Category Archives: refugees

Stand Up, Speak Out, and Take Action – An Open Letter to the Church at Large on World Refugee Day 2020

By Thomas P. Albinson

Few would disagree that the world is not as it should be. It feels like we are on a mutinous ship sailing off course into a hurricane in a war zone. And as much as we would like to focus on solving one crisis at a time, we have little choice but to deal with them all at the same time.
Among the challenges we need to keep on our radar is the escalating global refugee crisis. As is true for other great challenges of the 21st Century, the Church has potential to be an important part of the solution if she will dare stand up, speak out and take action.

World Refugee Day is observed annually on June 20th to help us not lose sight of the escalating number of displaced people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution, war, and gross violations of human rights. We call these women, children and men, “refugees”, “asylum seekers” and “internally displaced people” (IDP). One person in every 97 people is forcibly displaced today. They are among the most marginalized and vulnerable people in the world.

The majority are women and children. Although each person’s experience is unique, they have this in common: they fled their homes because they feared for their lives and they cannot safely return.

A tiny fraction of the refugee population is given opportunity to integrate into their country of refuge or to resettle to another country in which they can begin to rebuild their lives. Most languish in camps, detention centers, government housing, or on the streets for years and even decades as they wait on a solution to their displacement. Life in such conditions is nothing short of dehumanizing.

The world has identified three solutions to forced displacement, each of which deals with restoring place to people.

  1. Return home.
  2. Integrate into your country of refuge.
  3. Resettle to another country.

On the face of it, these should work. But they are failing miserably. They fail not because they are bad solutions. They fail because our world lacks the will to implement them in any meaningful way.

For how can a refugee return home if the conditions that forced her to flee have not been resolved? And how can a person integrate into her country of refuge when 85% of the world’s refugees are in developing nations that do not have the economic or social capacity to absorb so many people? And how can they resettle to another country when nations are increasingly reluctant to offer them opportunity to do so?

Not only are the solutions failing, some nations that could be helping are avidly pursuing unjust and harmful “solutions”. Some have mobilized their military to stop refugees from entering. Some are erecting fences and building walls to keep them out. Some have created policies of deterrence – purposely creating inhumane conditions for asylum seekers and refugees within their borders. Some have even developed policies to offshore asylum seekers – sending them to wait in another country while their case is processed (including Libya, Rwanda, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, and others). Governments pursuing these kinds of “solutions” are prone to misrepresent refugees and asylum seekers, framing them as a threat to their society rather than as people in desperate need of safety.

So as the number of forcibly displaced people in the world rises, the space in which they can seek refuge is shrinking. This increases the uncertainty, vulnerability, and hopelessness with which displaced people wrestle daily. Where can they find hope for a solution to their suffering and loss of place?

While it is troubling to see some Christian leaders and churches supporting anti-refugee and anti-asylum seeker policies, there are a growing number of others advocating on behalf of forcibly displaced people and actively welcoming and serving them. They rightly believe this to be an essential part of the mission with which God has entrusted us.

We shouldn’t overlook the fact that human migration was part of God’s plan from the beginning when he commanded humankind to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”6. Following our rebellion against God and our subsequent deportation from the Garden, human migration plays an important backdrop to much of the biblical narrative. Many are the stories of forced migration in Scripture.

Furthermore, the Bible is filled with verses communicating God’s expectation that his people seek the welfare of the vulnerable – including the oft repeated trio of the fatherless, the widow and the foreigner. What foreigner is most like the orphan and the widow if not the refugee?
To be absolutely sure that we don’t miss the importance of this, God flat out commands us to love the alien as we love ourselves and to welcome strangers. For this is how the kingdom of God works itself into our turbulent world.

The kingdom comes when we let go of fear and embrace love. It comes into view when we choose to no longer view refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to be stopped, but rather recognize them to be people in need of our welcome and protection.

Imagine if the majority of churches worldwide actively joined their voices to others in the world calling upon our nations to actively welcome, protect and integrate forcibly displaced people into our societies rather than spending millions to keep them outside of our borders. We just might be able to influence public opinion and awaken the will of our governments to meaningfully implement solutions to forced displacement.

Churches can do more than advocate for place on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers. For what local community is better suited to helping people survive and recover from forced displacement than a church? At her best, a local church is a supportive, welcoming, and healing community that offers life-giving faith in the God who sees, hears, and cares for us. And a community that reflects the image of God to others – especially to the marginalized and vulnerable in the world.

A healthy church turns outsiders into insiders. Local churches have the holy privilege of offering place to others that sends the powerful message: “You belong here. You are one of us.” It is impossible to overstate the profound impact this has on a person who has been stripped of their place in the world.

