Why We Welcome


The ‘Why We Welcome’ series, launched during Advent 2019, asks the United Church of Christ churches around the country to answer the question: Why do we welcome refugees and asylum seekers? As the U.S. government slashes the number of refugees allowed to enter the country and turns away those desperately seeking asylum at our borders, God’s word made flesh in Christ continues to be lived and spoken boldly through God’s children and their commitment to welcome.


  Marge from First Congregational Church- preview-full-BAby_and_me.JPGIn August of 2018, I was able to visit the border between Arizona and Nogales Mexico. It was there that I met a family of four seeking asylum. In January of 2019, that family arrived in Massachusetts to seek asylum here. Though our church initiated and agreed to support them, I realized we needed a large network of people and sought the help of other churches, synagogues, and individuals to be sure we had the structure needed to take on this ministry.    This family is not safe in their home country; yet could easily be returned there by a government that doesn’t really care about them. They have had to learn to navigate a system that is foreign to them in so many ways. And yet their faith continues to hold them and keep them positive about their future. The mom helps others facing the same or even greater adversity in whatever way she can, sharing child sitting, food, companionship.  Asylum accompaniment is not a journey to be taken lightly. It requires coordination, money, and people willing to be flexible with their time and energy. Yet, it is minimal compared with what our immigrant neighbors have faced getting here. It is also important to realize it doesn’t stop. The asylum process is one of the years, not months.  But, I have learned that there is always enough. Individuals just step up either moved by the holy spirit, by their own faith tradition, or by hearing the story and being touched and overwhelmed by it. The network continues to grow ever wider as friends and relatives become connected. When one person needs a break another is able to take on more.  As with all things that require a large number of resources, I have met remarkable, caring joyful people who want to be a part of something that is in some small way changing the narrative to emphasize the good that is within us and that the immigrant among us offers.    What drives me and those with whom I work are the stories of adversity, faith, joy, and sadness: laughing with a three-year-old as he learns to trust the adults around him; helping a 17-year-old navigate the perils of being a teenager while struggling with so many things we can’t imagine; walking with a mom as she practices her English and pushes forward to give her family a safe place to be never knowing what will happen in the end.    People deserve to have a chance to live in safety and without fear. Who are we to say they don’t belong here? And, how dare we defy the very essence of Christ’s presence among us. Feed the hungry, help the oppressed, care for others, are not optional they are the very, meaning of what it is to be a Christian or, for that matter, a human being sharing the planet with others. Others are able to do legislative work or participate in large protests. I am able to help families and individuals and so that is what I do.  


    Kim H. North Congregational United Church of Christ Columbus, Ohio   When the opportunity to provide sanctuary, and later asylum accompaniment, was presented to our congregation by a member, we knew nothing about doing this ministry. Our discernment process had to be quick as we were presented with a very immediate need.  We had a great deal of work to do, had never done this type of ministry in the past and had a high learning curve.  I remember saying in a meeting as we were discerning:  “At some point, we need to give this to God and trust.  It is the right thing to do.”     I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that there have also been challenges along the way.  We have needed to learn to work together as a group of volunteers in a way that we have not before.  This work is very different than any of the other work I have ever experienced in my 24 plus years on boards, in leadership and community outreach with our congregation.  It takes weekly meetings, learning, research, planning, trial and error, fundraising and a great deal of outreach within the congregation for assistance as well as outside the congregation.   preview-lightbox-NCUCC_sign.jpgI, as well as our congregation, have been blessed by doing this ministry in so many ways.  We have formed lifelong relationships with our sanctuary guest and her family and are doing the same with our asylum family.  We have made connections with local congregations and individuals that we would not have otherwise made a connection with. I believe we are called as a faith community to share the truth about immigrants and their reality.  My hope is that by educating the public it will grow support, change and ultimately replace fear with acceptance.  We are ALL children of God and should be treated with equality and respect.   I recently saw this quote by Jimmy Carter that resonated with me and I feel is a great approach for each of us as we journey: “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something …My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”      Peace to you during this advent season.   


“On the second Sunday of Advent, Alison B. of Williston Immanuel United Church in Portland, ME shares her reflection on Why We Welcome. To read more about Williston-Immanuel United Church’s work with refugees and asylum seekers, see this article in United Church News. https://www.ucc.org/news_churches_around_maine_welcome_asylum_seekers_from_africa_in_varied_ways_07192019“Why do we welcome? Let me count the ways…   1.  We welcome because we can. 2.  We welcome because it is the right thing to do. 3.  We welcome because these are our neighbors. Refugees and asylum seekers live near us, and Christianity is very much about the community. The flip side is that we are also their neighbors, and neighbors take care of neighbors. 4.  We welcome because Jesus built bridges, not walls. 5.  We welcome because a committed group of volunteers meets God each time we are able to meet our sisters and brothers where they are on their journeys. 6.  We welcome this way because we understand this to be radical hospitality. 7.  We welcome because we recognize that when Europeans first came to these shores, they came with Bibles and weapons, not immigration papers. When the African-born first came, it was as enslaved people. We may have a small impact on the larger debate of reparations and immigration, but we can do justice by sharing today, affirming the dignity of every human being.  We welcome because this congregation commits 10% of its pledges to outreach. Our denominations have supported our work at both the regional and national levels, as have numerous people and groups across the community and country. As those who do this work have talked passionately about it, those who hear reply with their checkbooks. 9.  We welcome because we believe in an abundantly loving God who will continue to provide for us even as we provide for others. 10.  We welcome because doing so has so richly blessed us. The world has come to us through the lives of these incredibly strong, courageous and faithful people. Not only are they inspirational. They give us insight as to how fortunate we are in this country. 11.  We welcome because we are the church, a universal symbol of hope for the downtrodden, the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. We choose to stand strong. 12.  We welcome because Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” We follow his lead.”  


