The materials available from various denominations, and religious organizations, etc., are valuable resources to use in presenting a Biblical/Christian focus to how we might better follow the teachings of God, through His Son Jesus Christ. As adult leaders, we can help children and youth learn how we all may best follow the "Greatest Commandment - Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself."
The materials and ideas presented below have all been used by Nancy Staigmiller of the Montanta N. Wyoming Conference of the United Church of Christ. She has used the materials offered by Church World Service for about 10 years at the UCC Camp Mimanagish on the Boulder River in south-central Montana. She likes, especially, to work with the 5th/6th grade campers. For some years she composed her own camp curriculum, but then a camp curriculum was made available in the MNWC/UCC New Earth Christian Resources for the Outdoors, published for the Outdoor Ministries Programs of the National Council of Churches of Christ. In the past few years, the themes 'On Our Way' and 'Breakthrough,' etc. have offered ample opportunity to integrate the concepts of the scriptures appropriately as we strive to consider our brother and sisters around the world. In order to allow this approach to be completely Bible based, a few examples of possible scriptures follow. Many more scriptures may be used, as well.
|"Give justice to the weak and the orphan."||
|"If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not bother them. You must count them as one of your own countrymen and love them as yourself-for you were once strangers youself in the land of Egypt."||
|"Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of thee who are members of my family, you did it to me."||
Matt. 25:40 and
|"Little Children, let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action."||
1 John 3:18
|"Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-truly I tell you none of these will lose their reward."||
|Feeding of the five thousand, "You give them something to eat."||
|"... what does the Lord require of you but to walk humbly with your God?"||
Background stories in preparation for helping children understand refugee life
There are 3 different children's magazines available from Church World Service. Please note that much of this material is online, but a few copies are available free from www.cwsglobal.org. Nancy highly recommends them for elementary school age children. Many of the pages are easily accessible online for printing out. Also, there are supplemental resources available online with pictures, and more information to enhance curricular content. There are also web pages designed for the children to interact with on the internet, if that is applicable to your setting. CWS also offers service projects complete with video an DVD materials of exceptional quality.
Story 1 - "Journey from Somalia," from Build a Better World, Africa, Church World Services, Children's resources. This is a story about finding a new home and new hope!
This refugee family had to flee their homeland in Somalia after civil war in 1991. They walked many miles to safety. This Bantu family fled to a refugee camp in Kenya. With no country they could call their own and no hope of making Kenya their home, this family of 3 received permission to come to the US and settle in Denver under the Ecumenical Refugee Services of Church World Service.
This children's story helps all children understand what it might be like to flee from home under bad circumstances with very little possessions. This family of refugees has survived difficult times by sticking together and taking care of each other. "Lmani" the CWS mascot, whose name means 'Hope' in Swahili, helps learners understand truth of the African proverb. "If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together." The giraffe, Imani, is willing to stick his neck out and show God's people how we can travel far --- together.
Story 2 - "Journey from Sudan," From CWS, Build a Better World, II, A story of children fleeing from home, not knowing the plight of their own families, but finding new hope arising from the worst effects of genocide.
This group of refugee boys (cousins) experiences many childhood years of being uprooted over and over again. They walked hundreds of miles by themselves to escape war in Sudan. They went to refugee camps in 2 other countries before coming to the United States. These true stories can help children who are safe to understand the hardships of refugee life, unknown to them.
Accompanying this story are activities, including a game - "A Long Walk." It can be played inside or outside with a life-sized homemade game board. Instructions along the walk guide players in emulating real-life experiences along the long journey as refugee chidren. There are other children's activities accompanying these and other stories from the CWS materials that are appropraite for use. Being creative, based on needs, time, energy, etc. is an important consideration. Have fun!!
Church World Service offers three booklets for the student/camper. In additional to the above mentioned, the newest booklet focuses on water, Build a Better World, Water. Each booklet offers five stories with pictures focusing on children in many parts of the world. A theme poster is inserted for display. Multiple activities, games, art projects, and other valuable learning hand-on projects are offered to the users.
