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(Note: This letter was originally written for the newsletters of the South Hills Partnership of Methodist Churches but I wanted to make it available in its entirety to a wider audience.)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the near future our Partnership will be asking for food donations for newly-arrived refugees in our Partnership neighborhoods, in conjunction with the South Hills Interfaith Movement.

I know a number of people have questions about refugees: where they’re coming from, why they left home, why they’re here in the U.S., if their backgrounds have been properly checked. To give brief answers: refugees come from all over: South America, Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. Here in Pittsburgh the majority have been from the Far East until 2016 when the Middle East began to take the lead. The refugees never wanted to leave home; they were forced to leave by war, natural disaster, persecution, or other life-threatening circumstances. That’s the legal definition of a refugee; as opposed to a ‘migrant’ (someone who travels across borders) or ‘illegal alien’ (someone who crosses our borders without permission). They wanted to come here because, like so many refugees before them, they’ve heard wonderful things about the United States.  The background checks before they can enter the U.S take an average of two years, plus more interviews and tests once they’re here.

Those are the facts. But like most things in life, facts don’t tell the whole story.

I have known a number of refugees, and without exception I am better for having known them. One is a classmate by  the name of Abraham. abrahamnhialAbraham was one of the “Lost Boys” of South Sudan. When he was a child during the Sudanese civil war, soldiers attacked his village, burned it to the ground, and killed the people. Abraham survived only because he was in the fields tending the cows. He saw his village burning and knew if he went home he would be killed, so he ran. As he traveled east – walking a distance of nearly 300 miles to refugee camps in Ethiopia – he met up with other ‘lost boys’ who also survived, and they helped each other. From Ethiopia they were brought to the United States, where they were able to finish their educations, and Abraham trained to become an Anglican priest. He said: “I am going to go back to Sudan and find the men who killed my family and tell them about the love of Jesus.” Abraham is now serving as a Bishop in the Anglican church of South Sudan.

menrefugeechildOne refugee family I met here in Pittsburgh – an extended family of two brothers, their two wives and many children – are from Aleppo, Syria. They became refugees when their home and city were bombed. They are anxious to learn about their new country, and eager to hear about Jesus, so they invited about a half-dozen people connected to the seminary to visit for dinner. What a spread! Tabbouleh, grape leaves, chicken, salads, naan bread… more than we could possibly eat… followed by tea and coffee.  Their elementary-school-age children know more English than their parents, so they carried the evening.  And though we couldn’t communicate much, I indicated my appreciation to the one mother who had done all this cooking while very pregnant. She smiled and pointed to her belly and said “American!” – so proud to be the mother of a future American! I haven’t been able to visit again but the family is now hosting an international Bible study in their home every other week, which friends of mine attend.

I could talk about facts and figures… point out that right now there are more than 65 million people in the world who are without a country… but numbers like these are too big to get our minds around.  Consider instead the words of one refugee: “you don’t put your children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

I believe this refugee crisis will be the defining moment of our generation. The repercussions of so many homeless people will change the course of world history for decades to come. How we respond to the crisis will determine not only the future of the refugees but our future as well – because care for the stranger is so important to God, and so central to what God requires of His people.

There’s little most of us can do, from where we live, to ease this crisis that’s happening so far away. But what little we can do, we need to do. At a time like this, every act of kindness makes a difference.

Thank you,

Rev. Peg Bowman

 

A few statistics to think on

Where refugees come from… (in millions)
(notice Colombia, South America, is in the Top Ten)  (source: Buzzfeed)

buzzfeed1

…and where they go (in millions) (source: Buzzfeed)

buzzfeed2

Refugee travel routes to Europe (source: Human Rights Watch)
Countries that were formerly “destination countries” — like Libya and Jordan — are now becoming source countries themselves.

buzzfeed3

Syrian refugees accepted into the U.S.
(actual numbers, not thousands or millions) (source: CDC)

buzzfeed4

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“We are watching one of the most horrendous human rights crises of our generation.”

Try to imagine that your government wants to harm you and your family, maybe even take your life. You desperately seek refuge in another country, only to be turned away. With effectively no citizenship in any country, no place to legally live, what are your options? That is the situation for thousands of refugees at this very moment. We are watching one of the most horrendous human rights crises of our generation. I know firsthand the fear, dejection and hopelessness they feel. I’m receiving a constant flow of calls from refugees served by Gateway of Grace. Each one filled with fear and hopelessness, evoking doubts of worth and dignity.

