The flow of refugees to Europe may have been curtailed in the past month, but it never even started to North America. This has frustrated many in the United States and Canada who have witnessed the crisis from a distance. At the same time, immigration, especially to the United States, has become a contentious political issue.
“While Native American populations have lived in North America for millennia, the rest of us are the descendants of immigrants,” said Charles Wiley III, coordinator of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s office of Theology and Worship. “But more than just being immigrants, we have embraced our migrations. It is important for us to recognize that immigration is not a new phenomenon but integral to our very history from the very beginning.”
Understanding the foundations upon which their churches have been built (and through which many still grow), WCRC member denominations and their congregations continue to respond to both the justice issues and practical needs in a variety of ways. Below are just a few examples.
An ecumenical group in upstate New York used an already existing connection to a congregation in Germany to send money for the German-based “Bicycles For Refugees” programme.
“People donate used and broken bikes, and the group finds parts to repair them and work with the refugees,” Lyn Barrett, a retired minister with the United Church of Christ, told The Sun, of Elizabethtown, New York. “They train the refugees in the repair and care of the bikes, along with teaching them traffic laws in Germany.” Barrett said the need for bikes is great, especially in some of the small towns where the refugees are being relocated to in Germany. “In these towns, there is no public transportation, so these bikes are vital,” she said.
Reformed Church America congregations in New York, Iowa and elsewhere decided to contribute to buying food and winter fuel for Syrian refugees in Turkey. This money was sent through Syriac Orthodox and Turkish Protestant congregations in the southeast of Turkey. Other RCA congregations in New York, Michigan and elsewhere support Waldensian-related refugee work in the south of Italy.
The Christian Reformed Church in North America’s “Immigrants Are a Blessing Not a Burden” campaign empowers individuals and congregations to change the conversation about immigrants in the U.S. and Canada. The CRC’s Office of Social Justice and WorldRenew, the CRC’s relief and development arm, partner on this programme which provides resources, workshops and advocacy materials to its congregations.
“Immigration is a very real issue in communities such as ours,” said Kelsey Herbert of Sunnyside Christian Reformed Church in Sunnyside, Washington. “There are those in Sunnyside that are there without legal status and have a real fear of being deported. There are also employers who are in fear of losing workers and friends.”
“I value the friendships that the refugee families sponsored through my church have offered to me and have been blessed by them,” said Van Stempvoort, who is member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Chatham, Ontario.
Shadow Rock United Church of Christ, in Phoenix, Arizona, both advocates for immigration reform and provides physical sanctuary for two men.
“If someone breaks the law by crossing our borders without authorization, permission or legal status they are a criminal regardless of circumstances. Such an approach is simplistic and punitive and does not reflect our values as Americans or people of faith and conscience,” said Ken Heintzelman, pastor of Shadow Rock.
“I am working through all the legitimate channels available to raise awareness and advocate for immigration reform,” Heintzelman said. “However, in those circumstances when people’s lives are on the line, I will push the boundaries and appeal to the higher moral law of our faith.”
The United Church of Canada (UCC) has long coordinated a refugee sponsorship programme through a formal agreement with the Canadian government. In 2015, the Canadian government asked the UCC to sponsor 700 refugees, and the UCC asked its congregations to help. Annual costs to a congregation begin at 12,600 Canadian dollars for an individual and grow to more than 30,000 for a family.
“No one chooses to be a refugee,” said Alexa Gilmour of Windemere United Church. “We’re all made in the image of God, and God’s children need support now.”
The Reformed Church of Highland Park, New Jersey, is a proud participant in the “Take Ten Campaign,” a project of the Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Coalition of Highland Park and New Brunswick. The campaign was created to help tackle the growing global refugee crisis by starting at the local level. The coalition is committed to helping newly arriving refugees during their initial transition in the United States, calling on its local community and communities throughout New Jersey to “Take Ten” refugee families from the Middle East and North Africa, and commit to resettling at least 10 families in each town. This Inter-faith coalition also calls on the U.S. government to accept 100,000 refugee families from Middle Eastern and North African conflicts.
“We’re resolutely committed to getting families set up here as quickly as we can,” said Seth Kaper-Dale, pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park.