During the season of Advent, when Christians prepare for a celebration of welcome with the birth of Christ, who himself was a refugee, United Church of Christ leaders are calling the church to extravagantly welcome Syrian refugees who have fled their war-torn country.
The December focus of "Our StillSpeaking Voice" — a monthly church-wide multimedia effort — will highlight ministries with Syrian refugees through education, fundraising and advocacy as part of a denomination-wide effort of welcome.
"We are at a humanitarian crossroads in the world today. There are more displaced people than at any time in recorded history — 65 million and counting," said the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, who leads the UCC Global Sharing of Resources team. "As a global community, we need to figure out how to shape our global relationships in this reality so that people can live the abundance of life that God promises. As the UCC we have the faith commitments, the opportunity and the experience to be part of shaping those global systems in ways that lead to conditions in which people live their full humanity. We can be the Church."
UCC Executive Minister the Rev. Jim Moos offered a reminder that Jesus' family fled to safety to escape violence after the Christ child was born. "Jesus began life as a refugee when Mary and Joseph took him to Egypt to escape the murderous rampage of King Herod," Moos said. "Today, half of the Syrian population has been displaced by war with millions fleeing as refugees. Let us in the church respond to their needs as we would to the needs of the Christ child."
Churches can engage the issue in December and beyond: advocating locally and nationally to resettle Syrian refugees in their communities, welcoming refugee families as they resettle, and giving financially to support the witness of the UCC both in the U.S. and abroad.
"The UCC is part of already established networks that welcome refugees from all parts of the world to the U.S.," Schaller Blaufuss said. "The UCC is an integral member of Church World Service, which is one of the nine resettlement networks in the United States through which refugees are resettled by the U.S. government. Through Church World Service, the UCC has been resettling refugees since that definition was created in the 1940s (by the United Nations)."
Of the 65 million refugees around the world, an estimated 13 million are Syrians who have attempted to flee violence since their country erupted into a civil war in 2011 — 4.8 million of those refugees have fled to neighboring countries (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq), while 6.6 million remain internally displaced in Syria. Some refugees have made their way into Europe, and less than 10,000 have been admitted to the United States.
"The refugee resettlement process in the U.S. is set up to help refugees and communities be successful," Schaller Blaufuss said. "Intensive assistance during the first six months helps people get on their feet with housing, language, jobs, community support, cultural orientation. We know first-hand the rigorous background checks that happen for all refugees entering the U.S. and the increased checks in place for Syrians, in particular."
UCC youth have already led off the initiative with their bold, public voice for refugee accompaniment expressed through submissions for a video contest. The top videos, to be selected in the first week of December, will be shared on the UCC website and social media channels throughout the month, and the top three filmmakers winners will be awarded scholarships.
Now it's up to local congregations to join in, by engaging with scripture, and with the situation of Syrian refugees in both the Middle East and in the United States, by actively advocating for and welcoming Syrian refugees in their local communities.
Said Schaller Blaufuss, "The UCC has a commitment to love, mutual relationships, dialogue and learning from one another. We value the humanity of all people. When a certain group of people are discriminated against, the rest of us bond together to stand for their humanity and human rights."