Lutheran Social Services but after a search on their website, I was not able to find their refugee assistance plans so I looked further. The Diocese of Indianapolis has partnered with an organization called Exodus Refugee (http://www.exodusrefugee.org/). Check out their website for possible ways you can get involved in their resettlement program and sign their petition to urge our government to accept more Syrian refugees. Indianapolis is not that far away!
I also looked at the affiliate for the Diocese of Chicago and found Refugee One. They have five suggestions for how you might get involved which you can find here – http://www.refugeeone.org/syrianrefugeecrisis.html As one idea, they are sponsoring a winter clothing drive. Might we find someone willing to drive donations from our Household to Chicago sometime before November 1st? What about a deanery-by-deanery drive to collect some winter things for our brothers and sisters?
Please, let’s welcome the strangers in our midst and remember these are only friends we haven’t met yet.
Let us pray –
God our strength and our redeemer,
We ask for your loving presence and for your peace to be with the people of Syria, of all religious traditions and of none. Be with those in positions of leadership, that their decisions may hasten peace and bring an end to violence. Be with those who are in fear for their safety and their lives. Be with those who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and loved ones. Give them strength and courage.
And be with us, as we listen and discern your call to us. Equip us and empower us to be witnesses to your love – as advocates and as servants, as ministers of welcome and of hope for Syrians and all those displaced by war and violence.
In your Holy name we pray,
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council