Yes, you can make a difference

A NEW holiday tradition

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Used to be that Black Friday was all about shopping in big stores, Small Business Saturday was all about shopping in small stores, and Cyber Monday was all about shopping online.  This year, like millions of other North Americans, we finished all our Christmas shopping online last Friday – including items for refugees in our own neighborhood.

Today, you get a chance to make a real difference without even leaving your couch.

When we were in Greece, we discovered that charitable donations from the US – from nonprofits, churches, and individuals – were the largest source of support for non-government refugee agencies.  US money makes international charity possible.

Today is international “Giving Tuesday”.
This is a chance for the world economy to focus on charitable giving in real and tangible ways.  If helping refugees is on your Christmas Wish List, or one of your upcoming New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve got links here to help.

  • You can feed a refugee family  (in a camp) for a month for only $200. You can get a nice gift card or ornament to share with someone as an alternative present.
  • Samaritas – the  largest refugee resettlement agency in Michigan – is looking for 1,000 people to each donate $25 by Dec 25, so they can hire a caseworker to support 25 refugee families in Michigan next year.  .
  • Your donations to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services – the largest Refugee organization in the US – are matched through Dec 31.  This organization consistently advocates in Washington DC on behalf of immigrants and refugees.
  • $25 can fund an appointment for an immigrant to meet with a lawyer at a Church in the United States.  Check out Justice for our Neighbors (national org here).
  • Refugees in my town are hoping for gently used or new appliances and furniture.

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If you’re not ready to make a financial donation today, remember that #givingtuesday isn’t just about Money.  You can also give your voice, your prayers, and your time.  Speaking up for the least among us – with our neighbors, to our government representatives, and during our church prayers – makes a significant difference in the world.

No matter how you choose to celebrate #givingtuesday, blessings on your chance to make a difference!

Thanksgiving: Celebrating Refugees

Preaching at Urbana First United Methodist Church and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (Urbana) is a double blessing!  I got to meet lots of new people, including great pastors.  If you’re a member at one of those churches and this is your first time reading my blog, I’m so excited you’re here!  Scroll down for a bullet list of great information specifically about Illinois’ work with refugees.  Then, click around on the website for more info!

The First Thanksgiving was all about Americans welcoming Refugees.

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Remember the story?  Refugees fled England because of religious persecution, and when they arrived in America, the locals welcomed them with food and housing assistance, even though they had different languages, clothing, and religious beliefs.

Nearly 4 centuries later, we continue their tradition, but most of us just have a meal with the friends and family we already know and love.  (Except for this notable Grandma, who accidentally invited the wrong person to dinner, and then let him and his family come anyway!)

We got to celebrate Thanksgiving twice – once with my family in Michigan, and once with David’s family in Illinois.  Since I spend most of my time preaching about and working with refugees in Michigan, the Thanksgiving travel was a great chance to learn more about Illinois’ work with refugees, too.

Inter-faith Refugee work in Illinois

Normally, I get to do a sermon and an education hour about refugee work when I visit a church.  This time, I wasn’t able to do the Education hour at either church.  So, check out a 15 minute video summary of the Bible Study I normally lead here.  And, if you’re not sure about whether the 1/6 of 1% of all the world’s refugees who actually arrive in the US are “properly vetted”, check out this video explaining the process.

Visiting Illinois was a great reason to learn more about that state’s work with refugees.

  • According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, last year Illinois took in about 2,600 refugees – about 2% of the Nation’s total.
  • Half of them were from Burma (previously known as Myanmar), in Southeast Asia.
  • One quarter of them were from Iraq, likely refugees because someone in their family supported the US military in their country (which made them a target).
  • The rest of the refugees placed in Illinois were from all over the world, mainly African countries, such as Ethiopia, Congo, and Sudan.
  • Almost none of the refugees which came to Illinois last year were from Syria.

Champaign/Urbana is home to an AMAZING local refugee agency called “East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center”  This agency is doing great work in the area – and they have been since 1980!  This center supports refugees from all over the world with translation, needed items, and social integration; locals volunteer their time and money to help refugees feel welcome.  If you live in the Urbana area, I hope you’re able to connect with them through donations or volunteering your time.

Remember, if you’d like to support national advocacy work, please consider checking out Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services – one of the largest, oldest refugee service groups in the US.

