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Archive for the ‘Refugee Crisis’ Category

“The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.  10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”  11 The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.  12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.  13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”  14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

15 “When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes.  16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.  17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”  19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.  20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.  21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” – Genesis 21:8-21   

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Today’s sermon is the second installment in our summer series on the Old Testament. And our scripture reading for today, from Genesis, tells the story of a party.

The party takes place about 4000 years ago and is given by a man named Abraham to celebrate his baby boy starting to eating solid food – which was something to celebrate back in those days because many babies didn’t survive past infancy.

But there is so much drama going on in his household, the story sounds more like a soap opera than a party.  There are cat-fights and betrayals and outrageous if not downright illegal behavior. So I’d like to subtitle this sermon The Not So Young and the Restless.

And as with any soap opera, before we can make sense of what’s happening we need to know the characters and their back-stories.

So the main character is Abraham, the patriarch of the family.  Abraham walks with God.  He has conversations with God and he has received promises from God.  In fact God changed his name from Abram (which means ‘exalted father’) to Abraham (which means ‘father of a multitude’). In Genesis Chapter 12 God says to Abraham:

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This is the promise that has guided and defined Abraham’s life.

The second character in our soap opera is Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  Sarah was known for her beauty in her younger days, and now that she’s older she is still a handsome woman, and a formidable woman as well. She is in charge of Abraham’s household, but to her great sorrow she’s never been able to have children.

The third character in our soap opera is Hagar, Sarah’s slave-girl. She’s from Egypt and doesn’t have the same religious or cultural background as Abraham and Sarah.  But Sarah, after waiting for years and years for God’s promise of a child to arrive, gets discouraged and gives Hagar to Abraham to have children for her – which was not an unusual thing to do back in those days.

But when Hagar becomes pregnant she starts to get cocky and lords it over her mistress, and a baby-begetting rivalry begins.  Finally Sarah has enough of Hagar’s attitude and abuses her to the point where Hagar runs away. In Genesis 16 we read, “The angel of the Lord found [Hagar] by a spring of water in the wilderness… and he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarah, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Of course the angel already knows the answers to these questions.  But in the Hebrew culture questions like these are not looking for information. They are a respectful way of scolding someone… and also an opportunity for the other person to explain their actions.)

Hagar answers, “I am running away from my mistress Sarah.” – which is more of a pout than a defense.  And the angel says to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.”  In other words, ‘grow up’.

But the angel also says, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted… […] You have conceived and will bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael (which means “God hears”), for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.”  So while Hagar has a rough road ahead, she will be comforted by a son – whose name will always remind her (and everyone else around her) that God is watching over her and listening to her voice.

The angel also says Ishmael will be “a wild donkey of a man” who will “live at odds with all his kin.”  And in these words we meet the fourth character in our soap opera, Ishmael, Hagar’s son. The Bible doesn’t tell us a whole lot about Ishmael’s childhood but it does say he was circumcised along with all the other men in Abraham’s family. So Ishmael is in every way a member of Abraham’s covenant family under God.

A few years before today’s drama takes place, when Abraham is about 90 years old, God visits him and repeats his promise about Abraham’s offspring.  But Abraham, in discouragement, says, “You have given me no offspring, and a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”  But God answers, “This man shall not be your heir…” And he took him outside and said, “…count the stars… so shall your descendants be.”

And Abraham believed God, and “the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  This is the first time in scripture where righteousness is defined as believing God; where faith is defined as the key to a right relationship with God.  We can watch for that theme to repeat itself as we progress through the Bible.

Then last Sunday, on Fathers’ Day, we read about Abraham finally becoming a father.  By the time God’s promise finally came true, and the baby boy was born, Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was in her 90s.  And since by that time both Abraham and Sarah had laughed when God told them a child would be born to them, the baby is named “Isaac” which means “he laughs”.

And this brings us to the beginning of our soap opera for today.

The scene opens on Isaac’s weaning party, celebrating the fact that Isaac has made it through infancy and his life ahead looks good.

But for Ishmael, if he ever had dreams about being Abraham’s heir, this day pretty much puts an end to that.  And scripture says, “Sarah saw [him] playing with her son Isaac.”

This is not as innocent as it sounds.  A better translation might be ‘mocking’ or ‘picking on’ Isaac. And Ishmael, being around 14 years old at this point, should have known better.

For Sarah it’s the last straw. She says to Abraham: “[Get rid of] this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” Notice Sarah doesn’t even say their names… it’s just “this slave woman” and “her son”.