Pretend Refugee Camp: A simulation/pretend activity for campers
The camp curriculum offered by the Committee of Outdoor Ministries the last few years has lent itself easily to adding a focus on people of the world whom we do not want to forget in our welcome and hospitality. We know that 'God is still speaking' regarding our love, care, and concern for all His people, 'regardless of where they are on life's journey.' The stories and activities available from Church World Service, as well as other resources, may be adapted to add enrichment to written camp and Christian education curricula that are used from year to year. There are opportunities in program, worship, recreation, and general activities to expand on our actions regarding how each of us carries out God's love to others.
After hearing the above stories, doing simple Bible study, viewing pictures and videos, sharing in activities, worship, etc., the children will have an initial understanding of the difficult life styles and challenges that millions of refugees face daily. Because many refugees leave their homeland on foot, taking only what they can carry, they have little money, personal items, and little food. They may also be missing some of their loved ones.
This particular activity is personally one of my very favorite with the campers. After a few days of background learning and reflection, on the mid week day, we play "refugee camp." Nancy shares that the first time she offered this activity, her camp counselors thought she had 'lost it' and that the kids would never go for this. But, amazingly, they embraced it with full energy, understanding, and creative enthusiasm. After four years of doing this, she reports that campers really 'get the picture' and become better and more empathetic caring children of God. When we finish after about an hour and a half, they beg to keep going. No child has ever failed to participate, fully.
"We Walk because they Walk"
The campers gather on the dining hall deck. Of course they have already heard the stories of children in other lands. They are ready to pretend and to assume the role of refugees in troubled parts of the world. They may choose how to gather in small groups, 2 to 5 in size, and pick a role of children, adults, family, orphans, or any combination. Many choose to have injuries, etc., and to be orphans.
They are advised that they are to gather some basic materials for their journey from the "CWS" or humanitarian aid workers. The refugees are given a plastic bag for imaginary belongings, a plastic gallon water jug, a pot or pan (from the camp kitchen), and an army blanket or CWS blanket. They are sent on their journey thru the wilderness (within the camp boundaries where they remain visible), and they are advised to arrive at the allotted and marked camp sites on the volleyball court. A CWS worker greets them and allots a camp site for each small group. The campers then begin to rig up their home and settle in to the refugee camp. Some groups occasionally set up camp along their journey, and a worker needs to find them and advise them of unprotected dangers (wild animals, etc.) and encourages them to join the other refugees at a safer location in the volleyball courts.
After the refugees have settled in to the camp, they immediately start looking for firewood for cooking, and also may find wood to stake up a blanket type tent. The campers role play really well, and they soon begin to assist others, or share their ideas. A bell is rung by the CWS, or other aid workers, offer food commodities to all family units. Dried beans, rice, or corn kernels. Rations of foods are offered when refugees bring their pans to the central resource site at the refugee camp. Soon refugee campers realize they have to haul water and figure out they can walk to the church camp outdoor clean water spigot nearby. Some also walk to the tiny stream that meanders thru camp. Refugees add wild onions, dry weeds, and wild fruits to brew up a wild food concoction. Fire pits are carved out in the sand with firewood used for pretend cook fires.
Various ideas have evolved over a period of 4 years of this activity. Some boys hauled some fairly big firewood to make rafts so they could pretend to travel downstream to find other safe villages or lost family. Some campers planted seeds and pretended to grow food sources. Some lost a family member to disease and sought funeral services for CWS staff. One counselor refugee taught others how to make tent rope out of dried weed stems, while a couple campers shared and sold medicines (licorice) they had salvaged to bring on their journeys.
The CWS and aid workers offer school services to the refugees. Many of the children resist going to school, but after encouragement from refugee parents, and aid workers, they do join a teacher who very creatively offers them instruction, usually of the English language. This helps to remind campers of the value of education, worldwide, and helps them realize that deprived children of the world may value education almost more than American children.