There is no shortage of political discussions and media’s coverage of it, and that certainly has its place. But, what has been among the most unsettling comments is the reactions of some Christian leaders. I won’t enter the political wrangling of the matter, but I accept the obligation to correct a gross denial of Biblical authority on God’s love for the refugee.

I have yet to hear a more theologically inaccurate statement from a Christian leader than the one given a few days ago by Franklin Graham in which he stated that the refugee crisis is not a Biblical issue. From the brightest Biblical scholars to the Christians who faithfully read the Holy Scriptures daily, it is clear that God cares deeply for the refugee. And, how we respond or not respond reveals a lot about our knowledge of God.

We became refugees and were expelled from the presence of God the moment we sinned. God in His mercy reached out to us, repeatedly and lovingly to welcome us and bring us back to himself. God gave his only son WHILE we were still sinners, far from Him. He did not wait for us to convert before He loved us.

The theme of exile and finding refuge is undeniably the most prominent theme of the Scriptures. Acts 17 and 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 are very clear about the reason for welcoming the stranger. God’s desire is to bring ALL people to himself and restore them into the fullness of His image. God does not have a favorite nation and He has called us to be His redeeming, loving, and restoring presence to those who are hopeless. If as the Psalms point out over and again, God is our refuge, as little christs, we are the representative of that refuge to those in need.

For the sake of the Gospel, we are also called not to live with the spirit of fear.

We share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our loving actions and loving kindness and by obeying the commandments of Christ that fulfill that purpose. As Pope Francis poignantly said, “You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian,” he continued, “You cannot be a Christian without practicing the Beatitudes. You cannot be a Christian without doing what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25.” This is a reference to Christ’s injunction to help the needy by such works of mercy as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming the stranger.

“It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do not do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

As I write this, I see faces of our refugees, their tears as they share their stories and prayer requests, their hopes for the future, and their hard work to make a new life out of the ashes of the old one. As my friend Pastor Paul Wheatley puts it, “We are only as good as our ability to help the least of these.” And, that is what we will be held accountable for by our Lord.

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Author Samira Page is Executive Director of Gateway of Grace, a multi-denominational church-based ministry to refugees in the Dallas, TX area. She is an Anglican who studied at Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Ministry. She is herself a naturalized American citizen.

Samira adds: “Gateway of Grace will hold a cross-denominational prayer vigil to seek God’s wisdom, mercy, direction, and healing, and to pray for all who are involved in the refugee process. Consider this your personal invitation. The prayer vigil will be held next Monday at 6:30 at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. A reception will follow. Please RSVP to samira@gatewayofgrace.org”

(reposted by permission)

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Dear readers,

I just heard from classmate and friend Qampicha Wario, who was recently named Bishop of Marsabit, Kenya.  Before becoming Bishop, Qampicha founded and directed the building of a school named Tumaini in Northern Kenya that welcomes both Christian and Muslim students and provides an opportunity for education for children of families who could not otherwise afford it — both boys and girls.

Northern Kenya

Northern Kenya

Qampicha’s diocese is currently experiencing extreme drought and famine conditions.  He recently wrote to his friends in the States:

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Friends, Marsabit Diocese is situated in the vast arid and semi arid region of northern Kenya. This area normally receives two season between March and June (normally long rain) and between September and November (Short rain).  This year we received very little rain and no rain in some areas. There was no harvest from the farm. The short rain has failed and the area is hard hit with drought. The livestock are dying for lack of pasture and people are starving for lack of food. Over eighty percent of people in Northern Kenya depend on livestock for their livelihood. Now that the livestock are dying people’s livelihood is cut and a climate of despair hangs over the villages. Most people have no money to buy food, there are no market for emaciated and dying animals. For some communities, water sources at some boreholes are far away and people walk long distances and wait for hours to fetch water. The prices of food has gone up and out of reach for the already vulnerable communities who have no reliable source of income.

As I write the drought situation in northern Kenya has been declared a disaster. 

The church is expected to intervene and alleviate human suffering. But we are financially incapacitated to help.

Please pray with us for God’s provision and intervention….

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To read the full text of Qampicha’s letter click here.  Please pray for the people of Kenya, both young and old, and for the survival of their animals. And if you are able to help financially please do so – there is a link at the bottom of Qampicha’s letter.

Thank you! ❤

 

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….a friend shared this article on Facebook: “The Five Things I Need from White People Right Now“.

