Reflection: Refugee Resettlement as a Social Justice Mission in The Jesus Movement
By Wendy Grace
Our Presiding Bishop, the shining beacon for “The Jesus Movement,” implores us quite regularly to become active in mission. Our Diocesan Bishop also leads by example. Our little Diocese of Vermont has its moments of might in mission! I’ve been witness to this in my role as parish coordinator at Trinity Church in Rutland. One of the forefront issues of social justice in our current lives is that of refugee resettlement in the United States. Since news broke that the city of Rutland was seeking to become a refugee resettlement site, I’ve received many calls from congregations in our Diocese expressing interest in helping out. And most want to DO something, not just donate money (although that will never be refused). I rather fear in those early days I was not very helpful. But since then, I’ve learned much and have this to share with you.
There is so much information available from so many perspectives, and this article speaks only of three organizations and their suggestions—Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (the active agent for resettlement in Vermont), The Episcopal Church Migration Ministries (because we ARE the Episcopal Church) and Foundation Cristosal (which was founded in Vermont and continues to have ties with our Diocese).
Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP)
VRRP is a field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. But don’t be confused—VRRP is a private organization and not part of the federal government. It is funded by the government, but relies significantly upon the efforts and donations of private citizens and volunteers. VRRP received word from the State Department that Rutland has been approved as a welcoming community for refugee resettlement and is proceeding in its efforts. There are things that neighboring or even more distant communities can do to help:
- Learn the truth about the world-wide refugee crisis. One of the biggest myths being perpetuated by fearful ignorance is that welcoming refugees is tantamount to welcoming terrorists. The fact is, the single hardest way to enter into another country is as a refugee. This FAQ sheet can get you started: <http://refugees.org/explore-the-issues/refugees-facts/https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states. Share what you learn!
- Join Rutland Welcomesto learn about the different committees and the tasks each has taken on.
- Visit the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program website (http://refugees.org/field-office/vermont/) for suggestions and resources. Here, you can learn about what volunteers need to do in order to work directly with refugee families.
The Episcopal Church Migration Ministry
Recently, I’ve had conversations with some folks at The Episcopal Church Migration Ministry about the refugee crisis and how people who are not in our immediate community can be active and involved in welcoming new neighbors. I spoke with Lacy Broemel, who is the Refugee and Migration Analyst for the Office of Government Relations in The Episcopal Church. Her office works directly with the US government on developing policy and advocacy concerning migration issues. Here are some suggestions Ms. Broemel offered:
- Check out the website for the Episcopal Church’s refugee advocacy where you can find information and resources: http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/RefugeeAdvocacy
- Visit Refugees are Welcome site for action ideas, such as hosting a “welcome dinner party”, conducting a donation drive, or other event http://www.refugeesarewelcome.org/welcoming-resources/
- Participate in the National Refugee Advocacy Call: Congress recently passed a continuation on the appropriations bill to fund refugee resettlement programs in order to place the 85,000 that the US has committed to placing in 2016. However, the commitment next year, for 2017, is 110,000 and the current appropriations will not cover that commitment. Furthermore, the continuation expires on December 9, so Congress must act on this issue by then. There is opposition, as expected, to increasing funding to refugee resettlement. Our voices need to be heard by our Congressmen as they consider the appropriations bill for refugee resettlement. There will be a National Refugee Advocacy Call: 12pm EST Friday, October 28. Please join refugees, volunteers, refugee resettlement staff, community supporters, and advocates for a National Refugee Advocacy Call at 12:00pm on Friday, October 28th. This call will focus on the urgent need to advocate for additional funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement; updates on the resettlement program in Texas; and preparing for the upcoming election, transition of administrations, and refugee legislation on the state level. Please RSVP here (https://goo.gl/forms/3gFj9C329zKRSOh83) to participate in the call. Call-in information and the link to the visual portion of the call will be emailed to you in advance of the call.
Bear in mind that the current world-wide refugee crisis is not limited to the Syrians! Another conversation I had with Jim Lochhead, the new Resource Development Coordinator at Cristosal, discussed the refugee situation in El Salvador. Cristosal, which had its birth right here in Vermont, is a human rights NGO in El Salvador that works to protect displaced Salvadorans and speaks world-wide to the plight of Central American refugees. In my conversation with Jim, he offered these suggestions for action:
- Pray for displaced families who have become one of the over 65 million refugees world-wide. There are more refugees now than ever before—including during WWII. Less than 1% of them will be resettled.
- Learn more about Cristosal, its goals and mission and how to become involved. Visit the Cristosal website (http://www.cristosal.org) or contact one of the two representatives in Vermont: Rev. Todd McKee, toddAmckee@firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a presentation with your parish.
- Donate to support the efforts of Cristosal. It costs an average of $6,000 to accompany one family from start to safety and includes life-saving emergency protection, medical and legal assistance and resettlement assistance. http://www.cristosal.org/get-involved#give
- Experience what Cristosal does by visiting El Salvador through a one of Cristosal’s Global School trip. We will be organizing another Diocesan trip in the not-too-distant future and if you’d like to learn more about it, please speak with Rev. Todd McKee or me, Wendy Grace.
As I said, these are just a few resources to help your congregation get started in this area of mission. I am a delegate to Diocesan Convention this year, so I will be around on both Friday, November 4, and Saturday, November 5. Please find me and share with me your interest and ideas!
About the Author
Wendy Grace is a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Rutland, Vermont.