This activity continues for an appropriate time period, but it is always good to transition while things are still going well. The bell rings for lunch and the refugees go back to the dining hall deck. Here the CWS workers (counselors) greet them and invite them to a simple lunch to be provided for all. This is an opportunity to share with the campers an appropriate simple lunch to show a scarcity of food. I have used pita bread with a small bowl of peanut butter. Simple fruit, (nuts, bananas, mangoes, etc.) could be offered with water. A poverty meal could also be shared this day or on another day.
Alternative Poverty Meals and other Poverty, Hunger, Health and Education Activities
A simple poverty meal could also be shared at this meal, or another day, made up of beans and rice, scant rice soup, etc. It would also be appropriate to choose activities from the CWS booklet, Making Poverty History: Hunger Education Activities that Work! These activities can turn out ot be very worthwhile as learning tools for different age groups. Many excellent activities could be used at another time, from this outstanding resource, to help children grasp the Millennium Development Goals intended by the year 2015 to: 1) Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, 2) Achieve universal primary education, 3) Promote gender equality and empower women, 4) reduce child mortality, 5) Improve maternal health, 6) Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other Diseases, 7) ensure environmental sustainability, 8) Develop a Global Partnership for development.
CROP WALK - Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty, established by CWS in 1946
Following the refugee camp activity, our camp children/youth participated in a modified CROP Walk as a reminder that poor and hungry people around the world have to walk for food, water and safety. Find an appropriate place to walk to, of some distance, so that the children can experience the CROP Walk theme, "We Walk because they Walk." Give each child a gallon milk jug, or something appropriate, to carry on their walk so that each child may fill it with clean water for the family's daily water source. Our campers at Camp Mimanagish go on a 2 mile hike on the road to a safe picnic spot along the Boulder River. If the river conditions are safe and the water temperature tolerable, we wade in the river then enjoy a picnic lunch. After filling the gallon water jugs, campers and counselors hike back down the road to camp and enjoy a quiet evening of camp fire, worship and reflection on the lessons experienced. The campers carry the empty jug up stream, and the full jug downhill back to camp. They actually do not complain much. The filled jugs weight about 8 lbs., and campers find ways to share the task. Of course campers are forbidden to drink the river water (unlike real life refugees). As an aside, the campers could experience trying to carry bigger containers of water on their heads.
This reverse CROP Walk is a different type of CROP Walk. The campers do not know about this ahead of time, because they walk as refugees. The usual style of CROP Walk is out of generosity with the intent of raising funds to share for CWS projects around the world. Instead, Nancy offers this walk with the intention of honoring each child's experience with a simple donation of one dollar per child to be sent to Church World Service for clean water projects. Following our evening picnic walk, I announce to the campers that I have placed a one dollar representing each camper's efforts to carry water into an offering fund as a CROP Walk donation. The rest of the week the campers are encouraged to save some of their spending money from their bank account held in the camp store for snacks and miscellaneous items. We collect the offering on the final day and the students are usually surprisingly generous. Hopefully, campers will consider walking in local community CROP Walk activities in the future. Materials and information are available online with CWS.
Service Project: Assembling of School Kit and Health Kits for Church World Service
The campers receive a camp letter a few weeks ahead of their arrival at camp for the 6 day camp in the mountains. The letter assures their parents the campers will be kept safe and be well cared for and loved during their week at camp. It is good to advise the campers what kind of things to bring to camp and not bring to camp. But most of all, the families need to know something about what their children will be learning during time together at camp. It will be a time of fun, fellowship, new experiences, but most of all a growth in the camper's spiritual development.
In the letter campers are asked to bring some gifts to share with children around the world, through the Service Projects of Church World Service. This is a voluntary activity, but most campers choose to bring items of their choice from the list of supplies for School Kits and Health Kits. Late in the week, selected CWS DVD segments feature the recipients of these gifts for children who may be living in refugee camps, or have been uprooted in natural disasters. It is a valuable experience for the campers to glimpse the families of the world who share experiences both similar and yet unlike the experiences of most of our American children.