In no way does this seem like enough, or even doing anything at all. But the author asks us to share, and it’s the least I can do.

In grief and near-disbelief that a brother in Christ, musician, and father of four can be shot dead just because his car broke down.  When will it end?

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When I started this blog nearly a decade ago my purpose was to share my thoughts and experiences as I explored seminary and a future full of question marks… to toss ideas out there and to get insights from others. I’m thankful for the many folks who have encouraged and challenged me with your comments, both here or in person.

The Sea of Galilee

I’m now an ordained Deacon in the Anglican Church (ACNA) and am a regular preacher in local Methodist and Anglican churches, and Lord willing will be ordained Priest sometime within the next year or so.

By request of a number of friends, family, and parishioners, this blog has become a place to put sermons I’ve preached — but I’m hoping it won’t be limited to just that in the future. So hang in there, subscribers, there’s more to come!

In the meantime I’d like to invite everyone to check out a new blog some friends and I have put together. It’s called GoodNewsForAChange.  So many people I talk to these days feel dragged down by the constant bombardment of bad news in the media and in the world around us; and yet so many of my colleagues in ministry (professional or lay) see so much good news happening on a day-to-day basis, we decided we wanted to share it.

So if you’re hungry for a bit of good news come visit us at GoodNewsForAChange and say “hi”!

 

 

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I have written often how deeply I believe Americans have a duty to assist people in crisis – the homeless, the hungry, and those who are fleeing for their lives from war and terror we can’t begin to imagine.  Every American has been blessed with peace, opportunity, education, and an abundance of resources, and with these gifts comes an obligation to share them with those who need them.

Today Western Pennsylvania took a step forward in marshaling those resources for the benefit of refugees arriving in our city. A public panel discussion, organized and emcee’d by Liddy Barlowe of Christian Associates of Southwest PA, was held at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary today to reach out to, and help organize the efforts of, churches and individuals who are looking for ways to welcome refugees to the Pittsburgh area.

My notes on the meeting are transcribed below.  Comments are welcome. Feel free to share on social media.

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Welcoming Refugees: How Your Congregation Can Help
Seminar & Panel Discussion at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
March 16, 2016  2:00-3:30PM

Emcee – Liddy Barlowe, Christian Associates of Southwestern PA

Panel

  1. Ms. Williams, AJAPO (Acculturation for Justice, Access, & Peace Outreach)
    Welcoming agency, resettlement agency. First point of contact. Services include micro-enterprise development, family cohesion & empowerment, youth development, immigration services, employment services, links to education, jobs, health, and support services.
  1. Leslie Aizenman, Jewish Family & Children’s Services
    Welcoming agency, resettlement agency.  Services include employment, case management for the vulnerable, centralized immigration information, support groups, citizenship, food pantry (including Hallal and Kosher). Recently received include Napalese, Congalese, Burmese; Syrians are just beginning to arrive.
  1. Barb Murac (sp?), Allegheny County Department of Health & Human Services, Immigrants & Internationals Initiatives
    Advisory Council, Funding, Collaboration.  Services include language/translation, children’s, referrals to other services.  Funds ISAC (Immigrant Services and Connections).
  1. Jen Hays, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council
    Literacy. ESL programs and English language classes; also GED instruction and computer training.  Professional teachers downtown, volunteer tutoring.
  1. Kheir Mugwaneza, CARR (Community Assistance & Refugee Resettlement)
    Welcoming agency, resettlement agency.  Services include social adjustment, cultural orientation, employment, matching grants, landlord assistance, senior services. Recently received include Bhutanese, Iraqi, Somali.
  1. Betty Cruz, Mayor Peduto’s Office, Welcoming Pittsburgh
    Mayoral Initiative.  Visibility, awareness, Citizenship Days. Coming events include a partnership with Doctors Without Borders to put up a demonstration refugee camp in Pittsburgh.
  1. Cathy Nieble, Refugee Resettlement Director, Catholic Charities – on the roster but out with the flu.
    Welcoming agency, resettlement agency.

Answers to the question “What are the greatest needs?”