Abraham is not happy about this.  He doesn’t want to get involved in a cat-fight, but he also knows this time things are not going to blow over. So God has a word with Abraham and says:

“Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring will be named for you.”  God also adds, “I will make Ishmael fruitful as well, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes will he beget, and I will make him a great nation.” (Gen 17)

So both boys will be blessed, and so Abraham’s mind is put at rest.  The next morning Abraham gives Hagar bread and a skin of water and sends her off with Ishmael.

Not knowing where to go and what to do, Hagar and Ishmael wander around in the wilderness of Beer-sheba for a while, until the bread and the water are gone. (The name Beer-sheba means ‘seven wells’ but for some reason they’re not coming across these wells in their travels.)  And as thirst grows, Ishmael becomes weak. Hagar, devastated, throws him under a bush and then goes off at a distance to wait for the inevitable. She says, “do not let me look on the death of the child” – and she breaks down and weeps.

And Genesis says, “God heard the voice of the boy (interesting it doesn’t say ‘heard the voice of his mother’ – at this point the boy’s voice would have been the weaker of the two, but God still hears it.)  And God calls to Hagar and says, “[I have] heard the voice of the boy where he is… lift him up, hold him fast, for I will make a great nation of him.” And then God opened her eyes to see a well, and she went and got water for them both.

Hagar responds to God with faith – the same kind of faith that Abraham showed when God spoke about Isaac.  Whoever she’s been in the past and whatever she’s done, Hagar now trusts God and walks with God.

And that’s where our story today ends. But there’s a lot more to the story. Over the next few weeks we will be hearing more about Isaac’s story, and his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren as they become the people of Israel.

But we won’t hear about Ishmael again in our series.  So here’s the rest of his story.  Hagar found Ishmael a wife, and the family settled in the wilderness of Paran, which is sort of a desert area. Later in life Isaac and Ishmael together will bury their father Abraham in the family cave – so the two boys don’t lose touch with each other completely.  And Ishmael will go on to have twelve sons, just as God told Abraham. And these twelve sons will lead twelve tribes, paralleling Jacob’s sons and their twelve tribes. Jacob and his sons will end up in Egypt eventually, and then to the Promised Land; Ishmael and his sons will settle in what is known today as west-central Saudi Arabia.

And that’s where Ishmael’s story in the Bible ends. But there’s one more postscript in history: Ishmael will spend his last years living in a city called Mecca, and he will become the ancestor of a man named Mohammed. And the family rift between the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael will grow wider and wider over the centuries, always at each other – just as the angel predicted.

And this continues even to our own time. And when we think about how this rivalry between brothers plays out in today’s world, the story doesn’t look like a soap opera any more.  It’s painful and it’s violent. And we begin to understand the depth of the conflict that was going on inside Abraham’s family.

So what do we do with this ancient story today?

First, we need to try to set politics aside. Our world is SO politically charged – but this story is God’s word, and it’s God’s message we want to listen for.

Second, we see in these events a God who forgives sin. God gave Abraham and Sarah a promise, of a son. And they believed that promise, for the most part.  But did their faith slip a little? – or did they think they needed to help God out? – when they gave Hagar to Abraham? God never said anything about Abraham needing a second wife!  One commentator notes: “The bright ideas that God’s people get with good intentions to hurry the Lord’s plans along, often create more frustration and heartbreak…” than anything else. (http://www.hvcog.org/e-mails/2016e/october_20_2016.htm )

But God forgave the parents, and blessed both boys as children of Abraham. God may not remove the consequences but God redeems the circumstances.  If any of us should find ourselves in a place where we have made a doozy of a mistake: God will forgive if we turn to him. God’s plans for good in our lives are not changed or prevented by our mistakes. So be encouraged.

Third, God is as committed to blessing Ishmael as he is to blessing Isaac.  Both boys were predicted by God. Both boys were received into the covenant and were circumcised.  Only one of them can become the forefather of Jesus – and that will be Isaac – but this does not mean Ishmael is loved any less by God.

This passage shows that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam find a physical connection in Abraham. And in all three faiths God is understood as one God (as opposed to many gods, like in Hinduism) and God is a personal God (as opposed to a ‘force’ or ‘life energy’ of some kind).

But salvation is and always has been by faith in God’s promise – which ultimately is Jesus – no matter who we are or where we find ourselves.  The apostle Paul tells us there will come a time when the Jewish people will understand that Jesus is the Messiah and will believe (for more details see Romans chapters 9-11).