  Amanda Sheldon is the national Program Associate for Refugee and Asylum Ministries and Disaster Ministries with the United Church of Christ.   IMG_8280.JPGToday is my birthday, and as I reflect on my blessings over the past year, I can’t help but count my new friendship with a father-son duo my church family and I have fondly come to refer to as ‘The Joses’. This past September, I received an urgent call from a community liaison staff person at an elementary school, asking if I knew of any resources that could help a little boy who had missed nearly a month of classes and who had recently arrived in the community with his father, both asylum seekers. The little boy refused to ride the bus to school or be in the classroom without his father sitting next to him. He almost never spoke, and neither he nor his father understood a word of English. If his father so much as left to use the restroom, the little boy would dissolve into a panic, crying, and would frantically run out of the classroom trying to find his father. The father was beside himself, distraught over how to care for and support his son, dealing with his own trauma from their journey out of Central America and unsure of how to navigate a country he’d never known and couldn’t understand. Was there anything I could do? Alone, maybe. With God and my church family behind me, absolutely.   I knew I couldn’t solve all of the Joses’ problems, but I could be with them as they shared their concerns and questions and direct them to others in our community who could help with specific needs. Who could drive them to an appointment? Who could help them with rent money? Who could do extra English tutoring? I couldn’t heal the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical trauma of their journey or the reasons they had to flee, nor could I cure the deep ache of sadness that comes with being separated from family they were forced to leave behind, but I could be with them and listen to the words their hearts wanted to speak. If they didn’t know who or how to ask for help here, I did. And we could pray together. What inspired me and deepened my own faith was how profoundly the Joses are grateful to God for what they have, and how much they continue to rely on God for guidance and sustenance after all they have endured. When I begin to lose faith – in humanity, in our nation, in God’s plan – the Joses are the ones who spiritually instruct and guide *me* back to hope. They are my spiritual teachers, and they are my friends.   The instruction to provide welcome, equal treatment, hospitality and care for ‘the stranger’ throughout the Bible is clear, repeated and serious. The biblical basis for providing care for those who need it and who are in a strange land is rock solid, no question. But it’s the way in which God continues to speak to me through strangers who become friends, the way those new friends bless our community and enrich my heart and the way that Christ is continually revealed to me in this ministry that keeps me engaged. Little Jose is now enjoying his classes at school, and I’ve seen Big Jose’s eyes fill with tears talking about the transformation he’s seen in his son. I don’t know if they will be granted asylum. I don’t know what their future will hold. But my church asked me over and over again growing up, ‘if not you, then who?’ until I finally said ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me.’ So I’m here. And that is why I welcome it. The blessings are ours to reap – the Joses’, mine, our community, our nation and yours.  


Our first story is from Todd T.

77179432_3078586625491202_7713361251836887040_n.jpgGrace Immanuel United Church of Christ is a welcoming sort of place, so it’s no surprise the congregation extends its welcome worldwide with a 20-year history of co-sponsoring refugee families with Kentucky Refugee Ministries. It’s a gratifying, hands-on way to practice Christian principles — with the bonus of making new friends that will no doubt broaden your world view.

Welcoming refugees, especially with language and cultural barriers, can certainly be outside your comfort zone. But forging through those fears of the unknown is worth it when you make connections to people who have often fled war, violence and the difficulties of refugee camps. Helping refugees clear the hurdles and challenges of a new country — from things as difficult as government bureaucracy to something as simple as instructing them about mass transit — is always a rewarding experience.

Assisting the refugee program is something literally everyone in the congregation can help with. From gathering items to furnish homes to outfitting a new kitchen to donating money to hauling furniture to providing a welcoming smile at the airport, our congregation rallies around each co-sponsorship with everyone playing a role. To see everyone pull in the same direction is a faith-building and relationship-building exercise that strengthens the church every time.

Welcoming refugees, especially with language and cultural barriers, can certainly be outside your comfort zone. But forging through those fears of the unknown is worth it when you make connections to people who have often fled war, violence and the difficulties of refugee camps. Helping refugees clear the hurdles and challenges of a new country — from things as difficult as government bureaucracy to something as simple as instructing them about mass transit — is always a rewarding experience.