School kits: 1 box of 24 crayons, 1 ruler, 6 pencils, 1 eraser, blunt tip scissors, small pencil sharpener, and 3 lined school notebooks of 70 pages all place in a cloth bag, with handles.
Health kits: 6 Band-Aids, packaged tooth brush, 1 bar of wrapped soap, nail clipper, comb or brush mostly wider teeth, 1 wash cloth, and 1 hand towel, all packed in a gallon zip lock bag.
The size composition, and measurements of these kids can be found at www.cwskits.org, as well as mailing details.
The campers enjoy sorting and filling these gift bags for mailing purposes. Canvas could be made available during craft activities for them to decorate to be made into school bags later. Local volunteers in home churches might be asked to make the fabric School Kits ahead of time. Also, the monetary gifts made in the final camp offering can be used to fund the shipping costs $2 per bag, plus mailing costs state-side. The DVD resources from CWS add a lot to this service project by showing pictures of the children in their homelands.
Recommendations and details related to these service projects are available in the children's magazines from CWS Build a Better World, and also online with CWS.
A Special Project in 2009 - "Tents of Hope"
- raising awareness about refugees in Darfur, Sudan
In the year 2008, a very special event - "Tents of Hope" - offered a new, distinctive opportunity aimed at the tremendous tragedy that has changed the lives of the people of the Darfur region in the Sudan. "Tents of Hope" helped others, especially in the United States, to understand and offer compassion and action related to enormous atrocities toward people of Darfur. Unfortunately genocide toward some people of the world has not ceased to occur following the atrocities toward the Armenians, then our Jewish people of Europe during World War II. Many churches, synagogues, and communities joined together in a new and distinctive opportunity to respond to the tremendous tragedy that has taken so many lives or changed the lives of the people of the Darfur region in Sudan. Since 2003 and before, over 2.5 million people have permanently lost their homes and villages. Many, many have been killed. A member of the United Church of Christ in California, Tim Nonn, gained the support of the Wider Church Ministries/Global Ministries, One Great Hour of Sharing, many other churches, and non profits, (Save Darfus, etc.) to sponsor and encourage lifting up "Tents of Hope." Tents were raised, decorated creatively, and displayed as symbols of hope thru advocacy and awareness enhancement. The "Tents of Hope" are symbols which creatively remind us all that each person and the Earth are beautiful and sacred. The tents became symbols of lost homes and of refugee journeys which remind us that we are moving together as one human family toward peace. The unique and colorful tents are symbols of hope, reminders that suffering and injustice can be overcome through compassion and conscience sustained by faith communities and people who care. Taken from the "Tents of Hope" website - many communities were able to show that in "communities creating conscience, hope makes it possible to imagine peace and imagination makes it possible to create peace."
The "Tents of Hope" rallied from around the nation in Washington DC on the Capital Mall in early November 2008. It was quite a moving experience to view the dramatic, colorful images that the tents portrayed as a means of offering hope to God's people in a very desperately traumatized part of our world, the Sudan. Following the "Gathering of the Tents of Hope," over 300 of the tents were bagged and gathered with other supplies to be shipped by Darfur Peace and Development Organization and Development Fund, a non-profit organization. The tents had a very long and treacherous journey to get to the refugee camps of Chad and Sudan. But it was welcomed as a special plan to the campers and all persons who supported this wonderful endeavor and journey with their time, talents and financial gifts. Hopefully, the brightly decorated tents carrying such loving messages of hope, especially to the refugee children and their parents, eventually arrive safely to be used in the education of refugee children for schools and classrooms.