And for Muslims, the good news of salvation by faith alone is probably the most attractive aspect of Christianity today.  I mention this as friends and colleagues return from mission work among the refugees in Europe, where Muslims are coming to Christ by the thousands. I think for us it might be helpful to draw a parallel between the Muslims of today and the Samaritans of Jesus’ day.  Remember Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospel of John – the woman began by saying to him:

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You [Samaritans] worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:20-24

So in Jesus we see all three streams coming together, because Jesus is the completion of all three streams, received by faith and worshipped ‘in spirit and in truth’. This gives hope for those of us who reach out across religious lines to share our faith in Jesus.

Fourth and last, in this story we see a God who hears.  God hears both Sarah’s laughter and her anger. God hears Abraham’s discouragement.  God hears the pain of a pregnant slave-girl who has been abused. God hears the cries of a young man near death. And God not only hears, but God responds.

God does not remove the difficult situations; but neither is God’s blessing lost just because people have messed up.  God’s good plans to bless Abraham’s family and to bless the whole world through Abraham’s family, are still going forward, and God’s people will not just survive but thrive.

So if we find ourselves going through difficulties, we can be assured that our mistakes and our shortcomings won’t put a stop to God’s blessings. Our imperfections don’t stop God’s good plans for us and for our children.  We are not rejected just because we mess up.  God has made a road through the wilderness and through the pain and into glory.

God’s kingdom is never lost to us, and God’s love is never lost to us, so long as we stay with God. So take heart – and follow in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, trusting God and following God as they did: imperfectly, but faithfully.

AMEN.

 

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, 6/25/17

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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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Prayer request: The latest update from Bishop Grant LeMarquand and his wife Doctor Wendy who are ministering in Gambella, Ethiopia.

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An update from Bishop Grant & Doctor Wendy LeMarquand.

More Sorrow

As I drove through the town of Itang, little seemed amiss. Luke, our deacon in this area, asked me to stop. “We can walk from here,” he said. As I got out of the vehicle the smell of burnt wood struck me. A hundred feet or so past where we parked we came around a corner – nothing but charred wood and ashes – more than 200 homes gone in one night. Our Anglican church was still standing – perhaps the attackers here had a sense of the fear of God that led them to spare that one building. If only they knew that the people they attacked were made in God’s image and more precious to Him than any building.

2016 has been a difficult year for Gambella – and it is only April.

The refugee crisis

Two years of civil war in South Sudan has brought 300,000 refugees into Gambella, roughly doubling the population of the region. The increased population has resulted in many stresses on the resources of an already fragile social system. Water, electricity, internet service have all been in short supply. Although Gambella is not densely populated, access to arable land and to river water for the needs of agriculture, animals and humans is becoming more and more contested.

The Anuak-Nuer conflict

Perhaps the most important challenge, however, has been the change in the ethnic make up of the region. The Anuak, for generations the majority people group in Gambella, are now vastly outnumbered due to the influx of refugees fleeing the conflict in neighbouring South Sudan, almost all of whom are Nuer. Tension resulting from different views and uses of land has once more sparked conflict. The Anuak, as well as hunting and fishing, are more settled in the land, planting crops and having a sense of ownership of the land they till. The Nuer, are traditionally nomadic cattle herders who drive their cattle through all land; the land that they believe belongs to God and is therefore free for their use. 

At the end of January this tension became violent. The details of the fighting are vague and under-reported, but the short version is that a few dozen people were killed, many injured, and hundreds of homes burned and looted. Some of the Nuer and Anuak youth actually looted the villages of their own people who fled from fear of violence. The town and region are still filled with anxiety two months later. Nuer cannot safely travel into Anuak areas and Anuak are afraid to enter Nuer enclaves. The Federal Police and Army are seeking to keep order, but violence has flared up in several places.

Our church life has been deeply affected. Our theological students (five Nuer and five Anuak) must have classes in separate places for now. Travel to some places is too dangerous and many people are stranded away from home and are being cared for by church members and family. Some are running out of food or the ability to purchase more.

If these troubles weren’t devastating enough, bad turned to worse in mid-April.

The Murle attacks

Early on the morning of April 15th, large, heavily armed groups of Murle people crossed into Ethiopia from South Sudan. The Murle have had a long history of raiding the cattle of neighbouring ethnic groups, killing any who stand in their way (or happen to be in the wrong place) and kidnapping children who are then assimilated into their people. The reports were truly horrific. Young Murle men with automatic weapons killing indiscriminately in the areas of Lare, Jikwao and Nininyang – all places where we have Anglican churches.  The first reports said 140 Nuer people, mostly women and children, were dead. The death toll went up steadily – 160, 182. It is now being reported that 208 have died, at least 82 treated for bullet wounds in the Gambella hospital (others have been moved to hospitals in Metu and Jimma), as many as 108 women and children have been abducted. 

