Leadership Toolkit, June 2014 issue
On June 22nd LIRS and a large number of Lutheran congregations throughout the nation will celebrate Refugee Sunday. What is the significance of June 22nd? Why are we celebrating Refugee Sunday? How can I become more involved? Knowing the answers to these questions can make hosting or facilitating the event a more rewarding experience for all.
What? Sunday June 22nd was chosen in accordance with World Refugee Day which the United Nations and numerous civic organizations throughout the world observe every year on June 20th. This became the official date on December 4, 2001 when the United Nations adopted resolution 55/76.
Why? World Refugee Day and Refugee Sunday are celebrated as a way to honor the complex decisions and courageous journeys that men, women, and children are forced to make as they flee their homes in search of safety. Over the last 75 years, LIRS has walked alongside more than 500,000 courageous migrants and refugees. Honoring World Refugee Day and Refugee Sunday is a way to raise awareness of the millions of refugees who continue to be displaced throughout the world. It is also a way to show support for those who have found their safety and are working to rebuild their lives.
How? You can join the celebration by hosting a Refugee Sunday in your community or with your congregation. Spread the word-take the message beyond the walls of your sanctuary. We encourage all to share the joy of welcome and belonging. We strive for reciprocal relationship, for community building, for people to have not just shelter, but a home. Those are large and important goals. As we strive to get there, maybe your congregation or community needs to open some doors first. Materials can be found on the LIRS website. Additional questions can be directed to LIRS Manager for Congregational Outreach, Matt Herzberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Refugee Sunday is an opportunity to say welcome to all members of your community and strengthen your ministry. Here at LIRS we are hearing exciting ideas from partners and congregations across the nation about what they will be doing to celebrate and how this can challenge their ministry.
One of our service partners cited a shift in focus from a previous celebration for World Refugee Day to an approach more focused on a larger audience, “Last year, to celebrate, LSS hosted a documentary showing and a panel discussion. This year I was thinking of doing more of a social media (Facebook and blog) campaign to raise awareness…”
As a member of a congregation already actively involved in resettlement John, in Texas, excitedly shared a moment of intentional welcome for a recently resettled family, “We should already have another refugee family safely nestled in an apartment by then (Refugee Sunday) …. We can introduce to the congregation.” At another church in Washington, a church-member named Jean shared why her congregation is motivated to celebrate Refugee Sunday, “We pray weekly for all refugees and feel it is time to be more involved…”
We know this is difficult work, but Refugee Sunday is an opportunity to think about how a congregation can act. A pastor quite candidly and courageously shared, “Everyday, more and more migrants come to our town looking for opportunity. Our congregation looks the other way – out of fear, I guess. It is time for that to change. We will pray for refugees that day. And we’ll prayer for the people in our community we ignore. And then I’ll call you for what is next!” We look forward to that phone call and many others about how your church is choosing to celebrate on June 22.
“Today, there is a refugee crisis, a human crisis actually-in Syria. 7 million people now, 2 or 3 million of them in refugee camps and the others in the cities all over the world now, with no rights-just numbers” states Omar al-Muqdad a Syrian, journalist and refugee. Omar shares his experiences, along with his concern for the growing refugee crisis worldwide, through the short LIRS video, “Courageous Journeys.” Omar describes the fear of violence that surrounded him and the uncertainty that plagued him due to his lack of identification. The crisis in Syria left him with nothing but a number.
Speaking from the other side of the crisis Leslie Velez, a Refugee Worker expresses the importance of creating welcoming communities within the United States. These communities are safe places that refugees can settle and begin to rebuild their lives. Velez explains, “It takes courage to make the refugee journey. From Joseph, Mary and Jesus to our own ancestors. This is our human story. It takes a generous heart to love our neighbors. When we welcome newcomers into our nation, community, and churches we answer God’s call.” Throughout the nation many congregations and communities have answered this call. They not only provide initial services and support, but many have extended a long welcome to help refugees again have a place to call home.
Omar concludes his story with an expression of gratitude for the welcome that he received. He states, “It’s the country that gave my name back, it’s the country which has given me all the chance…to be a normal person under the United States of America protection.” Join LIRS on June 22nd as we celebrate Refugee Sunday and the many welcoming communities across the United States.
On Tuesday, May 27, LIRS officially launched a youth-based, social media campaign titled #ActofLove. The movement was spurred in response by the large number of unaccompanied migrant children who are crossing the southern border of the United States.
Until recently very little attention was being directed to these children and the dangerous Journeys that they are embarking on. The majority of these children are fleeing complex issues such as violence, abuse, and poverty in the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Once they arrive in the United States the children are in desperate need of safe homes, basic supplies, and medical care. With an estimated 60,000 children expected to cross the border in FY 2014 the need to speak out on behalf of these children became undeniable.
In response to this growing crisis, a group of passionate, young adults became advocates and presented a petition addressed to President Obama, Senator Reid, and Speaker Boehner. The petition itself calls on these elected officials to:
The young ambassadors leading the campaign hope to draw attention to this issue and to spread awareness by engaging other youth of all ages through various sources of social media including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They are also advocating for the requests outlined in the petition which include:
A series of films have recently taken over the screen to depict the many challenges of the immigration reform movement. The highly-publicized film Documented follows the life and story of Jose-Antonio Vargas who as an undocumented immigrant is fighting the broken immigration system in search of the American dream. The film has made headlines throughout the nation being praised and highlighted by a series of major media outlets. It will be shown nation-wide via CNN on June 29th, but is available for pre-screening in specified venues.
While the news of Documented has made headlines, two additional films also hope to convey the dire need for immigration reform. The Evangelical Immigration Table will debut its new film The Stranger in the beginning of June. The documentary examines the challenges faced by three different families as they work to navigate the current immigration system. Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing, for Sojourners offered her thoughts on the film she described as “power-packed.” Harper writes, “Produced by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Linda Midgett, the 45-minute film is an excellent tool for Christian communities committed to biblical teaching on immigration and immigrants.” The Stranger is available to churches across the country, interested parties can click here to sign-up to host a screening and panel discussion.
Shifting the focus to another challenge of immigration, film maker Marc Silver recently released a powerful documentary called, Who is Dayani Cristal? The film follows the identification and repatriation process of the body of a Central American migrant found in the Arizona desert. The journey of the filmmaker begins with the medical examiner’s efforts to identify the body and the Missing Migrant Project‘s quest to return it to the family. As the story unfolds viewers are exposed to the dangerous and often deadly routes that thousands are forced to take through the desert each year to enter the United States. By combining this one man’s story with a look at the larger trend of deaths along the border, the film documents the human toll of our immigration enforcement policies. If you’re interested in bringing Who is Dayani Cristal? to your community, here are a few options:
A community film screening followed by a facilitated discussion or panel of speakers is often a great starting point for educating your church, school, or seminary to take action on immigration reform.