If your family is like ours, you might be trying to figure out your gift lists this weekend. We made the decision to forgo our sibling gift exchange this year, and instead pool our money to help others.  We will be donating items this week & will show you the pictures soon!

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No matter how you support refugees, your prayers, your public support and goodwill, and your education helps to welcome refugees here to the US.  Thank you for your support!

 

 

 

 

New President & New Americans: How the Election affects refugees & Immigrants

This is the Post I never wanted to write

Friends, I actually try not to be too political, or too partisan. My role is that of pastor – to everyone.  I’m a Christian first and foremost, and being a good citizen comes second to being a disciple of Christ.

But this week has been heartbreaking.

Please hear me:  I’m not sad because one party won and another one lost. Most people in each party are wonderful citizens and many are committed Christians, including most running for office.   I am scared because people I love are being targeted by hatred.  There have been hundreds of attacks on Americans this week – all by people who are using the election to support their hatred.  I know most people who voted for him don’t agree with that hate.  But when I heard the election results, I knew this would happen, and I felt sad for my friends.

This writer wrote very nicely about how we can only “come together” once we are willing to stand up for the least of these among us:  https://www.heatherrosewalters.com/new-blog/open-letter-to-conservatives

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Please hear me – no matter who is President, God is the King of Kings.  No human leader will ever be perfect, and every human leader has faults.  Christians struggled to vote their faith this election cycle in the US, and I applaud anyone who tried.

But, the rest of this post is a little political.  Not so much in supporting one party or another – literally no one is able to push through immigration reform in a meaningful way (it wasn’t high on the agenda for anyone this fall).  But I feel it is important that we understand the statistics behind the headlines.  If you want to want to know why people who work with refugees and immigrants are nervous about the future of the people we serve, keep reading.  It’s ok if you need a break from the news right now, and you come back to read the next post 🙂

What will happen now?

The truth is, we don’t really know how a Trump Administration will affect refugee resettlement or immigration policy.  That’s because Trump hasn’t really published official policies, and he has been contradicting many of his own campaign statements. Also, no one can predict the future. That being said, we do know some facts.

Mr. Trump’s 100-day plan  calls for the following (among other things):

  • cancelling all of Obama’s executive orders
  • stopping all refugee resettlement from “terror-prone” regions
  • increasing “vetting” for all refugees prior to resettlement
  • Deporting 2 million undocumented “criminals”
  • Build a wall on our border with Mexico
  • Repeal or re-negotiate NAFTA and NATO
  • Cancel funding to sanctuary cities

If the new president is able to do what he’s promising  – and not all of it is possible or legal – it would have serious ramifications on immigrants and refugees:

  • 1.3 million parents of American citizens would be deported.  Their American children would either go with them voluntarily, or enter the US foster care system.
  • Last year, 100,000 total refugees were resettled here through the office of refugee resettlement – part of the executive branch.  Most refugees come from war-zones, so it would be easy for a president to eliminate the entire program.
  • The current vetting is so strict that fewer than 1% of all refugees qualify.  Any sort of “increased vetting” would virtually eliminate the program.
  • There are only 800,000 undocumented criminals in the US.  So, deporting 3 million people means deporting some whose only crime is having incorrect paperwork*.
  • Mexico is not going to help us build a wall. The long-term impact of forcing this policy is unclear. There’s currently net-zero Mexican immigration to the US.
  • Repealing or re-negotiating NAFTA and NATO could seriously impact the economies of multiple countries; economic opportunities are the number one reason people choose to immigrate to the US.
  • There are currently 31 sanctuary cities in the US, and at least 5 of them have publicly stated they will continue supporting undocumented residents.  This would mean citizens in those cities would lose out on public funds which help everyone.

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* Many Americans voted for Trump specifically to deport “illegals”.  But keep in mind:   40% of undocumented people arrived with paperwork, but it has expired.
up to 15% of all other undocumented persons might qualify for legal residency,but they don’t have legal counsel to help them file the paperwork.
 10% of undocumented residents are parents of citizens, and
10% were brought here as children.

that’s a total of 75% of undocumented immigrants, folks.  Immigration Reform means dealing with these 8 million people before we start mass deportations.

As Mr. Trump begins to create a transition team and nominate executive cabinet positions, the news isn’t very positive for immigrants and refugees.  Specifically, Trump’s selection of a White Nationalist as his chief strategist is disturbing.