  • Say “welcome” and help the newcomers feel welcome. Language and communication.
  • Health care
  • Housing (for people with no credit history)
  • Jobs
  • Emergency funding (tide-over from arrival to first job)
  • Housing supply (dormitories, homes)
  • Mental health; trauma recovery
  • Mentoring (literacy, career)
  • Transportation (accompany them, supply bus tickets)
  • Space – a place to meet, have celebrations, socialize
  • Education
  • Combatting isolation; feeling safe and welcome
  • Cultural adjustments
  • Not to be discriminated against because of accents; celebrate their culture
  • Household goods
  • Escorts on buses

Answers to the question “What other suggestions would you make to churches that would like to help?”

  • Form multi-parish, multi-church, or interdenominational groups of churches to tackle larger needs
  • Pick out just one thing that your congregation can do (for example, “supply 10 bus passes a month” or “provide welcome packages”)
  • Invite one of today’s panelists to come and speak at church – either a ‘mission moment’ or a sermon
  • Invite a refugee to come and speak at church
  • Volunteer to make follow-up visits for longer-term resettled families (1+ years here). Ask them: “what do you need?”
  • Acknowlege community leaders in immigrant communities
  • Attend immigrants’ parties and celebrations
  • Volunteer in literacy and other training
  • Volunteer as an escort on the bus
  • CARR has storage and will take furniture
  • Work with Habitat for Humanity to refurbish homes for refugees
  • For churches who do not have refugees nearby and want to invite refugees to settle in their area – this has been done in Sewickley; must be willing to commit to full service case management.
  • ANNOUNCE AND TAKE PART IN WORLD REFUGEE DAY – FRIDAY JUNE 17. Events will be presented 11AM-2PM in Market Square downtown.
  • Other upcoming events:
    • “Bread for the World” hunger advocacy, Saturday April 2, Christ U.M. Church, Bethel Park
    • Fall 2016 – 2-day conference on welcoming refugees in our communities

Answers to my personal questions: (1) Why are there no refugee service locations west of the city (Carnegie, Crafton, Robinson, Ben Avon, Bellvue, etc) and/or in Beaver or Washington counties? and (2) with the “Welcome Packages” – do donors need to put together entire packages? Or can we collect lots of just one item?

  1. Refugees depend on public transportation. Must be able to access food, work, and health care either by bus or on foot. This leaves out many suburban locations and neighboring counties.  Western suburbs that are well-served by bus (Carnegie, Crafton, Bellvue) are a possibility.
  2. Lots of just one item would be fine. Suggestion: take the list to church and collect one kind of item each week, going down the list.

While I was listening to the presentations I was jotting down ideas for what I could do and what our various congregations – individually or collectively – might be able to do.

Here are some things I personally could do as an individual:

  • literacy training
  • computer training (tie-ins to PAWW)
  • bus escort
  • in-home volunteer
  • transportation
  • welcome and visit
  • sign up for newsletters and share via Facebook

For our churches, depending on the skills available and the level of interest, possibilities include:

  • sign up to welcome refugees
  • sign up as in-home volunteers, employment mentors, or literacy volunteers
  • invite guest speakers to talk about the refugee crisis
  • provide bus escorts
  • offer access to church programs such as senior citizen services, church dinners, and special events
  • collect items for Welcome Packages (AJAPO, Jewish Community Services, and/or Catholic Charities need these)
  • provide space where refugees can meet for socialization and community celebrations
  • business owners/employers: hire a refugee
  • look around for potential refugee housing
  • work with Habitat for Humanity to rehab homes for refugees (I have worked on a Habitat house in the past – this is very do-able)
  • work with the Mayor’s office to help establish refugee families in the communities where we have churches

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A former seminary classmate just posted that the Westboro Baptist Organization (I won’t dignify them by calling them a church) will be protesting four churches in the small town of Elizabeth City NC this Sunday, May 31, 2015. Elizabeth City is on the mainland near the bay which borders the Outer Banks, and the main highway to and from the OBX passes very close by.  Classmate Rev. Craig Stephans, my former classmate, is pastor of the Anglican Church of the Redeemer in Elizabeth City.

At this point in time the Anglican Church is not on the protest list; protests are scheduled for the local Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopal churches. Nonetheless the Anglican Church stands in solidarity with brothers and sisters in the four targeted churches.

The Baptist group will also be protesting in Kill Devil Hills, just north of Nags Head, on the Outer Banks, the day after.

One suspects the Westboro family simply wanted a vacation on the Outer Banks and figured out a way to make it a tax-deductible church expense.

Please keep the Elizabeth City faithful in your prayers this coming weekend – that all will be safe, and that many will hear the *good* news being preached from Elizabeth City pulpits.

News source: Local press Craig’s response: his blog

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