World Evangelical Alliance asked me to draft a statement for the Global Forum on Migration and Development, facilitated by Churches Witnessing With Migrants (CWWM) in Quito Ecuador later this month.
WEA Statement for the Global Forum on Migration and Development of Churches Witnessing With Migration
Quito, Ecuador | 2 November 2019
by Thomas Albinson
We live at a time in which uprooted people are often denied their dignity along with many human rights. They are increasingly portrayed by media and politicians as a threat to national and personal security rather than as vulnerable people in need of safety. In many places they are even denied freedom of movement. This has been the case for so long now that many consider it to be normal.
No one contests the fact that solutions to forced displacement are failing the vast majority of refugees as they are not able to return to their countries of origin or integrate into their countries of refuge or given opportunity to resettle to a third country.
As a Somali woman asylum seeker recently put it, “Place has been stolen from me.” And when a human has no place, they are left to inhabit spaces in which they have little to no influence over their own well- being. Their lives are defined by restrictions and must be lived on the terms of others upon whom they depend for their daily bread, water and shelter.
A Somali man in a refugee camp said, “I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I am human because everything around me says otherwise.”
These are some of the unacceptable realities that the CWWM Talking and Doing Points address. And while the Talking and Doing Points are not uniquely Christian, they are certainly consistent with Christian faith and provide helpful common ground with others serving refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people.
Although many do not realize it, local communities of faith are strategically equipped to help people survive and recover from forced displacement in ways that compliment the critical work of humanitarian response agencies. While NGOs do remarkable work that saves lives, they are not well equipped to strengthen hope and re-humanize the people they serve. Such work plays to the strengths of local churches, whether they are embedded in refugee populations or in the surrounding host community.
A growing number of churches are recognizing their unique ability to offer at least five critical contributions that play an important role in helping people survive and recover from forced displacement in ways that affirm dignity and strengthen hope.
First, when churches are at their best, they are welcoming and supportive communities that affirm the dignity of others, especially of those who are marginalized and vulnerable. And while this includes extending hospitality and offering practical help, to be truly life-giving we must also receive hospitality and help from refugees.
Second, churches affirm and share the life-giving worldview that God is good and that he loves us so much that he put on flesh and walked among us – a reality that profoundly reveals the love of God and affirms the dignity of humans – including those who are vulnerable and marginalized. For Christ did not only dwell among us, he did so as a disadvantaged and oppressed minority in an occupied country. Soon after his birth, he was forced to flee to another country with his family. God became a refugee. This suffering and loss did not make him a lesser God or human. This is good news for all of us and especially for those who have been stripped of everything, including place.
Third, churches have potential to serve as healing communities that offer safe space to listen to our displaced friends unpack their stories of suffering, loss and trauma and to bring their lament before God in prayer.
Fourth, Churches are embedded within their local communities, filled with people of diverse capacities that can help refugees make helpful connections and learn skills needed to navigate their new context.
And fifth, churches are communities that offer displaced people opportunities to make a meaningful contribution to society – communities that recognize the displaced to be more than people in need. They are embraced as people who can make a valuable contribution and benefit to their faith community as well as to the rest of society.
As local churches live into these five inherent strengths, not only will we fulfill many of the Talking and Doing points, we will also increase the capacity of our countries to receive, welcome and integrate refugees into society.
Lest we think that such a vision is beyond what a local church can embrace, I want to point out that these five contributions were identified by observing the ways in which refugee churches keep hope alive in the midst of protracted displacement. They have shown us the way forward. Our part is to help local churches within the scope of our influence embrace this vision.
Perhaps this will help us answer the pressing question posed by Howard Thurman in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited.
“The masses of men live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them?” (p. 13)