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Refugees

Loving Our Neighbor

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When Life and Faith Collide: 3 Practical Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis

The current national and global conversation is full of debate, anger, prayer, hope, fear, and disappointment – all at the same time. While the newly signed Executive Order has garnered the most recent attention, ultimately the real issue is this: How do we honor two clear calls from God on our lives – to love our neighbor and to protect our country. I’d like to add my thoughts and perspective to the conversation.

I first had the privilege of connecting with refugees both locally and overseas in 2001 and have served in these communities for the past 16 years. About two weeks ago, my kids and I were blessed to sit down over coffee in the home of a Syrian refugee here in Charlotte. Just one week ago, I was on the border of Uganda, honored to serve some of the 200,000 Sudanese refugees in a refugee camp of over 20,000 people. I share this to give context to my perspective: the past 16 years of my life and work have involved the refugee community both in the United States and internationally. As a follower of Christ, a husband, a father, and a missionary to refugees, I hope to offer insight into the current national and global conversation regarding refugees.

I cannot remember a time in my life when the conversation around refugees has been more discussed, debated, or so centrally focused in the public eye. In the past 18 months, opinions have gone from overwhelming compassion in 2015 when the Syrian refugee crisis erupted; then fear over the November 2015 Paris attacks; and finally anger with the current U.S. Administration’s newly signed Executive Order. I do not envy the position of any President or the vast weight of decisions shouldered by such an office. Regardless of the political party in office, the responsibilities of the President are more than most of us would ever desire. As such, this is not intended as political commentary; rather, I want to offer Biblical commentary on how we may both love our neighbor and protect our country.

God’s Call to All Christians

First, anyone who is a Christian has a clear call to love the Lord our God, and love our neighbor as ourselves in Luke 10:27. There is no debate: the Bible calls us to this; but there are questions about what it looks like day to day. We are also called to love the foreigner and refugee (Deut 10:18-19). We are called to offer love and to care for those not from our country (and those who are now in our country and in need). When we think about these two Biblical calls, the instructions are clear: love those around us, including foreigners, with the same kind of love we would desire someone show us.

Second, the Bible calls family leaders to protect and provide for their families and home, and a government to protect and provide for its country. In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read, “Anyone who does not provide for their own family, especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than the unbeliever.” God takes very seriously the call to protect and provide for our families and our homes. Additionally, Romans 13:1-4 shares that governments are established by God, and their primary purpose is to protect those under their rule.

A Complicated Matter

If the instructions are so clear, how does this become so complicated? How can loving our neighbors and protecting our homes create such tension and debate?

By its nature, love is a risky endeavor; protection, by nature, avoids risk. To love someone means to open yourself to hurt and disappointment; protection means to shield someone from being hurt. Love calls us to be vulnerable and caring; protection involves reducing vulnerable areas. Herein lies the tension.

Loving your neighbor looks different based on who you are and how you believe love is best expressed. We can take countless paths, both as a family and a government, to protect our homes. But, what if loving my neighbor puts my family at risk? How much risk is acceptable or required while being faithful to the call to protect my family? What if my love for one neighbor seems to jeopardize my love for another neighbor? Which neighbor is more important? Ultimately, can we love all our neighbors equally well… in such a way they all feel equally loved… and does not subject our family to unnecessary risk?

It’s in these real questions we begin to see the call to protect our home and the call to love our neighbors and foreigners, while clear at first, can actually get very messy and complicated.

What Should We Do?

1. Pray.

Pray for wisdom to practically live out these Biblical callings in our communities.

Pray for our leaders. Romans 13 tells us all authority is established by God, and we should pray their hearts and decisions will reflect God’s heart. Pray they would carry well the burden of leadership regarding such complex issues, protecting and providing for the country.

Pray for displaced families. The journey of the refugee is a broken one full of unthinkable tragedy. Pray for their safety. Pray for their faith. Pray they will remember God loves them, knows their plight, and has not forgotten them. Pray for their path of restoration, an extremely difficult one, but one that God can restore. Pastor Richard, a South Sudanese refugee in the Pagirinya refugee camp, shared with us in Africa last week, “I know God has put us in this camp and situation for a purpose, and we are wanting to see God’s kingdom reign here in this camp.” Ask God to give the refugee community around the world vision to see He can and will use their situation.

Also, pray for us. As citizens of the United States, we need to pray for each other. Pray we will have God’s heart for our country, our leadership, and our neighbors. Pray we will live that out well in our country.

