It’s Convention Week and that means a great chance for our Household to worship together, learn together, network together and work together! I hope to see many of you there!! Please, if you are a Nuts and Bolts reader, greet me and let me know! Sometimes it’s a bit lonely on this side of the computer since I never know who is actually following our blog.
Last Thursday evening, I “attended” a webinar sponsored by TEC and presented by Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) and their special guest, Church World Service (CWS) titled “Mission and Advocacy to Support Refugees.” I know that there were a few others from our diocese that participated when it first aired and I am eager to speak with them about how we, in the Diocese of Michigan, might be more involved but it is not too late for the rest of you to join us! The video of the webinar can be seen below.
It is well worth your time to watch and learn from these well-informed speakers: Lacy Broemel from TEC’s Office for Government Relations and EPPN, Allison Duvall and Wendy Johnson from EMM, Patricia Kisare from the advocacy ministry for TEC and the ELCA, and Jen Smyers from CWS. I often hear from readers that they want to “do something” so here we are presented with a very great need that will require many hands to share the load. But first, we need to understand what we’re doing and why it’s important. This video gives a very helpful background and offers practical ways for each of us to get involved.
The first new thing I learned was the difference between refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants – and the distinction is important. A refugee is an individual who is persecuted and flees their homeland no longer having protection in their home country. Sending this person back home puts them in danger. Internally displaced people leave their home due to violence or persecution but they have not crossed the border out of their country. They, too, are vulnerable. Migrants leave their homeland, often for economic reasons, but still have the protection of their home country. Currently there are more than 60 million refugees, asylum-seekers or internally displaced people in the world. Of that huge number, 20 million are refugees and half of all refugees are children. Five million refugees have escaped the war in Syria as of today. This is the largest number of refugees seen since the end of World War II.
Five million refugees have escaped the war in Syria as of today. This is the largest number of refugees seen since the end of World War II.
Typically, the factors which force people from their homes include: civil war, violation of human rights and gang violence. Syria has been experiencing a civil war since the Arab Spring in 2011. The country of Sudan has been dealing with the power struggle between its president and his deputy since 2013. The tiny African state of Eritrea has no constitution or court system and the government regularly engages in torture, forced labor and military conscription. Thirteen-percent of the refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe are fleeing the unsafe situation that remains in Afghanistan. We are also seeing refugees leaving their homelands in Central America as a result of gang violence that has killed thousands of people. Of course, these are not the only countries where individuals are concerned for their safety. Other source countries include Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo. Somalia, Burundi, Burma and Central African Republic.
The video also discusses durable solutions that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is charged with implementing. The first priority is repatriation when the violence in the home country is abated and it is safe to return. Local integration is an option when the host country can incorporate the refugees into their social systems, economy and schools. The final option is resettlement in a new country but this happens only when the previous two option are not available to them. Fewer than ½ of 1% of all refugees are resettled and most spend years in refugees camps awaiting a new home.
I’ve given just a small taste of what you can learn by watching. But we also need a “so what.” So what can we do? Of course the video addresses this as well:
- Become informed! Watch the video.
- Check out this very helpful article from the NY Times which addresses the complicated network of issues surrounding the Syrian conflict – http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/16/world/middleeast/untangling-the-overlapping-conflicts-in-the-syrian-war.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0
- Watch for positive and negative legislation and then speak out!
- Join the Episcopal Public Policy Network to receive up-to-date info on legislation and get sample letters to send to your representatives. http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/app/register?1&m=29629
- Join with a friend or two to meet with your legislators during their time in their home office between November 9th and 13th. Here’s a toolkit that can prepare you for that meeting – http://www.rcusa.org/uploads/pdfs/members/Local%20Congressional%20Visit%20Advocacy%20Toolkit_09.16.15.pdf
- At our Diocesan Convention find the Lutheran Social Services of Michigan representative. This agency is our local Episcopal Migration Ministry partner and will be set-up to help you get involved in resettlement in our area!!
- Follow EMM and EPPN on Facebook and Twitter.
We have to begin somewhere. Let us know what you are doing and what we can do to help because we are called as faithful ministers of God’s Church to get involved. I keep asking myself what I would do if I had been born in Syria and wanted to protect my loved ones. I would hope there was someone who would reach out to me.
Let us pray –
Our Gracious Lord,
There are many in Your world today who have been forced from their homes by persecution and violence.
Keep them in your constant care, and bring them to a place of safety.
Be the Good Shepherd to refugees who are in flight. Guide them to the green pastures of safety.
Be the Everlasting Father to refugees who have lost home and loved ones. Lead, protect and provide for them.
Be the Great Physician to refugees who are suffering. Grant them healing and hope.
Be the Hiding Place to refugees who are languishing in camps. Shelter their souls as well as their bodies.
Be the Deliverer to refugees who have been able to return home. Restore their lives so that those who have sown in tears may reap in joy.
Be the Wonderful Counselor to refugees who have been resettled. Help them find their way in a new land.
Be the Giver of all good gifts to those who serve refugees. Empower them to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with You.
Be the Lord of lords to all the earth, that those who rule would do so in justice and righteousness, and no one would have to become a refugee anymore.
We ask these things in the precious and powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
— Judith Schellhammer