This activity offered a golden opportunity to the camping program at Camp Mimanagish in the Montana/N Wyoming UCC Conference. Decorating an 8'x10' tent added tremendous opportunity to connect with the children's programs of refugee simulation, Crop Walks, etc. led at Camp to the churches of the Conference, as well as with the people of Sudan. Focusing on real life experiences in Darfur offered a golden teaching moment that Nancy could not ignore. She erected the "Tent of Hope" at all 10 summer camps and took the tent to about 8 different UCC churches to offer a learning experience to many children and youth and adults. CWS continued to offer the appropriate teaching tools to add to the focus of the traveling 'tent of hope' being decorated around the conference. Although this opportunity has passed, the outcomes were very valuable and long lasting. Many people of all ages in the Conference now reflect and talk about issues of clean and available water, the plight of refugees, and the needs of our brothers and sisters in all parts of the world, outside of our local communities. As leaders of children and youth programs, we will be able to observe and hear the changes in value systems, to see the avenues of love and caring opening up. A few children's comments and actions reflect this value. One little girl shared, "Well I just thought all the kids in the world had all the same things we do, but they don't!" Another girl, Sarah, was seen on local TV news as a representative from her school student council expressing how many people in the world do not have clean water to drink. Her school council had decided to participate in a fund raising activity in order to send purification water straws to children in Africa. Sarah's leadership and participation - in camp, school, and mission projects - has helped her discover how to use her experiences to transform the lives of others - and show others how the path can be fun and rewarding. These are just a few examples of small but special outcomes.
Now because the opportunity for "Tents of Hope" has passed, you might just try thinking outside the box a bit and come up with your own idea to engage in meaningful activities or projects. Nancy hopes to have campers complete painted designs on a small tent she made to emulate a refugee tent. It was made as a small model that can travel easily for presentation and education. It would really be nice to have church camps have a big tent for campers to design and use in any of the above activities, or similar activities which helped spread the concerns and caring of God's people living in situations we, as Americans, can hardly imagine. - For questions or sharing, Nancy is available at email@example.com.
|Peter Austin | iStockPhoto graphic|
We ignore this text at our peril. It is one of the most radical and telling pieces in all of biblical literature. What it says is that Jesus comes from an immigrant background. He comes from many, not from one. He is of mixed race. He is also understood as a person with a maternal as well as paternal lineage. The writer of Matthew understood what he was saying and doing: Jesus transcends the tribes that often provide us with such false security
The list is not only "contaminated" by mixed races and mixed classes, it includes four women. Genealogies just weren't written that way at the time. The women were omitted, regularly. Even the feeding of the 5,000 counts the men and tells us so. Five thousand were fed, not counting the women and children.
Consider his ancestors.
One of the women is Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into keeping his promise to her and producing an heir. The fruit of this tricky union is one of the great-grandfathers of Jesus.
Another is Rahab, a well known harlot who assisted two spies sent to Jericho by Joshua. In doing so, Rahab became an exemplar of faith and works. Rahab is a great-grandmother of Jesus. Ruth is also on the list.
Ruth was a Moabite, a descendent of Lot. Her place in the social registrar of Israel was surely very low. Nevertheless, Ruth became a great-grandmother of David and distant greatgrandmother of our Lord.
Matthew is embarrassed to even name the fourth woman directly. He simply calls her the wife of Ukiah. She is of course Bath Sheba, a victim of the most scandalous case of seduction in the First Testament. She too is a great-grandmother of our Lord.
Notably, not a single one of these women is a Jew. Tamara was a Canaanite; Ruth a Moabite, Rehab of Jericho, and Bath Sheeba, through her husband, a Hittite.
The final 14 generations are almost totally unknown. They aren't recorded elsewhere in scripture. By noting them, Matthew reminds us that God, nonetheless, uses those easily forgotten and overlooked for the good of all. Ordinary people - as well as saints and sinners - notes the populist Matthew, get us to Jesus too.
As New Testament scholar Raymond Brown notes, the Story of Jesus isn't told with straight lines. If you have ever thought that your own family was checkered with both nobility and riff-raff, and if you ever considered your own life a combination of good faith and bad judgment, be comforted by the lineage of Jesus.