2. Seek truth beyond social media.

Wise living comes by understanding the truth. Take time to understand God’s truth around these issues. Take time to understand the facts in the refugee crisis and the new Executive Order. Be careful to not let social media shape your public and personal opinion.

Having already established the Biblical foundation of my perspective, here are some additional facts to consider regarding the refugee crisis, the United States’ role in it, and the recently signed Executive Order. No commentary implied; just the facts:

There were 65.3 million displaced people in the world in 2016, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
1 in every 113 people in the world are displaced.
1.9 million refugees have been resettled in the U.S. since 1980.
The U.S. took in 80,000 refugees in 2016; 46% are Muslim and 44% are Christian.

To give some historical context, let’s look at the past 15 years of refugees resettled in the U.S. according to the U.S. State Department (source):

Year        Total      Syrian refugees admitted (Syrian war began in 2011)
2002 — 27,131        –
2003 — 28,403      –
2004 — 52,873      –
2005 — 53,181       –
2006 — 41,223      –
2007 — 48,282     –
2008 — 60,191      –
2009 — 74,645      –
2010 — 73,311       –
2011 — 56,424      29
2012 — 58,238     31
2013 — 69,926     36
2014 — 69,987     105
2015 — 69,933     1,682
2016 — 80,000    13,210
2017 — TBD, current administration is discussing 50,000 refugees

The new Executive Order does not impact or limit refugees leaving their country and finding refuge and safety in refugee camps around the world. There are no refugee camps in the United States. The new Executive Order places a freeze on the U.S. accepting any Syrian resettlement applicants and a 90-day freeze on resettlement applicants from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan. The new Executive Order states the freeze is for national security purposes, allowing the NSA to evaluate and revise the vetting process for refugees coming to the U.S.

The Executive Order states these six countries have been identified by the State Department as the top threats to our national security who also currently have displaced people seeking asylum and refugee status in foreign countries.

The Executive Order gives the State Department the right to give special consideration for acceptance into the U.S., on a case by case basis, to anyone from those six countries as they deem necessary (i.e. people who have aided the U.S. military in those countries and are seeking asylum because of their service with the U.S.). (source)

3. Do something: help those already here.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, get involved with the nearly 2 million refugees who are already here. Rather than debating who should and should not receive refuge in our country, take a step of faith to love the refugees who are already here. If everyone voicing their passionate opinion on social media took that time and passion to love the refugees already in their city, we would see millions of families experience the love God has called us to show our neighbors. So, get involved. If you’re not sure how, search for refugee agencies in your city and ask how you can help.

The tension is real but has opened a conversation through which I pray we can all grow — and out of which, by God’s grace, the refugee community will receive love. There is no clear-cut answer on how or where to draw the line between loving our neighbor and protecting our home. I pray each of us will seek His truth to find ways to fulfill both callings in our lives and our world.

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The Path of a Refugee [Part 5]: Starting Over

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After enduring a traumatic event, displacement, a refugee camp, and the resettlement process, a refugee family faces the reality of starting over and building a life in a completely foreign land.

This step brings with it a mountain of obstacles. Thankfully there is a community of agencies who seek to help navigate this mountain. The obstacles include language, transportation, medical care, jobs, schools, safe living conditions – the list goes on. Though these obstacles are daunting, the pathway to starting over often lies in the support from the local community who welcomes these refugees to their city.

Starting over is hard for anyone. Starting over alone is a near impossible task. Imagine if it were you or me. Let’s say a crisis broke out in your home country, and it impacted your family so significantly that you had to flee for your life to a neighboring country. You run from your home with your spouse and kids, with only the clothes on your back. You have no money, no cell phone, no home – and now you are on the run.

You finally arrive at a neighboring country and find a new home in a refugee camp. Your 10′ by 10′ hut is where you stay before you are given refugee status and eventually told where you will be sent to start over. Imagine the country you are assigned to is…. Nepal. So you and your family travel on a plane, land in Nepal, and are shown to your new apartment or hut. And now it’s up to you to start over.

If that was really your family, what would you want? What would you ultimately need? If it was me, I wouldn’t want someone to just come up and give me $100 and walk away. What I would want is for someone from Nepal, who has lived there and knows how life in this country works, to become my friend. I would want a family from Nepal, who is sympathetic to the situation my family is in, to come and get to know us and help us navigate all the obstacles that our family is up against.

I would want community. And so would you.

This is where local service providers and caring families become so significant to the starting over process for a refugee family. Some of these agencies are professionals, highly trained and skilled in the service they bring to a family. Medical professionals, placement agencies, professional educators, counselors, and pastors. But sometimes the most impactful person is just a normal family who is willing to step out to befriend another family.