David Yao Yao, a former Murle politician turned cattle rider has denied responsibility. He did claim (truly enough) that the war in South Sudan (mostly between Dinka and Nuer, although this is an over-simplification) has so destabilized the eastern regions of South Sudan that the area is virtually lawless. It seems that it was only a matter of time before the chaos ensued. The Ethiopian government and the South Sudan government have said they will work together to track down the perpetrators of this brutality and rescue those abducted. We will see. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia declared two days of mourning.

The only good news is that the rains have started – it is harder to raid cattle in the rain, so this event might not be repeated (this year).

These overlapping tragedies of civil war and the massive influx of refugees, the ethnic violence over land between the Anuak and Nuer, and now these appalling Murle raids have left our people feeling raw and fearful.

Jewi camp 

Just a couple of days after the Murle attacks, a truck owned by an NGO and driven by a “highlander” drove into Jewi Refugee camp just a few miles outside of Gambella town. ‘Highlander’ is the name given to non-Gambellan Ethiopians – Amharas, Tigrayans, Oromos and others – who are lighter skinned and quite different culturally from those groups native to Gambella. The truck struck and killed two Nuer children. Enraged refugees, no doubt already tense and on edge, responded with vengeance killing at least nine (perhaps more, reports are conflicting) highlanders. Vengeance leads to vengeance. Highlanders in Gambella began a march to the camp to kill Nuer. A highlander mob tried to attack Newlands, the Nuer part of Gambella town. Many were praying. Thankfully, perhaps miraculously, highlander retaliation was turned back by the Ethiopian (highlander) army. Although cars were burned in the centre of town, blocking the roads, and gunfire was heard sporadically throughout the day (warning shots thankfully), fewer casualties than expected were reported. As of April 25th, Gambella remains in simmering, tangible fear and anger.

The Anglican situation

Information has been hard to obtain from the villages and refugee camps. The internet has functioned only part of the time. Quite a number of relatives of our church members were killed during the Anuak-Nuer clashes. Many members were looted or had their houses burned. We have so far learned that, during the Murle raids, three members of our Anglican congregation in Kowkow (near Lare) were killed and 1 child abducted. The sister of one of our clergy was also killed in another village and her child abducted. I have little doubt that we will hear similar details from other villages. Pray for our clergy and lay readers seeking to bring comfort to those who mourn and practical aid to many in need.

Thanks for asking

Many have been asking us, how they can help respond to the suffering in Gambella, and the needs of those who have lost loved ones, whose houses have been burned or looted, who need food, clothing and shelter. As one of our people told us, “There are many who are very suffering”. Some have been directly hit, others have been stranded without means for food, unable to return to their home area. The simplest and quickest way to help would be through a donation to our ‘Samaritan Fund’. See below for donation links, but please specify that the gift is to be given to “Ethiopia – Samaritan Fund”.

For those wishing to make a contribution in response to this crisis, please click on this link for “The Friends of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt”:
http://www.friendsanglicandioceseegypt.org/contribute.html
Funds can be donated online or by cheque. Please specify:
Ethiopia – Samaritan Fund.

~~~~~~~~Sidebar~~~~~~~~

There is a wonderful African saying, “I am because We are”. Identity is known in relationship; in belonging to your community.
This can be unfortunate in places that have a tradition in which baby boys are blood covenanted at birth to the revenge
of their grandfather’s enemies. The revenge of family and community can be a part  of identity. It is very hard, especially for a young man, to say, “No. I will not join in the fighting”.
Now our churches have a saying “One Lord, one family, one blood”. The blood of Jesus speaks a stronger word, than the blood of Abel; the blood that cries out for revenge. Heb 12:25

~ Please Pray with us ~

Please pray for Peace in Gambella and in South Sudan

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Pray for a functioning government in the eastern regions of South Sudan. 

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Pray for evangelists to reach out to the Murle people so that their society can be transformed by the saving and healing love of Christ.

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Pray for comfort for those who mourn and for wisdom for those bringing comfort.
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Pray for an end to the culture of vengeance.
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If you would like to share in our work,
see the following charitable donation links:
 

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand and Dr. Wendy LeMarquand
are missionaries of SAMS (Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders).
Bishop Grant is area bishop for the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Eretrea, Djibouti); under the Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

 

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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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