The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) together with the Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP) encourages churches to participate in the upcoming World Refugee Sunday with the theme “Embrace”. Observed this year on June 20 and 27, World Refugee Sunday offers an opportunity to highlight the plight of refugees, pray for and with them and consider the unique role churches can play to respond to the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of those who were forcibly displaced from their homes.
In just one decade, the number of refugees and displaced people in the world has doubled to 80 million people. Every single day, 30,000 people are newly uprooted. During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, displaced people all over the world have also been at heightened risk of contracting the virus, having to live in overcrowded conditions without access to basic sanitation. Countries have tightened their borders, which has further restricted the refugee resettlements that had already been challenging.
Amid these challenges, the Church is uniquely positioned to welcome the stranger, serve their needs and share the hope of the Gospel.
This year’s World Refugee Sunday focuses on the Christian calling to embrace those who are excluded, just as Jesus received the outcast. For thousands of years, the leper community has been avoided by society (Leviticus 13:45-46), but Jesus didn’t shy away from embracing and healing them. When John the Baptist’s disciples approached him to find out whether he was the one they had been waiting for, Jesus replied, “Go back to John. Tell him what you have seen and heard. Blind people receive sight. Disabled people walk. Those who have skin diseases are healed. Deaf people hear. Those who are dead are raised to life. And the good news is preached to those who are poor.” (Luke 7:20-23) This same calling is for his disciples today, also in relation to other people excluded from society, such as refugees.
Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been discouraged from the loving gestures of hugging, shaking hands or even going closer to others. In a world where we are asked to “distance” ourselves from one another in order to protect one another, what does it look like to embrace the excluded?
The Bible is full of refugee stories and gives believers a clear mandate to care for the stranger. Although refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people are among the world’s most vulnerable people, they are also people created in God’s image, holding great potential to be the building blocks and contributors to the societies into which they reintegrate.
The Church has a critical and unique role to play when it comes to engaging the global refugee crisis. For what local community is better suited to helping people survive and recover from forced displacement than a church? At her best, a local church is a supportive, welcoming, and healing community that offers life-giving faith in the God who sees, hears, and cares for us. We are to be communities that reflect the image of God to others – especially to the marginalized and vulnerable in the world.
Churches and Christian communities can do what humanitarian agencies and social services cannot — rehumanize refugees and asylum seekers while helping them integrate into their new context. Such work is central to our mission and plays to the natural strengths of a healthy church.
“World Refugee Sunday is a great opportunity for churches to reflect on the pain of 80 million forcibly displaced people, driven from their homes by violence, war, conflict, climate events or even simply because of their ethnic identity or their faith convictions. . As leaders of the Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP), we dream of a day when this day of focused prayer leads to a global movement of churches and Christians actively partnering for change – praying, advocating and serving together, with refugee churches, believers and many others. Please, Lord!” commented the RHP leaders, including Raghu Balachandran (South Asia) Joe Bonga (Africa), Kaisa Golding (Oceania), James Grunau (N. America), Maran Maayah (Middle East), Jim Olang (Africa), Jose Prado (Latin America), Jude Simion (Oceania), Chris Woodruff (for South East Asia) and Gordon Showell-Rogers.
Having been engaged in the area of refugees for years, the WEA is now preparing the launch of a new network that will be broader in focus to take into account the many facets of migration and the related opportunities and challenges.
WEA Secretary General Bishop Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher commented: “I have commissioned our Public Engagement Department to establish a wide-reaching Refugee, Migration, Diaspora Network to acknowledge that this issue does not only concern many of our own people but a growing number of fellow humans. God’s love does not know national boundaries, so I hope that our prayers and attention on World Refugee Sunday will accelerate and galvanize the launching of this new network with much wisdom and grace.”
To learn more how to participate and to find helpful resources for World Refugee Sunday, visit: https://wrs.worldea.org/