These families give one of the greatest commodities we have: time. Time to get to know a refugee family. Time to help them think through the next steps necessary to start over. Time to love and care for a family that is significantly in need.

IMG_4734The starting over process for a refugee family is a striking parallel to the starting over process in our relationship with Christ. When we come to a new place of faith in Christ, we truly are starting a new life. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) God brings us new life – and we experience His love and wisdom through a community of His people around us.

So what can we do?

First: pray for families starting over in a new country. Pray that people will step out and give time, friendship, and community. Pray that God will remind each family of His nearness as they begin again.

Next: get involved. Find a local agency and come volunteer with them. Every agency that works with refugees can use more volunteers to help meet the needs of the families in their city. In addition to Project 658, here are some other agencies working with refugees in Charlotte:

Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte

Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency

Refugee Support Services

Then: take a step of faith and get to know a refugee family in your city. Get to know their names and their story. They are families just like yours. They like to sit and have coffee and talk. They like to work and be productive. They want to provide for their families. Their kids like to play sports and have fun with friends.

Maybe you could be the connecting piece God uses to help them start over well in your city.

The Path of a Refugee [Part 4]: Resettlement

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Moving to a new place is a common occurrence for families in our country. On average, 15% of all Americans move each year. (source) A move is often one of the bigger experiences a family will go through together: a new place to live, new people to meet, new streets and stores to figure out, new schools to adjust to, and a whole new community to navigate.

Now, imagine your family is going to move. But, now imagine you are told where you must move – and you have no choice in the matter. And the place you are going doesn’t speak your language, doesn’t have familiar food or schools or stores, uses unfamiliar transportation, and lives life very differently than your family ever has.

One more thing: imagine your family can’t all come together. Imagine you are separated from one another as you move, and imagine this separation lasts ten years before your family is reunited.

This is a common resettlement experience for a refugee family being placed in a receiving country.

Having survived a traumatic event resulting in displacement, then a long wait in a refugee camp, the refugee is at last accepted for resettlement.

So, how does the process work, and who accepts refugees for resettlement?

Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from an asylum country (often in a refugee camp) to a receiving country that has agreed to admit them and ultimately grant them permanent settlement. Resettlement countries provide the refugee with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals.

Only a small number of countries take part in the UNHCR resettlement program. The United States is the world’s top resettlement country, while Australia, Canada and the Nordic countries also provide a sizable number of places annually. In 2015, Italy became a new resettlement country and The Republic of Korea announced a three-year resettlement pilot program, increasing the number of resettlement countries to 28. (source)

Before resettlement, a person must first receive official refugee status from the UNHCR, and it must be determined that the refugee is unable to return home. Of the 14.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world, less than one per cent is submitted for resettlement (source), and this process can take months or years.

The government of each receiving country determines the total number of refugees it will accept each year. Last year, the U.S. accepted 70,000 refugees for resettlement. (source) Any refugee accepted for resettlement is taken through a process of medical clearance, security clearance, and cultural orientation by the UNHCR.

Where a refugee is placed is based on several factors. In the United States, the refugee will be resettled based on the availability of housing, employment, needed services, readiness of host community, and a variety of other factors. However, if a refugee has a relative in the United States, every effort is made to resettle the refugee near that relative.

Once the location is chosen, then travel plans are made. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) arranges air travel for most U.S.-bound refugees. Before a refugee leaves the country of asylum (where they’ve been waiting in a refugee camp), he or she signs a promissory note and agrees to repay the U.S. government for travel costs. Upon receiving necessary travel details from IOM, the American resettlement organization makes arrangements for the refugee’s arrival.

So, as the refugee family arrives to a new country, a new city, a new community, they start life over with a financial debt to the government.

Resettlement is absolutely very exciting. It is a sign of hope – that a new life is in front of the family, that there is a safe place to begin to rebuild their lives. But the realities and challenges of resettlement create a new layer of struggle and difficulty.

So what can we do about it?

First, pray that God would help families that are being resettled to quickly feel like they are at home. Pray that their neighbors would welcome them well, become their friends and open their homes to invite them in.

Next, be a welcoming neighbor. Maybe someone recently moved into your neighborhood who needs someone to reach out and be a friend. If there is a new student at school, take time to help them feel included. Engage with local agencies like Project 658 who care for refugees in Charlotte, and help make their transition to America as smooth as possible.

