"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
When I was in high school, my church – St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona, -- was a participant in the Sanctuary Movement. Sanctuary helped people who were on death lists in countries like El Salvador get across the border illegally and find safety in the United States. Occasionally when we were over at the rectory for youth group there would be some of these people. Sometimes they would play a guitar and sing. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak more Spanish than to ask where the library was (not quite conversational), so that was the extent of our relationship.
Three years ago this June, I was living in Accra, Ghana and went with a Liberian friend, her cousin, and one of my students (Mackinnon Webster) to the Buduburam refugee camp (you can read my old blog entries about it here). I stumbled onto an Episcopal Church and school there and met a seminarian named Eddie Hennings … a Liberian refugee who was starting his theological education and hoped to come to serve that congregation (All Souls) if and when he was ordained. They not only had no priest, they had no money for one.
We raised about $2,700 for All Souls and they took that small amount of money and built a computer training center from the ground up (the dollar can go a long way in Ghana) so that children and adults alike could get computer skills to make them more employable. Eddie and I have stayed in touch ever since.
There are more than 12 million refugees in the world today … and that number is WAY soft. And that’s not counting the millions more of “internally displaced persons” (IDPs)– who cannot be classified as refugees because they have not crossed a border but whose lives are often in greater peril because they have no protection from the persecution they are fleeing.
Refugees, IDPs and asylum seekers are probably the most vulnerable people on earth. In our country, we put them in detention centers that are basically prisons – where they can remain without processing for decades. They cannot go back where they came from and the people and governments where they are don’t want them. Even as a rising generation that is increasingly interconnected, globalization, the internet and increased travel are making national boundaries more permeable, increasingly rigid and xenophobic immigration laws and policies are turning many nations – including our own – into gated communities in the global village. And refugees are, as the vulnerable usually are, the ones most adversely affected.
That the Millennium Development Goals fail to mention refugees is not surprising. They are the world’s invisible people – so why should this be any different. And yet many live in the same kind of poverty the MDGs strive to address.
The programmatic highlight of today was a “group discussion” (praise God – an ACTUAL discussion with many people taking part) led by Richard Parkins of Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Rt. Rev. Ian George, an Australian bishop who works on refugees for the Anglican Communion. EMM does amazing work in refugee resettlement and political advocacy here in America, but still can only scratch the surface of the problem. The Anglican Communion, seemingly well-positioned as a global network to share information and resources about refugees can’t get its act together. Repeated messages from Bishop George to all the primates to help form the most basic of networks have yielded responses from only half of them.
This is an area where we really could make a difference – not only for current refugees and more just immigration policies – but because refugee crises are always preceded by human rights abuses, the Communion could potentially function as an excellent “early warning system” and mobilize resources to try to stop the crises before they happen.
If I hadn’t been raised in a Sanctuary parish, if I hadn’t gone to Ghana, it’s very likely I wouldn’t have any clue the degree of the refugee problem in the world – or the incredible vulnerability these people face. And all over our country – including in St. Louis – refugees who have been fortunate enough to have made it through the Herculean resettlement process face enormous challenges integrating into society and functioning even on a subsistence level.
And yet they are right there in our communities – and they are a gift to the rest of the Body. They are a gift for what they bring to the table as the people of God. They are a gift for their stories and experiences – stories that can open our ears, eyes and hearts to the lives of people who are invisible to the world. Stories that can help us wake up to the call the Archbishop of Canterbury drew out of scripture for us – a call to create a world where nobody is invisible.
| Mike at 3/11/2007 12:23:00 PM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."