There are three reasons I’m writing this post:
- I found myself moving from engaging in discussion with people who think differently than me to being angry and borderline depressed over some of the terrible rhetoric pointed at refugees. I need to produce something positive that can’t (or shouldn’t) be debated.
- I’ve had multiple people reach out to me asking what they should do, and how they can support refugees. (Not because I work in any official capacity, just because I’ve been known to talk about refugees a lot.)
- I want to prepare for this advent season. I want to remember why I am a Christian. I want to recognize Christ in the suffering and the marginalized. I desperately need to be reminded that not only is Christ at work in our world in the most broken places, He will restore all things one day.
1. Read Scripture. Revisit the Christmas story. If you haven’t noticed this before, recognize Jesus as the undocumented child—the refugee in the story—fleeing with his parents. Read through the gospels and get re-acquainted with our suffering Lord who entered this world as a baby boy. I haven’t read through this yet, but this is a book I’m thinking about ordering for our family. Some of the proceeds go to War Child (a fantastic organization to support). You can find more book recommendations for both children and adults in the CRC's Journey with Me toolkit.
2. Speak Up. This is for those of you who message me and say “I agree with what you’re saying but I just don’t want to get into it on facebook or with my extended family members over the holidays.” Maybe social media isn’t the best outlet for you but if you have been silent on your convictions around people who love and respect you, it might be time for you to speak up. Our witness matters in the world and you never know who in your circle needs to hear what you have to say, even if you don’t feel like you have it figured out. (No one does.)
3. Be Silent. If this is for no one else, I know it’s for me. I think it’s important to speak up. I think it’s even more important to be silent before the Lord and ask for His Spirit to guide us. Silence is hard to come by in this noisy over-connected world we live in. If you’re looking for ways to enter into this silence if it’s been a while, I find that almost anything written by Henri Nouwen has a way of paving the way. In this particular conversation, ‘Peacework’ by Nouwen always seems timeless.
4. Pray continually. Light a candle in your home and keep it burning whenever you can during the advent season. When you or your family members pass by it, remember to pray for refugees who are suffering in the worst ways and don’t have the luxury of debating ‘the issues’ from the comfort of their warm homes. Remember Christ, the Light of the World, and pray for His light to shine brightly through those who believe in Him.
5. Read. Learn about refugees around the world. Syria is in the headlines. Refugees have been coming to our country for a very long time. Check out a book or two from the library to acquaint yourself with the conflicts, the plight of refugees, and their stories about coming to the United States.
6. Give of your time. Look up your closest refugee agency. Is there one close to you? Go to a volunteer training. Ask how you can be involved. My former job was recruiting volunteers and churches to get involved. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift than for someone to call ME and ask how they could help. (I still remember the people who did. Their faith spoke so loudly to me.) Ask your Church to sponsor a family. Friends, it’s so much better than a missions trip. You get the wonderful cultural experience, you actually have a long term friendship with people, and you don’t have to buy a plane ticket. Ask if you can help set up a home for a refugee family. Ask if you can help welcome a family at the airport. Bring welcome signs. Practice hospitality.
7. Give financially. Give generously. Give until it makes you uncomfortable and until there is at least a hint of suffering. I’m not sure about you but that’s the part I like to skip over the most in scripture-the suffering part. But it seems pretty clear that that’s the kind of love Christ calls us to.
Where to give? A few places that come to mind are your local refugee welcome center, Doctors Without Borders, War Child (As mentioned above), International Rescue Committee, World Relief, and my hometown favorite, World Renew. There are many others. Do your research and give generously.
8. Give creatively. Do you know of Bob Goff? Have you heard him speak or read his book? He is such an inspiration to love others creatively. Make this a fun activitiy for your friends or your family.
Here is one idea: I have never known anyone to work so hard as refugee caseworkers. The pace never slows down. The hours are long and the pay is very little. My main message is to support refugees, but people who have been working years on the front lines need your support too. If you’re in West Michigan like I am, surprise some office full of people at Lutheran Social Services, Bethany Christian Services, or Justice For Our Neighbors with treats or pizza or flowers or some gesture that says, “Thank you for the work you have been doing. Keep giving it your very best. Your work is so important.” That’s not tax deductible. Maybe that’s your way of sacrificial giving. (If you're in Hamilton, Canada you could try Micah House; in Toronto, Romero House; in Vancouver, ISS of BC; in Edmonton, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers...you get the picture.)
Other ideas: Organize your extended family to buy winter items for refugees in lieu of some of the normal gift exchanging this year. Give backpacks with school supplies for agencies to have on hand.
9. Give the ultimate gift. Refugee children are resettled all over our country because they have been separated from their parents or lost their parents in war. I can’t think of much more in scripture that is more crystal clear than our call to defend the fatherless and care for the orphan. If you cannot consider refugee foster care do you know someone who does? Support that family in creative ways. Be a listening ear. Walk with them through the challenges of cultural adjustment. Take them meals. If the kids are too young to stay home alone, offer to come over while the parents go out on a date
I won’t call this the end. I invite others to share positive ideas of ways to get involved and links to organizations you trust who are doing good work among refugees. May God guide us on how to prepare for Advent this season in the midst of all of the noise.