This text might also suggest that we stop using the terms "foreigner" and "mixed race." Even "illegal alien" might be shelved.
Queen Elizabeth, apparently, was quoted at some point saying that she wanted her son Charles to marry a woman with a history, not a past. Way too many Christians work way too hard to assure that Jesus is pure and spotless. Matthew differs. He says that all kinds of roads, and tickets, and people, can lead to Christ.
What does this genealogy mean to us today, as our armed forces land in foreign lands, as "our" children and "theirs" cry themselves to sleep because daddy is far away and won't be home for Christmas? It means that the world is one. The sorrow of the sleepless child, whose father is a soldier, is clothed with the sorrow of the people of Afghanistan. Christians have a trans-national, trans-tribal savior.
The current debate over immigration and "foreigners" misunderstands Matthew. It forgets that God is found in the stranger and not in the self. It forgets what Jesus went on to say about how we find him - in the naked and the lost. When Americans say they want the foreigners "out," they are really saying they don't want to meet God.
We may and must see the world as one, not as us and them. We may welcome the so-called "other." He/she is our savior's grandparent.
The Rev. Donna Schaper is Senior Minister of Judson Memorial UCC in New York City, a New Sanctuary congregation. Her most recent books are "Grassroots Gardening: Rituals to Sustain Activists" from Nation books and "Living Well While Doing Good" from Church Publications.
No longer a stranger: Welcoming the exile
Ida's faith was tested when a stranger came to the door of her home at the end of a country road. She looked out at the white man, quite noticeable in her largely black community, and saw his gray jumpsuit. She was sure he was the convicted murderer the radio said had escaped from the prison several miles away.
Ida had several choices, including the rifle she kept in the corner for shooting squirrels. But instead, she chose to open the door. The whole story merits a longer telling, but here's the crux: At first he was threatening, but Ida fed him and listened to his fears and anger, and spoke to him like the mama he had hardly known.
She insisted on praying with him, and he wept as he remembered a long gone childhood faith. Eventually, the state police surrounded Ida's home. Between the man's renewed fear and the police's intensity on his capture, the situation came to a dangerous moment. But Ida talked to both parties, and brought them to a point where the man could safely be taken into custody.
As they began to put him in the car, he turned to her and said simply, "Thank you for your hospitality, ma'am." And the stranger was gone.
It was a stranger encounter. It was a moment of biblical proportions because the Bible is filled with stranger encounters and with the same tension Ida faced: what to do when confronted with a stranger, someone unknown and different from you?
The stranger (aka alien, foreigner) moves through Hebrew tradition from the exodus through the exile. An overview of the texts reminds us that at times the "stranger" is seen by Israel as a threat, and there is tension in the relationship.
The tension was most evident when Israel felt at its weakest, politically and spiritually, as in the book of Ezra (chapter 10.) The stranger and their strange gods are seen as a danger to the purity of Israel after the exile. At another time, "strangers" are the instruments of God's anger (Ezekiel 11:9).
But those are the minority reports in the stranger encounters of Israel. The overriding affirmation of God is to welcome, protect, share with and, interestingly, identify with the stranger because of the shared experience of having been stranger/alien themselves. Over and over, as God guides the people of Israel into a community, as told in the books of the Pentateuch, we hear this theme:
"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:34; Exodus 10: 17-19).
God's expectations of Israel with the stranger even go beyond non-oppression and charity (e.g. leaving gleanings in Deuteronomy 24:19, 21).
In Numbers 15 and 19, the stranger/alien is seen as being responsible to the same law, with the same privileges and responsibilities, as the people of Israel. The equality of status extends all the way to the throne of God: "You and the alien shall be alike before the Lord" (Numbers 15:15).
In the story of Ruth, God makes a radical move by taking a stranger and making her a mother of the new nation of Israel through her great grandson, David.
Then in Jesus, God makes the strangest move of all: embodying, becoming the stranger in our midst. In the perhaps too familiar text of Matthew 25:35, Jesus identifies himself as the stranger to be welcomed.
