Grieving, Giving, Honoring: On World Relief and World Refugee Day
In April I was at a writing conference in Grand Rapids. I met a lovely young man who I connected with over our shared love of refugee communities. He works for World Relief, but told me that he expects to be let go sometime in the next six months. His story sounded familiar to me, having known people here in Portland who have been laid off from resettlement agencies in the last year or so, but I asked him to elaborate. His organization had already trimmed down to a bare-bones staff (in 2017 WR laid off 140 people and closed 5 offices alone), but there simply weren’t the funds anymore to support the work. The number of refugees allowed into the country had been capped by President Trump at 45,000--the lowest number since 1980, lower than the years directly after 9/11. And due to travel bans and other heightened restrictions, the US is set to resettle less than half that number in this fiscal year--22k--which constitutes a moral failing in a time of an unprecedented global refugee crisis.
With so few refugees coming in, there is no need (and no federal funding) to pay for the staff that has worked tirelessly in the past to help refugees rebuild their lives. Offices have already been closed, and staff members have already been let go (many of them former refugees themselves, in a cruel irony). This young man I was talking to knows this, he knows he will most likely lose his job soon. I looked at him, and asked the question which had been rolling around in my brain for the past few months: so when is the time exactly that we should start freaking out? He told me, softly and firmly: that time was a while ago. The US Refugee Resettlement program has effectively been dismantled, and it will take years, if not decades, for it to be rebuilt again.
His answer knocked the wind out of my sails. But sometimes we need to be shocked into action, don’t we?
As I live my life in a neighborhood filled with refugees and immigrants, I know how blessed I am. My friends from countries far away won the lottery, left behind everyone they knew and loved, were one of the precious few to make it through the arduous vetting process. They are miracles--miracles living their lives next to me, raising their children, face-timing with family in other countries, dropping plates of food off on my porch. They survived the ends of their worlds, and are working hard to create new ones on their own. But a few months ago when I was introduced to a new-to-me woman, a refugee from Afghanistan, I almost gasped. She was the first recent arrival I had met in over a year. For the past 13 years as I worked with refugees, there was always a steady trickle of newcomers in my life. Now, that stream had all but dried up. Recently I have had to come to terms with the fact that that the life I have built for myself might have irrevocably changed. I am scared, and I am mad. But most of all, I am grieving.
As my country continues to close the door to (or build a wall to separate) the most vulnerable, those who find themselves with a God-given desire to love our neighbor as ourselves--including the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner--are in a momentous time. While many (including myself!) can get stuck in a cycle of outrage and paralysis, there IS something we can do. While not everyone is as lucky as I am to have refugee friends and neighbors in their life, we can all work together to support those who are already here, and do our best to alleviate some of the pressure and damage of current policies and lack of funding for refugee resettlement agencies already in existence.
This is where you come in. World Relief is trying to fundraise the money they need to do the work of helping rebuild the lives of refugees. World Relief is one of the main faith-based refugee resettlement agencies in the US, and the work they do is incredibly valuable (it should be noted I have never worked for them, received anything from them, and am not being paid to say any of this--in fact, who knows if they even like what I am saying here!). I simply love this organization, and want to see the work they do (including political advocacy and teaching/training churches on the Biblical mandate to love the immigrant) continue long into the future.
World Relief is looking to raise $150,000 by June 20th (which also happens to be World Refugee Day). That is an enormous sum, and yet only a drop in the bucket to fund this vital work. I have committed to asking the people I love (including you, dear reader!) to raise $2,500 of that money. If you have ever enjoyed my writing, liked a picture of the meals my refugee friends make me (#commitmenttocelebration), or simply have felt the tug to somehow be involved in refugee care--this is your chance!
I know from past experience how generous people can be. I raise $1,000 in less than 24 hours for the kids at my daughter’s school few weeks ago, so I know this can be done. These funds will directly go towards supporting refugees in one of the most vulnerable stages of their lives. I think it would be awesome if more of us involved our kids in this endeavor to raise money, and talked about the importance of caring for the foreigner.
Here are a few ideas if you are short on cash:
- Go a week/month without buying coffee out
- Eat rice and beans once or twice a week until June 20th
- Do a small garage sale with all of that stuff you were planning on taking to goodwill!
- Host a bake sale with your kids (or go old-school and do a lemonade stand!)
- Take the summer to pause some sort of membership (the gym, or netflix, or hulu) and figure out fun ways to exercise/entertain yourself instead
Every little bit helps. Would you consider donating $5, $10, $25, $50 dollars? I have never done a fundraiser like this before and I hope I don’t have to do it again! But the sooner we raise our goal the sooner I will stop posting about it on social media :) CLICK HERE TO DONATE NOW.
As an added bonus--if anyone feels like setting a fundraising goal/campaign of their own for World Relief (click here if that’s you)--I will send the first five people to set up an account a copy of my book, Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith. Just message me a link to your campaign, and I will get it to you!
Here’s a short list of links to read up more on the issue. Read, pray, and donate!
- US Refugee Resettlement Program has been nearly dismantled, Advocates say.
- Information on the recent closure of dozens of resettlement agencies
- Wonderful piece in the NYTimes by Matthew Soerens, director of church mobilization for World Relief, from January.
- Get mad, get sad, and then donate: The group least likely to think the US has a responsibility to accept refugees? Evangelicals.
- The president of the International Rescue Committee shows how strategic and cruel the Trump Administration has been with dismantling the US refugee program.
- And here’s just one example of the advocacy work that World Relief has done in order to change the tide of Christian opinions on the moral and Biblical call to help resettle refugees.
The time for freaking out it over. The time for action is now. Please donate whatever you can--and share this campaign with others. You will be helping my neighbors, and your neighbors--both near and far.