30 Years of Hope

On the blog this week, we are sharing with you some introductory remarks that our Director, Kristine Bjerkaas Friesen, recently shared at a meeting as Refugee Services celebrates 30 years of welcoming refugees. We hope you are inspired!

Writer D.L. Mayfield shares these powerful words on welcome in a world where many are afraid:

“So let’s live like we are loved. Let us fixate on that, and I bet it will start to chip away at the great lies and fears we have swallowed whole. Be not afraid, the angels said, and they paved the way for a Savior who was himself a refugee–torn from his home, oppressed, beaten, ridiculed, and killed in a horrific way by the powers that be. A Christ who suffered what so many in the world suffer, who understands the temptation to fear, who loves in radical and unsafe ways, who asks nothing less of us, his followers.”

What do you think of when you hear the word “refugee”?

Has it changed in the recent weeks?

This year at MCC, we celebrate 30 years of doing the good work of welcoming refugees to MN. I wish we were celebrating in a much different environment than we are. For 30 years, we have collectively worked to make MN a place of welcome for the world’s most vulnerable and persecuted people, to associate the word “refugee” with thoughts of RESILIENCE, HOPE, LEADERS, CONTRIBUTORS, NEIGHBORS, COMMUNITY MEMBERS, TENANTS, EMPLOYEES, FRIENDS.

In our national dialogue, in the matter of just a few weeks, much of that work has been dismantled, so that now the word “refugee” is associated by many with the word “terrorist”. These weeks have been very disheartening for those who work each day to welcome new refugees to America.

There is a ferocious swirl of media and vitriol assaulting refugees and Muslims  – much of it focused on  refugees as possible threats to our national security – and it is hard for all of us to sift through it all. It felt important to pull out some of the layers to this conversation for closer consideration. There are big conversations to be had around these layers:

  • Response to a global humanitarian crisis the likes of which we have not seen since WWII
  • National security considerations
  • The process and structure of the US Refugee Admissions Program
  • The overall tradition of welcome in our nation and in MN

We thought it might be grounding today to go back to the basics of refugee resettlement; to start with some simple, clear information about the process and structure of the US resettlement program, which differs greatly from that of Europe or the other countries who are seeing such intense border crossing situations out of the Syrian crisis. (For more information about that process, click here).

The history of refugee resettlement in the US is written in the history of our faith communities. Following World War II, it was churches responding to the flood of European refugees, welcoming them to communities, assisting them, walking alongside them in their integration.

In the 1970’s, it was the same with refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

It was not until the Refugee Act of 1980 that resettlement was formalized into a federal structure and oversight, and the highly intricate mechanism that it is today. However, resettlement STILL happens in close coordination with faith groups and local communities.

This program has been part of the MCC since 1985, and that is no coincidence. As a public-private partnership, resettlement continues to rely on the welcome and engagement of people of faith to do the work of welcome.

As we celebrate 30 years of welcoming refugees at the Minnesota Council of Churches, we continue to set HOPE in that joint work moving forward.

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