Familiarity risks robbing this statement of its amazing power, but the urgency of life in a world of strangers requires us to receive its impact. In this story from Matthew, Jesus first acknowledges his identity as "the Son of Man [who] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him." There Christ is, reigning sovereign and savior of the world.
It is astounding, then, that in his very moment of glory Jesus identifies himself with the risky stranger - for strangers were seen as threats to a religion of purity and a nation oppressed by empire. The sovereign Jesus says starkly, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me..."
The savior is stranger, the stranger is savior. To welcome one is to welcome the other. It is an astounding statement.
Clearly the dominant urging from our long faith tradition is hospitality, equality, care for and identification with the stranger. Those are the constant commands of our God, the one who came as a stranger in our midst and with whom we are "strangers and foreigners on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13b).
This is the God who, in Jesus Christ, welcomes and transforms us all so we are "no longer strangers and aliens" but "citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God."
As our nation struggles with immigration issues and the enduring sins of racism, sexism, homophobia and the chasm between rich and poor; and as the nations of the world engage one another across hostile lines, we who follow Jesus, the stranger-savior, have an urgent mission to live this stranger life with him.
The opportunities set themselves before us in diverse ways, great and small - from learning to greet our neighbors in a second language to giving sanctuary to the refugee, as several UCC congregations from New York to California are doing.
One of the last references to strangers in the biblical canon (Hebrews 13:1-2) gives a final encouragement for our stranger encounters: "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."
Or all the more, we may encounter Jesus himself, our stranger-savior.
The Rev. Jane Fisler Hoffman is interim Conference Minister of the Southern California / Nevada Conference.
No longer a stranger: Welcoming the exile
For almost sixty years, thousands of refugees from all over the world have been resettled by hundreds of UCC churches participating in Refugee Ministries. The UCC Refugee Ministries has been reaching out to refugees helping them start anew and advocating for their safety and fair treatment.
Refugees are people who have fled their countries due to war and persecution. Most refugees prefer to return home, but it is often too dangerous because of ongoing conflict and unrest. Some languish in refugee camps for a decade or more. Others remain in neighboring countries. Some seek asylum in the U.S. on their own, taking great risks, facing the dangers and despair of detention or deportation.
There are more than 21 million refugees in the world today. Three-fourths of the world's refugees are women and children. Another 44 million people are internally displaced within the borders of their own countries due to civil war or other conflicts. Less than one percent of refugees have the opportunity to resettle in North America, Australia or Europe.
Through UCC Refugee Ministries, this mass of suffering humanity becomes a name, a face, a person made known to ordinary church folk who have made an extraordinary commitment to help refugees begin a new life in the United States.
In 2007, we invited church folk to share their stories about refugee resettlement with us. We were delighted by the enthusiastic response to our request. In our preparation of the Refugee Journal: Telling the Story of UCC Refugee Ministries we received over 110 stories.
It is now our challenge and joy to find meaningful ways to share these stories as we uplift the rich legacy of UCC Churches faithful action in response to God's call to "welcome the stranger" and love the sojourner. Listen as we share scripture and excerpts from their stories.
"Peace, peace to the far and the near, says the Lord and I will heal them."
"There are millions of people who need our hospitality. A resettlement with us means a new life for refugees and a hope of achieving peace and stability in their lives."
Ed Ballam, First Congregational Church, Haverhill, NH
"We came because for 4 years there was a war in our country. One day, I came home from work and our house was on fire. Semsudin was in a concentration camp for 6 months. We lived in Serb territory and were not safe. We moved to Croatia. In Croatia we contacted refugee ministry."
Suvada Tahirovic, from Bosnia in CT.
"It began with a request one Sunday in the fall of 2002 for people to... help with refugee resettlement. I,[answered the] call and embarked on a journey. Our first task was to acquire, through donations, suitable household goods and furniture. It is a little daunting to attempt to ?decorate' for someone you don't know with donated goods. The prevailing thought was to make it seem like home. After several weeks of planning, sorting and moving we were amazed at what a lovely apartment had been assembled.
