Project Refuge: Part One
People have a natural tendency to fear what we do not know. It’s part of the human experience. The nightlight industry has made a fortune off of the fear of the dark! It's also natural that, as we age, we realize there is no rational reason to be afraid of the dark. It is a fear that many of us can quickly overcome through rational thinking and education. Why is it, then, that we do not address other fears; fears that can also be overcome through rational thinking, and fears that can damage thousands of lives, if we know from experience that such fears are only as strong as we allow them to be?
For the month of January I will be writing and researching on the global refugee crisis, gathering resources and data to help myself as well as my readers (hi!) address fears and questions circulating the vastly misunderstood and mysterious lives of refugees. My hope is that through my work we can all understand our role in an issue that, although it doesn’t always feel like it, is not a distant issue, but is in fact staring us in the face with 10,000 Syrian refugees having been admitted into the U.S. in 2016 alone (thanks Obama!). This number is only 1/8th of the total population of refugees to enter America in the last year (Pew Research Center).
In 2016 Lifeway Research surveyed a group of evangelical Christians on the subject of refugees entering America. The majority of this focus group responded negatively, saying that they represented a “threat” or a “burden” to them and, more broadly, to our country. In a more inclusive poll, only 36% of American voters supported accepting Syrian refugees into America (Chicago Council on Global Affairs). However, when faced with the facts on immigration and the potential for refugees to contribute to their new home, these opinions could not be farther from the truth, and come from a place of deep misunderstanding.
My goal for the next 21 days is to educate and empower not only myself, but also my friends and followers on the issues and battles that refugees face every day. I will be drawing on personal testimonies from refugees I have taught and lived among, as well as stories from close friends who have volunteered with refugees in various capacities. An important distinction that I feel must be made is that refugees and asylum seekers are not the same as illegal immigrants. Although both are fighting their own battles for liberty, my focus is on the former.
My primary resources for research will be the books Seeking Refuge, by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir, as well as Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, & Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang. While both books are written through the lens of a Christian worldview, I hope to inform and inspire people of all walks of life. Ultimately, I believe that the capacity for human empathy and connection is not limited to one faith, but is within us all.
Each week I will be writing and sharing articles, essays, and stories of former refugees and volunteers who have worked with refugees through my newsletter, to which you can subscribe here if you haven't already. I will also publish a final essay at the end of the month. To get things started, I've listed four takeaways from the research I have done so far that has already blown my mind.
Thoughts for Christians:
According to the research of Timothy Tennent, “the percentage of immigrants in North America who either arrive as or become Christians is significantly higher than the Christian share of the native-born US population.” What does this mean? The answer, quite simply, is that to feel your faith is threatened by refugees entering your country is actually the opposite reaction you should be having. Welcoming refugees with open arms is only an opportunity to gain more brothers and sisters in Christ, whether they come as Christians or find Christ through people like you and me.
If we fail to serve the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses (verbiage from the Statue of Liberty) due to fear, misinformation, or inconvenience, we are denying our role in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). And if that is the case, Bauman et al say “we risk ignoring a divine mandate if our sole priorities are safety, comfort, and convenience.” Our current comfort should never come before our constant calling to serve, protect, and minister to others, no matter the personal cost.
Thoughts for Anyone:
Immigrants, and more specifically refugees, actually benefit our economy by paying taxes, rent, and consuming just like American citizens (which they can eventually become after an intense, and long, vetting process). Also, contrary to popular belief, most immigrants work jobs that compliment, not compete with, the work that most Americans are capable and willing to do (Bauman et al).
According to the US Department of Homeland Security, one third, one third of all immigrants to America are under the age of eighteen. As a teacher, I believe that all children are teachable, especially when they are vulnerable. If students are greeted with anger and fear, they will learn defense and harbor resentment. We have an amazing opportunity to teach love and healing to all within our borders, not only to the native children of America, but also to children coming from all around the world. Are we really willing to allow fear and discomfort to stand between us and this great opportunity?
My next essay will focus on the reasons a person may become a refugee, the process of actually becoming a refugee, and what choices a refugee has once that status is established. In the meantime, follow me on Instagram (@paulxox) for daily updates and facts as I process and learn about the crisis that weighs so heavily on my heart.
Thanks for listening, and I can't wait to share this project with you.