“President-elect Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that white supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump’s White House”

I hope my fears are unfounded.  Even though Mr. Trump has publicly said he doesn’t have regrets because he doesn’t make mistakes, we know that forgiveness and a change of heart is always possible.  Perhaps Mr. Bannon’s former policies can be moderated or modified by other advisers.

We are ALL refugees

Many people are scared of immigrants and refugees.  They want “those people” to “go home” and leave “our jobs” for us.  What we seem to have forgotten is that the US is a country of immigrants, and that immigration is good for our economy.  

Despite all the politics, I believe that as Christians, WE ARE ALL REFUGEES.  We may not be political or geographic refugees, in search of a legal passport or a country to welcome us.  But we are travelers on a journey.  In the waters of baptism, we left behind our sinful selves and became citizens with the saints in heaven.  But we’re not in heaven yet.  So, our earthly journey is one of spiritual refugees.  We aren’t who we were, but we aren’t yet who we will become.  In this spiritual journey, we are not alone.  God is with us.  God goes before us, and God is dwelling amongst us – God’s people.

Even if it was not politically popular to support immigration or refugee resettlement, I WOULD STILL SPEAK OUT IN FAVOR OF IT, because the bible tells me to love my neighbor as myself, to show mercy to the widow, the orphan, and the alien, to invite the stranger in to my own home.

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What happens now?

Regardless of who is in office, we must live our faith, and speak out for the vulnerable and the oppressed.  Those Christians who are not ok with racism or xenophobia or hatred need to make our voices heard.

Pray.  Hope.  Speak out.  Pray.

Act Justly.  Love Mercy.  Walk Humbly with God.  – Micah 6:8

 

Bible Study: Refugees

A Review of my Visits

I get to visit all sorts of churches in Southeast Michigan and lead adult an Adult Bible Study or Education Forum about the refugee crisis.  When I come to visit, I will do a lot of interactive activities and discussion, as well as prayers and a little bit of preaching and story-telling.  In general, I spend over an hour with the disciples who come to learn.

But, some people aren’t able to visit, and they’d like to hear the message.  Or, someone who is able to come wants to share the conversation with their friends and family.  So, David & I made a 15 minute summary of the Bible Study/ Adult Forum I have been leading recently.

Watch, enjoy, and share!

Washtenaw Refugees Welcome

Best Practices in Europe

I got to be the headline speaker for Washtenaw Refugees Welcome this week!  This is my new favorite local organization, and if we succeed in our goals this year, we just might be a national model to follow.

The basic premise of WRW is simple:  connect refugees, agencies, and volunteers as seamlessly as possible, to ensure that we’re treating each other as neighbors.

We’ve been spending most of 2016 getting ready for the influx of refugees we expect to begin arriving in our city next year.  Our city is going to welcome about as many as the entire state of North Dakota 🙂

But, all that getting ready is making us anxious.  Especially during an election week.  There isn’t much we can do right now, except for wait, and hope, and pray.

So, they started a speaker series.  I got to share about my time in Europe, and some of the best practices we learned there.  I “deputized” the other refugee supporters to go out and be “ambassadors” in the community.

Most of you loyal blog readers already know all about my time in Europe, but here is a recording of my 40 minute presentation this week.  (sometimes, the screen looks weird.  So sorry.)

 

Lost and Found

North Dakota was full of surprises.

I had visited 49 states before I entered seminary, and on the weekend I defended my theses, David and I rented a car to drive from St. Paul, MN to Fargo, ND, just to mark the state off my list.

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This time to Fargo was a LOT more fun 🙂

I got to spend several days in Fargo, learning about the town’s recent work with refugees through Lutheran Social Services, and visiting First Sudanese Lutheran Church.

But, I also got to spend the day in Mrs. Leah Juelke’s English Language Learning Class, specifically designed for teenagers who are recent arrivals to the U.S.  She actually won an award for her work with ELL students.  You can see the link here.  She has been working with students to write their stories, in English, so that we can learn about their refugee journeys.  The book got a lot of local press in Fargo, and you can read more about it here.

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Two students from Iraq spoke with me.  “You’re from Michigan?  Is it true that there are street signs in Arabic there??!!”  Yes, there are!  I assured them.  In Dearborn, Detroit, and Hamtramck, there are so many immigrants from the Middle East that we think it’s normal to see some Arabic signs, stores, and mosques around town.  The boys decided they might like to visit Detroit, MI, but they prefer living in Fargo.  “We might not learn English if we lived there – and we might not make a lot of friends from other places.”

