Welcoming Refugees: It's Who We Are

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Sometimes, at bedtime, my 6-year old asks me to put down the book I’m ready to read to him. “Tell me a story,” he says. He likes to hear about a time I got hurt, a time Nana was naughty, a time his uncle was brave. When he hears the stories of where he comes from, he makes sense of his own story.

The Christian Reformed Church has a story, and I long to hear it told. It’s the story of hospitality, of sacrificial welcome, of a plight of persecution and creating a place of refuge.

My mom grew up at LaGrave Ave CRC in Grand Rapids. When she was a little girl, that church helped to sponsor a family that was fleeing persecution in Hungary.

“I remember them sitting in our sanctuary, and wondering what in the world they must have been thinking,” she recalls. “It was a big deal for our congregation—it was what it looked like to be a Christian, to offer help to that family. I was really proud to be part of it.”  

A few years later, in a much less frigid part of the U.S., there were refugees arriving from Cuba to Miami, Florida, fleeing with nothing at all to begin a new life in a safer place. They were greeted by members of the Christian Reformed Church -- the first domestic program of World Renew was called the Good Samaritan Center, and offered spiritual and material help to refugees.

There are more stories—about Indonesians and Vietnamese in the 1970s, Salvadorans in the 1980s, Bosnians in the 90s, Sudanese, Burmese, Nepali. So many refugees have fled from all over the world, and so many have found refuge in the same place: a Christian Reformed Church.

Like Cenaida Chilito from Ecuador. Or Xuan Nguyen from Vietnam. Or this Iraqi Muslim family.

This is who we are. It always has been.

Refugee resettlement has morphed from being a safe political priority to being a complete lightening rod in U.S. politics—due in large part to security fears in the wake of acts of terrorism in places like Paris. While the U.S. debates shutting down its refugee resettlement completely, Canada is being applauded for its increase in hospitality, welcoming 29,817 Syrian refugees this year alone.

Even if the political talking points are shifting, the path of discipleship has not changed for CRC members. Despite the specter of “those dangerous refugees,” churches on both sides of the border continue to reach out in welcome and support to refugee families arriving from all over the world. This is who we are.

Our stories of welcoming have a place in a much larger story—a story of the Christian Reformed Church, and a story of the followers of Jesus who have long discovered the face of Christ among those seeking refuge.

If your church has been involved in sponsoring, assisting, or befriending refugees, you can be part of speaking up for refugees. Will you share with us how you have been blessed by welcoming a refugee family or by being welcomed into a new community? Send a picture of your church’s refugee work to kherbert@crcna.org, along with a sentence or two describing the blessing of the experience, or tag the CRC Office of Social Justice and the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue in a photo you post on Facebook.

Let’s continue to tell the story of who we are.

This post was first published on Do Justice

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This article characterizes the US as "debat[ing] to shut[] down its refugee resettlement completely," but the Canadians as "being applauded for its increase in hospitality, welcoming 29,817 Syrian refugees this year alone." But according to the Pew Research Center (see at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/16/nearly-half-of-refugees-...) the US "... has received 28,957 Muslim refugees so far in fiscal year 2016, or nearly half (46%) of the more than 63,000 refugees who have entered the country since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2015...," which doesn't count those "27,556 Christian refugees" allowed in "so far this fiscal year."

In other words, the US is not being a refugee grinch and Canada is not, by comparison, being a refugee Santa Claus.

I would agree with the author that Christians ought to play a role in welcoming refugees that are admitted to their country.  At the same time, I believe the political discussion (or debate) about middle east refugees -- including by Christians -- ought to be far more constructive and nuanced than simply 'let's see how many refugees our country can take in.'

While I don't at all take Trump's stated position on immigration (although I'm not actually sure what that is from day to day), I do tend to see the the middle east refugee question to be remarkably complicated and would favor, politically speaking, providing much more assistance to Jordan and possibly other middle east countries as they provide refugee camps that would keep Syrians near their own home country, for example.  It seems to me that the permanent resettlement of refugees in foreign countries should be a disfavored solution, even for the sake of the refugees, many/most of which don't want to leave their home country.

We do well to separate questions of personal action given the political decisions already made, from the question of the political policies we advocate for.  Too often, we don't do that, assuming the two questions are only one.

I agree with Doug. I don't think it is appropriate to discuss a complicated issue such as this in such a simple article.

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