Guest Post: America welcomes its 10,000th Syrian Refugee. What does that mean for the Church?September 29, 2016
By Alan Cross
Upon hearing the news that America had reached its goal of welcoming its 10,000th Syrian refugee last last month, I reflected back on an experience I had this past Spring. I stepped up to the window to order a coffee and Ahmed came and took my order. I was at a small coffee house in Georgia that intentionally hires refugees. Ahmed (not his real name) was from Syria and had just arrived in the United States a couple of months before. I was meeting my first Syrian refugee. After speaking for a moment, I told him that I went to Jordan a decade ago and traveled to the Syrian border. We realized the town that I was in was his ancestral home. He lit up brightly and spoke to me like I was a long lost friend. He was so happy to hear that I had been to his ancient hometown. I complimented his people on their hospitality and welcome when I was there. He beamed.
Ahmed fled Syria because of violence and because his life was in danger. He said that he loved his country, but he hated ISIS and the terrorists, violence, and war there. He hoped to build a new life in America. After meeting Ahmed, I was reminded again that the Syrian refugees are victims of violence, not the perpetrators of it. By definition, a refugee is someone fleeing violence and oppression. Refugees are not terrorists. We get it backwards when we think they are.
Are there terrorists in the world who seek to do us harm? Yes. And, innocent people should be protected from them. But, we also have to find ways to differentiate between people like Ahmed and his family who fled the violence and those who want to do harm. We cannot say we just don’t know about them and therefore reject all refugees looking to us for protection. Refugees are the most vetted people to come into our country and there is no harder way to enter America than through the refugee resettlement process.
Furthermore, the church has an even greater responsibility. For those who come here from places like Syria, the Congo, Sudan, etc., we have a responsibility and opportunity to welcome them and show them the love of Christ. What if every refugee who arrived in America was met by Christians who loved and cared for them? How different would their future be? How different would our nation’s future be? And, the future of the church?
What can Christians and local churches do to help with refugee resettlement?
- Connect with your local refugee resettlement agency (like World Relief) and ask how you can help. All refugees come in to the United States after going through intensive vetting in refugee camps overseas. When they come to the United States, they are placed here through a refugee resettlement agency that exists in certain locations. You can look up which ones exist in your area. Through these agencies, you can help co-sponsor refugees to help them settle into their new homes, find jobs, and navigate the city.
- Build relationships. When you encounter refugees, recognize that they are in a foreign land and need relationships with Christians in America. Eighty-five percent of immigrants are never invited into the home of an American.
- Talk to your church leadership. Local churches can form teams that lead the way in ministering to immigrants and refugees. You should not do this alone and two are better than one.
- Become an advocate. Proverbs 31:8-9 says that we should speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Consider becoming involved in advocating for refugees and immigrants by contacting elected officials and sharing with them what Scripture says about care for the vulnerable, for immigrants, and for refugees. Find your elected officials here.
With the recent terrorist attacks that have occurred, Christians have a choice. We can turn away from actual refugees who have come to us for help out of fear because of what some perpetrators of violence might do, or have already done. Or, we can engage with those who have come to us as victims and who are fleeing the very violence that we are fighting. I encourage even more engagement with refugees from the church. People like Ahmed and his family need the hope of the gospel and the love of Christ. Now is not the time to back away. Now is the time for us to engage and tell a better story.
Alan Cross is Executive Director of Community Development Initiatives and works with churches and Christians across Southeast America to develop a Biblical perspective on immigration and refugees. He is the author of When Heaven and Earth Collide and hosts a podcast on issues of faith and social/cultural issues.