The Path of a Refugee [Part 3]: Refugee Camp

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The third step on the path of a refugee is life in a refugee camp. A traumatic event leads to displacement, and that leads to life in a refugee camp. For many refugees, this is the first place of safety since the trauma began. In some ways, there is much relief, but the struggles inside a refugee camp are real and many.

Most camps are very, very crowded. The average camp has 12,000 people in it, but it is not uncommon to have a camp with over 100,000 people.


These camps, by definition, are temporary places to stay while people wait for resettlement to a new country. But, the average stay in a camp — meaning, the average wait for a resettlement assignment — is 17 years. Hardly temporary.

Life inside the camps has little to offer families. Usually there is some level of schooling for the children. Work for adults, however, is virtually non-existent. With no jobs, no chance to grow and develop a future, life becomes dependent on government aid. People are stuck waiting for the next food aid truck with no opportunities for finding meaningful support for their family. Houses are either mud huts 10 feet apart, tin roof homes, or plastic roof dwellings side by side.

These camps are, without question, a welcomed place of safety for families fleeing persecution. But, once inside the camp, life slowly becomes an erosion of hope.

So what can we do about it?

First: pray that God will bring hope and restoration of purpose for families in camps. Pray the aid that comes in to support families will provide a blessing and not become a source of dependency.

Next: learn more about the ways to help support aid agencies working with global refugee camps at www.unhcr.org

The Path of a Refugee [Part 2]: Displacement

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The path of a refugee begins with a traumatic event in his homeland, sending him and his family on a road they never imagined they would be on. Here we find the first major loss for a refugee: their home. In every country and every culture, people have the same desire and need for a home. The houses look very different. An apartment, a grass hut, a tin roof house, a house with a white picket fence. Regardless of how big, how pretty, or how clean it is, a family needs a home. A place parents and children identify as theirs. The place they feel safe, cared for, and – most of all – known. Home is ultimately the place where we draw so much of our identity. It is where we are known best. It where we go when the world outside has been difficult, harsh, and tiresome.

When a family faces the level of trauma that refugees do, they not only lose their house, they lose their home. And they begin to journey toward a place they don’t know – and a place where they are unknown. This is one of the more heartbreaking parts of the refugee’s journey. Spouses no longer have a place to retreat, parents have nowhere to eat and pray with their family, children have no place to be tucked in at night.

My wife and I have four children. Our home is one of the most sacred places in our lives because it is where we have the most important, intimate, fun, heartbreaking, and restorative times with our family. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have that ripped from us by no choice of our own.

So what can we do about it?

First: pray for families on this journey. Pray that God, in a supernatural way, will restore a sense of home even while they are fleeing. Pray that God will remind each displaced person that this world is not our ultimate home, and that God has a place prepared for us in Heaven, our true Home.

Next: take a step to help the displaced people in our community. There are over 600,000 homeless people in America. There are 2,500 homeless in Charlotte – that is 2,500 people who have landed in a place they never wanted and have no place to call home, and no place to be known. Visit http://www.urbanministrycenter.org to find more ways to get involved.

The Path of a Refugee [Part 1]: Traumatic Event

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The stories have different names and groups involved, but every refugee story has the same starting point: trauma. The most common form of trauma resulting in someone becoming a refugee is persecution. The persecution could be religious, ethnic, political, tribal, or war. Whatever the reason, it results in a person or family being persecuted and forced to flee from their home to find safety.

Living in America, it is often difficult for us to imagine experiencing extreme persecution like this, but we can all understand to some degree what it is like to have someone stand against us. Maybe it was on the playground in school, social groups seemingly out to get each other through gossip and peer pressure, a work environment that makes it more difficult for someone to succeed, or the racial tension our country has experienced for decades. We have all seen it and more than likely have been impacted by it in some way.

Now imagine the persecution is at a level that causes you to legitimately fear for your life, lose your home and loved ones, and forces you to run for your very life. This is the starting point for the 51 million refugees in the world, and will be the starting point for the millions more who will become refugees in the months and years to come.

So what can we do about it?

First: pray. Pray for peace. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Pray that peace will come and reign in the areas of the world where there is constant conflict and turmoil. Pray that God will bring His peace into the hearts of those most deeply affected by the trauma and conflict.

Next: be a peacemaker. Although we might not be at the center of the world’s greatest conflicts, we can be a daily peacemaker in our lives and communities. Treat others with peaceful intentions, help bring peace into the lives of families and friends in conflict, and be a voice for peace for those you see experiencing some level of persecution from others around them.

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