The students in Cindy Benson’s and Leah Juelke’s ELL classes really do meet friends from all over the globe.  “Native” Fargo residents sometimes join them to help with their English.  There are immigrants from Bangladesh, Iraq, Congo, and Mexico mixed in together.  They have to learn English to speak to one another, and they seem to like it.

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Osman told me his story,  and I helped him edit his essay.  Good Trade 🙂  His mom is a designer in Eritrea.  One day, he came home to find her hiding under furniture in their home.  Police officers had come to the home, seeking a bribe, demanding that she turn over Oman to the police, because he had committed a crime.  Even though Oman claims he did not do that, there was nothing his mom could do to protect him, except help him to escape.  He ran for the border with Somalia, but he was kidnapped with several other young adults by a human trafficker, who took them across the border into Egypt.  Omar escaped from the traffickers, but now he had no paperwork, no money, no water, and no idea where he was.  He managed to find a small Egyptian shop owner who took pity on him.  That man bought Omar a bus ticket to Cairo.  In the capital city, he had no money for rent, food, or clothes, and he had no identification papers to enter a UN – sponsored refugee center.

A British-based refugee charity found him in the subway and helped him.

It was 18 months of work in Cairo to get Omar a bed in a shelter, identification papers, some English classes, and a refugee application.  Eventually, Omar won his refugee case, and was resettled to Fargo.  Now, he is happy to tell Americans his story.

Omar loves Fargo, and the US.  Why?
“FREE SCHOOL.  GOOD JOB.”

Omar senses that I’m not as excited as I should be to hear about his life in Fargo.  Maybe I didn’t hear him the first time?

“I get to go to school for free.  Every day.  The school is clean, and safe, and I get lunch and make friends, and the teachers are nice.  And, I’m learning English.  For Free.
“I also work.  I have  a good job at Taco Bell.  I work hard, and my boss is kind.  And, I get paid every time.  Each time I work, I will be treated well, and I will be paid. I like to work.”

Omar is right.  I didn’t understand at first.  Because, as an American, I take free schools and workers’ rights for granted.  I forget that generations of immigrants in America fought for the blessings we get today.  I forgot that in most countries, working regular hours for regular pay is highly irregular.  I forgot that in most countries, education costs more money than most parents have available to pay.  I needed to hear Omar’s story.

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Mrs. Cindy’s class also wanted to practice their English to tell me their stories.  Some are refugees and some are immigrants.  Their stories are exciting, and interesting, and remind me of the immigration stories we tell of our ancestors.

  • Diane was born in Rwanda, but grew up in Kenya, because her mom is from Congo.  She wants to learn English and then be a nurse in the US.  She didn’t know any white people until she came to North Dakota, so she is trying to remember most of us are nice, like her teachers.  🙂
  • Aisha is from Libera.  Her mom was in the US for 6 years, but she and her brother had to stay with a friend in Libera during that time. Even though English is the official language of Nigeria, she prefers the good schools in the US.  She also wants to be a nurse.
  • Tan is from Vietnam.  He lives with his uncle who  has been here for 13 years.  He came to the US at the age of 15 to learn and to be “rich”  🙂
  • Gentir was born in Congo, but left because of war.  He is one of 6 children in his family.  When the war came to their village, his dad made a difficult decision:  the family would not survive if all 8 stayed together.  So, the children were split into 3 groups, walking to separate refugee camps in Uganda and Kenya.  The parents stayed in Congo, trying to protect the family’s home.  He and his brother received refugee resettlement to the United States; because his brother is over 18, they could travel together.
  • Zack was born in Somalia, but grew up in Malasia, because his dad had a job there.  His whole family came to the US together, and he is glad they are all safe.
  • Pacifique was born in Congo, but lived in Nairobi Kenya for 6 years.  She’s only been here 1 month, and can’t yet tell her story in English very well.  (She didn’t want to be in the picture, either.  I think she didn’t understand who I am or what I was doing.)

The stories remind me why I do this work – they remind me of stories from the Bible, from history, from my own family, and from the human story.  We are people on the move.  We are people seeking safety, security, family unity, education, and opportunity.