Refugees open window on the world

12/13/2011

Founded more than 60 years ago, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) began as a ministry to the refugees of World War II. That core function continues today with the work of UMCOR's Refugee Ministry office. With its long-standing partner, Church World Service, UMCOR has sought to provide welcome to refugees, working with United Methodist congregations to accompany refugee families as they attempt to build new lives in the United States.

How does welcoming refugees enable the "global conversation" in congregations? Churches involved in refugee resettlement experience the world growing bigger and smaller at the same time. The world grows bigger because each welcoming congregation has its eyes opened to places it might never have known about otherwise. It grows smaller because places that once seemed strange, "foreign," and very far away have now become the hometowns of friends--people the church members know and care about. All this is accomplished without church members ever leaving home.

Congregation members engage in another important global conversation among themselves once they've opened this "window on the world." Uncomfortable issues and tough questions are inevitable. "Why has my life been like this, and my new friend's life like that? What caused this disparity, and what does God expect me to do about it?" No quick and easy answers present themselves.

Chapel Hill sponsors four families

Chapel Hill UMC in Portage, Michigan is one congregation that has been transformed by engaging in the "global conversation" known as the ministry of refugee resettlement.

Shortly after 9/11/2001, as the United States prepared to go to war in Afghanistan, Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Michigan took in a refugee Afghan family. Since then, the church has also sponsored a family from Iraq. These were not the first refugee families that Chapel Hill UMC resettled. Over the past 15 years, this church has sponsored four families of refugees.

"Refugee resettlement reminds us of our common humanity," Pastor Barry Petrucci says. "Some of us are in a position of being helpful; others of us need help. We are in a web of mutual blessing."

Chapel Hill UMC has a long history of ministry to newly arrived refugees, including the Ndayiragije family who arrived from Burundi in 2006. Nestor, the father, was only a child when his family fled Burundi during the civil war there. He lived in one refugee camp in Rwanda, then another in Tanzania. In fact, he lived in refugee camps for more than 20 years before his family was resettled in the United States.

"The Ndayiragijes chose to become worshiping members of our congregation from the time they arrived," Pastor Petrucci continues. "One day, I went to meet Nestor at his job, and he introduced me as his 'papa,' which is how he would have introduced his pastor back in Africa. I cannot explain in words how meaningful that was for me."

Michigan woman among"grass roots"

Nichea Verveer Guy, a member of Grand Rapids Trinity UMC, recently participated in a global event focused on persons in migration. The People's Global Action Forum on Migration is an organization committed to insuring human rights. Their annual gathering took place in Geneva, Switzerland earlier this month. It parallels the United Nations Civil Society Days mandated by the United Nations Commission of Human Rights and the Commission of Refugees.

During the forum participants had the opportunity to be in dialogue on issues surrounding people of immigration and migration. Nichea says, "I was a North American delegate in the Methodist Delegation. There were 16 of us from the U.S., Philippines, Tongo, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Italy, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Japan and staff of the Women's Division and General Board of Global Ministries." The emphasis for her and others in the delegation was policy making and action plans.

Nichea notes, "We were the only faith-based organization present at the event that was taking an active role in living out the understanding of justice as a Christian discipline. Just as Mary and Joseph lived out their journey of migration in Bethlehem so many years ago, there are those in our world who battle the racism, displacement and persecution of immigration." She challenges all of us to read the Advent stories through a lens of the migrant. "Contemplate their anguish and their hope."

Click here for more background information on People's Global Action.

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