On the day the United Church of Christ decided it would be receiving donations for Giving Tuesday to address the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, the current administration set the refugee admissions goal for next fiscal year at 15,000 – the lowest level in U.S. history.
In sharp contrast to that reduction in U.S. hospitality, the UCC’s 2020 Giving Tuesday, Dec. 1, will be based on extravagant welcome and Matthew 25:35 — “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Begun in 2012, Giving Tuesday describes itself as a “global generosity movement.” It encourages philanthropy right after two popular U.S. shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Like many religious and nonprofit organizations, the UCC picks a Giving Tuesday cause each year.
Like Mary and Joseph, who found no place to stay as strangers in Bethlehem, refugees are people who have no home. Around the world at last count, that’s 26 million people.
Ohio church reunites refugee family
Deborah Jane Baliraine was once of those refugees. In 2015, she came to the United States from Africa to escape horrific circumstances. A successful business owner in Kampala, Uganda, Baliraine was doused with acid as punishment for speaking out about the plight of women in her rural community. Disfigured and fearing for her life, she fled to Nairobi, Kenya, and was able to secure a spot on a list of refugees to be resettled in the U.S. But she had to leave her four children behind.
“Deborah Jane was was fortunate enough to be part of the less than one percent of refugees that get to resettle to a safe country such as the U.S.,” said the Rev. Noel Andersen, coordinator of the UCC collaborative on immigration. “But it came at the cost of being separated from her children for five years.”
Baliraine landed in Columbus, Ohio. Community Refugee and Immigration Services helped her resettle. Through CRIS, she found First Community Church United Church of Christ and the Rev. Kate Shaner, FCC minister of mission.
The church’s longtime refugee task force, “reborn since the last presidential election," Shaner said, has welcomed more than three dozen refugee families to the Columbus area. FCC and Shaner helped Baliraine with her primary focus — walking with her through the process of bringing her children here, acting as co-sponsors. They were finally reunited in Columbus in July of last year.
“My family and I are so grateful about being given a chance to live a free life again, Baliraine said. “Today, I have an opportunity to build my career again. I've worked for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants as a baker and cake decorator. Currently, I work for Kroger as a head of the deli and bakery department.”
Gifts will continue the welcome
Since Deborah Jane’s resettlement, the numbers of refugees allowed into the U.S. has dropped drastically — from 80,000 in 2016 to just 30,000 in 2019. This year the number was capped at 18,000 refugees — the lowest number since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. It is slated to drop to 15,000 in 2021.
Giving Tuesday gifts will help fund the UCC’s ongoing commitment to helping people resettle here in the U.S. and around the world.
Gifts, through grants and programs of Wider Church Ministries, will:
- Support the work of UCC refugee and asylum ministries through collaborative engagement with international partners, such as Church World Service, that are accompanying refugees and addressing the emergencies of the refugee crisis around the globe.
- Collaborate with national and global partners to advocate for refugee programs that are consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through skilled advocacy, collaboration with interfaith and secular partners, bearing witness at Congressional hearings and United Nations meetings, and holding our elected officials accountable.
“In this Advent season we recall that there was no place for Mary to deliver Jesus. The inn sign read, ‘no vacancy’ and the only place left for them was in the manger. No lodging with no place to be comforted, and strangers in Bethlehem. Refugees are people across our world with no place,” said the Rev. Kent Siladi, UCC director of philanthropy. “This Giving Tuesday initiative is a way for us to extend hospitality and outreach to those who are seeking refuge and a place to call home. We have set a goal of $75,000 this year to assist in this ministry. Your generous support will make an impact and a difference.”
Impact on an entire family
First Community’s support has made a huge difference in the life of Baliraine and her children.
“Deborah Jane’s four kids are applying for Green Cards,” Andersen said. “Deborah Jane and her oldest daughter are part of the Community Refugee Immigration Services Speakers Bureau where they go and tell their stories around Ohio.”
“My family is proud to mention that we are members of the First Community Church,” Baliraine said. “This keeps us strong in our new home in America. I am also working hard to groom my children into responsible citizens to give back to this country.”
Her oldest daughter, Carol, is working full time at Kroger as a baker. Cynthia, her second child, is a senior, graduating in 2021. A 15-year old son, Cuthbert, is a sophomore in high school, and youngest daughter Claudia is in sixth grade at middle school.
Baliraine, with the support of her faith family, continues to rebuild her life and overcome her struggles, which were highlighted in the Netflix docuseries Immigration Nation.
“In five years, I see myself having a confectionery/bakery of my own. It’s my dream to have my business back on the road.”
Learn more and donate to Giving Tuesday here.