A few months ago I preached a sermon following the Paris attacks that terrorized the world with murders committed in the name of a twisted version of Islam. The massacre saturated the media, and prompted some politicians to ban the relocation of Syrian refugees in their states. The sermon was the most listened to recording on our soundcloud page for 2015 and also elicited a tremendous response among those who had gathered here at UUMC to hear it. In the sermon, I celebrated our neighboring United Methodist conference to the North, the Great Plains Conference, for making the news by declaring the preparedness of almost 40 church communities to aid in the placement of Syrian refugees in their community whenever we have the ability to bring those families to Kansas and Nebraska. People in the church wondered, “what can we do? We want to help too!” I pledged to find out to the best of my abilities.
After calls to our own Bishop (who has been away on sabbatical for a period in the interim), I have found that our own conference has no coordinated effort per se to assist in the relocation of Syrian refugees. Becky Pierson, a pastor in Western Oklahoma of Lebanese heritage, feels a personal sense of obligation to this crisis and has been doing what she can to organize some response. The volunteers in mission office at our conference level has indicated that there are special “United Methodist Advance” funds that are directed toward global relocation efforts of Syrian refugees. If you want to contribute to that effort, you can make a contribution to our church and noting “UMCOR Global Refugee/Migration Advance #3022144” in the memo line. I would highly recommend viewing the video attached to the online version of this article, and at https://www.umcor.org/umcor/programs/disaster-response/international-disaster-response/europemigrants, where you can also simply contribute online to the “Advance” mentioned above.
Though that global advance seeks to relieve the plight of Syrian refugees, our church is less short-sighted than the general “it bleeds it leads” media cycle. It is available to other refugee crises around the globe, such as those in the largest refugee camp in the world located in Kenya, home to almost half a million Somalian refugees living there since the civil war in Somalia that has raged since the 1990s. That refugee camp has been profiled recently in the book, City of Thorns.
I have also been in touch with the Great Plains Conference office to inquire about any refugees thus far settled at the churches willing to house them. Though Bishop Scott Jones made that declaration in November, the churches willing have yet to hear from agencies who have the capacity to actually transport refugees into the United States. They stand ready to help, and that is important. What might help the process is to indicate to our elected officials that we would like to see more Syrian refugees admitted into the United States. I find it shameful that since 2011 (when the Syrian civil war began) we have only admitted 2,290 as of November 2015. We currently have 23,826 applicants for asylum in the United States. There are over 4 million Syrian refugees in other parts of the world, primarily in malnutrition and disease ridden camps of hundreds of thousands of people in Lebanon, Iraq, and other neighboring countries. (Stats gathered at factcheck.org other helpful factual information at this link) I am so glad our church through UMCOR provides for refugees in these locations—the church is not bound by the borders of a nation.
Lastly, one thing we can do is continue to advocate for friendly and neighborly response to folks from other cultures. Many in the Muslim community are from cultures outside the United States, and unfortunately in the current political climate, it seems a favored tactic of some candidates to play on the Xenophobia of an ignorant and prejudiced electorate to add energy to their campaigns. As this sinful and fallen and anti-Kingdom of God zeitgeist seems to gain strength, we find that even a day at the state capitol building where our Muslim neighbors are celebrated and encouraged to come and be heard by their public officials is a day when backwards-thinking slack-jawed yokels take it upon themselves to obtain permits to protest the very existence of Muslim neighbors. In such a climate, sometimes the most Christ-like thing to do is to go and shepherd the Muslim people arriving to participate. That’s exactly what people plan to do on Friday, February 26, 2016. Our neighbors at Eastside Christian Church even plan to take a van down if you’re interested in going and want to get a ride. They’ll leave at 6:15am in order to be on hand at the capital between 8 and 8:30 and add a faithful escort of friends to those being provided by the Highway Patrol and Capitol Police so that Muslims arriving are safe from confrontation. (Which has been a problem in years’ past.) You can email the pastor or call the church if you’d like to participate in that. We live in a world groaning for redemption. Sometimes a smile or a friendly act can be the midwife’s whisper in the ear of the mother in labor pains.