The Church has a critical and unique role to play when it comes to engaging the global refugee crisis. She can do what humanitarian agencies and social services cannot. The Church can rehumanize refugees and asylum seekers while helping them integrate into their new context. Such work is central to our mission and plays to the natural strengths of a healthy church.
As we sail on deeper into the turbulent 21st Century, may the Church stand up as a beacon of hope as it plays an active part in the implementation of solutions to the benefit of those who have been stripped of place in the world.

“Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become as noonday.” Isaiah 58:10

To download this document in PDF format with Footnotes and References, please click here.

For more resources:

  1. www.IAFR.org/learn
  2. www.IAFR.org/toolbox

About the Author: Tom Albinson has been serving internationally as a missionary among refugees since 1981. He serves as Founder/President of International Association for Refugees (IAFR) and as Ambassador for Refugees, Displaced and Stateless People with World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). He is a founding member of the Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP).

What can I do?

You hear a lot about Syria today – about the awful conflict and war that is already raging for several years. Every time I hear something on the news about Syria it grips my heart. How can it be, that it gets worse and worse? Why isn’t it changing for the good? I sit here in Germany where my life is safe and everything is fine – like a nice and warm home. But then I see horrible pictures of pain and death, happening somewhere far away – and the picture of the nice home starts to crumble when it hits the reality of this world, it gets a shallow taste. Every time I think about it, I feel the urge to do something, to change things for the good! It can’t be that the only option I have is to sit in front of the TV and to feel pity for the people I see on the news.

But what can I do? I’m just a 26-year-old student who has not the experience and knowledge to change anything – that makes me feel so powerless and resigning. To feel this burning fire inside of me, that consumes me and pushes me to do something! But on the outside this paralyzing inability – not knowing how to make a step forward at all. Some months ago I was sitting in a discourse about the refugee crisis. One man stood up and was complaining about all these people coming to Germany: “Why do we have to take all these problems and efforts on our shoulders? We are not responsible for the wars and cruelties that are happening in Syria and all the others places in the world!”

This made me think. Who is responsible? The accusing fingers point in different directions. Is it Assad? The various rebel groups? ISIS? Is it the West that made so many mistakes in the past with their Middle East policies? The correlations are complicated and diffuse – impossible for me to decide, it is too muddled. And what would it change if I knew who is responsible? Would I have to wait for this person to change the situation, because HE/SHE is responsible and not ME? I do not feel responsible for the past that happened, that has led to this cruel present. I was too young to change anything. But what about the future? I don’t feel responsible for it as if everything depends on me and my decisions. But I feel the urge to take responsibility for it and do my part. Not because I have to, but because it feels like the right thing to do.

Josef Joffe wrote in a newspaper article: “Aleppo will always remain a disgrace, just like Biafra and Rwanda.”[1] I wasn’t born yet when the tragedy happened in Biafra. And I was 4 years old when the cruelties in Rwanda happened. I couldn’t do anything about that. But what about today? About Syria and this present catastrophe? Am I still too young to do anything? Too inexperienced? This breaks my heart. How can it be that the only option for me is to sit here and watch?

Bonhoeffer wrote in one of his papers from prison: “Christ, so the Scriptures tell us. Bore the sufferings of all humanity in his own body as if they were his own – a thought beyond our comprehension – accepting them of his own free will. We are certainly not Christ; we are not called on to redeem the world by our own deeds and sufferings, and we need not try to assume such an impossible burden. We are not lords, but instruments in the hand of the Lord of history and we can share in other people’s sufferings only to a very limited degree. We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes and by showing a real compassion that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behaviour. Christians are called to compassion and action, not in the first place by their own sufferings, but by the sufferings of their brothers and sisters.”[2]

I don’t want to be mere waiting and looking. I prefer to go there and help! To show compassion and action! But how? Would I really make a difference? I want to be an instrument in God’s loving hand as He is bringing peace and reconciliation to this world – and to Syria as part of it. I want to participate in Christ’s large-heartedness! The message seems to be so clear. And still I’m standing here, not knowing what to do. Consumed by this fire raging in my heart. Only hoping and praying for God’s grace. That He might change the things I can’t. Praying that He might show me the way to go, to overcome this paralyzing inability – by His grace and power.

Still standing here without the right answers.

By Sergej Kiel, Intern Micah Global

[1] Free translation. For the original in German see ZEIT (41/16). [2] Translation: Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 8, J.W. de Gruchy (ed.), Minneapolis; quoted from Who Am I?: Bonhoeffer’s Theology through his Poetry, B. Wannenwetsch (ed.), London 2009, 173. For the original in German see Widerstand und Ergebung, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke, Volume 8, E. Bethge (ed.), Gütersloh 1998, 33f.