Edwina Gower, First Plymouth Congregational, Lincoln, NE.
"The stranger has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the traveler..."
"What a powerful experience for those of us waiting on the other side with open arms and open hearts. The culture shock, stress, and confusion was evident in their tear-stained faces. They had endured so much, and carried the deep burden of not knowing whether their parents had survived. Those stressed faces now carry broad smiles."
Sue Robert, East Congregational, UCC, Grand Rapids, MI.
"There were so many people waiting for us - like family - it was as if they knew us."
Regina Conton from Sierra Leone resettled in CT
"(Naik) and Naseem were very sweet, however so emaciated that I felt like I was hugging skeletons with skin. Their eyes betrayed a sense of unspoken tragedy. Naik was very disoriented and had something wrong with her eye. However, when Naseem smiled it was like watching the sun come out after a rainstorm."
Kate Carmell, St. Paul's UCC, Seattle, WA.
"...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing..."
"Although refugee resettlement takes time and energy, it is a gratifying way for people to give. Those who resettle refugees form close relationships with each other, strengthening the church."
Rev. David Kratz, Fauntleroy UCC, Seattle, WA.
"It was a joy, the first Sunday after their arrival, having our "family" attend our church to meet all of us who were working to make their beginning here in the U.S. a good experience."
Cliff and Bobbie Burnett, First Congregational, Kent, CT.
"They slip ever so innocently into our very lives. We share clothing, furniture, hopes and dreams with them. We take them for shots, dental appointments, visits to the social security office, the local schools, we find them jobs - we share pictures that are then mailed back to their former homeland. We listen with love as they tell of leaving family and homes behind to begin the frightening venture of starting from square one in adopting a new home. They will be our friends for life."
Rev. Alfred K. Schwerdt, Immanuel UCC, Shillington, PA
"We feel like birds freed from a cage."
Semsudin Tahirovic, Bosnian resettled in CT
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."
"Our lives have truly been blessed as we continue to learn about their Bosnian culture and their Muslim faith. Two different cultures and two different faiths, but we still have a lot in common!!! The world gets a whole lot smaller when you grow to know people from different walks of life. I thank God every day for bringing us the Tahirovic's. We have learned so much from them and are grateful for their lasting friendship."
Betsy Levesque, First Congregational, Kent, CT
"The families are dear to the hearts of sponsors and have taught us valuable lessons never to be forgotten. We are awed by the courage, creativity and determination shown by these once homeless people. Their ability to overcome anxiety and disappointment, the loss of homeland and culture, their sense of fun and joy in special moments speak to us of grace and challenge our faith.
Fran Stiles, Mountain Rise UCC, Rochester, NY
"In two years, this African family which arrived in our country with three duffel bags containing all their belongings, studied English, learned about a vastly different culture, took difficult jobs, learned to drive, bought cars, and their first house! The process comes full circle as the children now attend the same schools as my children and they have become true peers, not "sponsors" and "refugees."
Rae Hunter-Pirtle, First Plymouth Congregational, Lincoln, NE.
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens but you are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God."
It is our hope and prayer that these powerful stories will stay with you. Please help us to interpret this work with refugees. We have some wonderful new resources to help you do that.
II. One way we invite you to help support and interpret Refugee Ministries, is to share:
The Refugee Journal: Telling the Story of UCC Refugee MInistries, and our new video In the Eyes of a Stranger which is under nine minutes. For youth we have The Uprooted Game. These are available upon request. The video will be available from conference resource centers in February. We encourage you to lift up refugees in connection with the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. Share a minute for mission, using these stories. Share them with Sunday School classes.
III. A Challenge we place before you:
Become an advocate for refugees. Join the UCC Take Action network. Send letters to your representatives about refugees.
Locate a Church World Service affiliate in your area and make contact with them. Learn about refugee resettlement in your community.