I had hoped this week to write about my congregation's experience as hosts for a new refugee family.
We've had a team of about 35 volunteers working since the fall. We've gathered furniture, appliances, bedding, toiletries and kitchen essentials. We've filled a rented storage unit. We've got people eager to offer transportation, child care and translation support. We've set up basic cultural orientation for our volunteers. Partners from the Quaker Friends Meeting have joined us; they are going to supply the food needs.
We've all been pretty excited. We're ready. We're just waiting on our assignment from the State Department through our local non-profit partners Canopy NWA and the very competent national Lutheran Immigration Services network.
Now, everything is on hold. Our family is one of those affected by the president's recent order halting many refugees to the United States. As I write, I am encouraged by the possibility that courts will strike down the president's order as unconstitutional.
If like the other refugee families our sister congregations settled here before the order, our family has been working hard, too, starting their legal immigration probably around seven years ago. They fled genocide and rape and slavery. They've lived in refugee camps for around 15 years. They've been vetted by the United Nations and by the U.S. State Department, screened by the F.B.I. and Homeland Security, passed multiple background checks and multiple in-depth interviews. They've been examined for contagious diseases. The U.S. refugee screening is the most rigorous in the world.
Our refugee screening program must be working. Since the system was put in place nearly 50 years ago in the 1970's, no refugee has killed an American in a terrorist act. Not one. Since 9/11, only three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities, and two of those involved failed efforts to send weapons to Iraq, not plans to attack the U.S.
Three arrests out of 784,000 resettled refugees since 9/11. The chance of our family being a terrorist threat is about 0.00038 percent. They are victims, not threats. But they've been shut out. That doesn't make sense to me.
Those of us formed by the Bible know the central place refugees and immigrants play in our Scriptures. God called Abraham to leave his home and travel to a land that God would show him. Abraham was a stranger and an alien in Canaan, but was given a place to make his home. Abraham's grandson Jacob's family immigrated to Egypt to escape famine. There they were reunited with Joseph, who had found refuge after being sold into slavery. They settled as refugee immigrants in Egypt.
A few generations later, God heard the cries of the oppressed Hebrew immigrants in Egypt. God delivered them and punished their oppressors. In the Law that God gave to Moses, God said there shall be one law, the same law for the native and for the alien that resides among them. "You shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides 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." God instructed the Israelites to leave the edges of their vineyards and fields for the benefit of the poor and the alien. The practice of tithing was, in part, for resident aliens. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Malachi all reinforced the commandments to care for the alien.
The Holy Family -- Jesus, Mary and Joseph -- fled Bethlehem and became refugees in Egypt. In his Parable of the Nations, Jesus told us that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Jesus himself. Paul told the church in Rome that the mark of the true Christian is to extend hospitality to strangers. "Show hospitality to strangers," repeats the letter to the Hebrews, "for by doing that some have entertained angels."
Jesus summarized the entire Law simply: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. And when a lawyer asked him to define who my neighbor might be, he told a story about a foreigner befriending an unknown stranger.
This is the heritage our congregation inherits, and we wish to act upon it. We want to welcome a refugee family into our community.
"Fear not! Be not afraid!" the Scripture commands. I hope good people in the U.S. will resist the repeated messages of irrational fear. Maybe soon I can write a column about our new refugee friends. But not today.
Commentary on 02/07/2017
Print Headline: A welcome delayed