For You Yourselves Were Once Aliens
* By Melissa Hinnen
July 2, 2009 —On World Refugee Day, a group of youth and adults in the Western New York Annual Conference gathered to learn more about what it means to be uprooted and displaced. In spite of rain, more than 30 people turned out on Grand Island, NY to experience a simulated refugee journey. Reverend Jeffrey Childs of Trinity United Methodist Church led the group in prayer, “God, our fellow traveler, give us courage to leave security behind that we may take the path of risk and become your pilgrims.”
World Refugee Day is recognized on June 20 by people around the world. The annual celebration was established by the United Nations General Assembly in the year 2000 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Church World Service (CWS) partner with congregations throughout the year to offer refugee ministry and resettlement awareness and support.
Groups from seven churches arrived at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church and were gathered into “families.” Packets were distributed that included ID cards for each person with a description of his or her situation. Each family received 5 index cards representing personal items that could be carried on the journey. One family chose to take shoes, food, water, a religious icon, and medicine for a child who had tuberculosis.
Traveling more than a mile from Sudan (St. Martin’s) to Kenya (Trinity UMC) in the pouring rain was difficult, and was complicated by “bandits,” who robbed and kidnapped some of the sojourners. When they arrived at the refugee camp, modeled after Camp Kakuma in Kenya, they lined up and some were harassed by the guards. Others quickly learned that to avoid the long line and harassment, they could pay the guards.
Arriving at the tent, the refugees were directed to three stations. They were first given a meal of rice, rice soup and water – the meal was prepared and served by former Burmese refugees who resettled in Grand Island a few years ago. Another station was a school where they learned a few words in Somali, Arabic and Burmese. At the medical tent, they were examined and treated as needed.
Testimony and Discussion
After changing into dry clothes, the group gathered to listen to the testimony of Dominic Ding, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” who was displaced as a child during the second Sudanese civil war. Two local organizations that work with refugees – Journey’s End and Vive la Casa -- discussed their work and explained how church members and others in the community can welcome sojourners. The program ended with scripture readings and a prayer service.
According to Joya Colon, an UMCOR intern who attended the event, “It was inspiring to see all the work that was put into this event and how committed so many are to both raising awareness about refugees, and calling on us all to take action” She continued, “getting a glimpse of what it might be like to be forced to leave your home, and live in a refugee camp was a humbling experience, and one that I will never forget.”
How You Can Help
Consider sponsoring refugees and help them build a hope and a future for themselves as they embrace a new life experience here in the US. Refugees need our guidance, friendship, and a sense of belonging from a sponsoring congregation. Prayer resources for refugee ministry are available. You may also support refugee ministries by giving to: New Hope to Newcomers, UMCOR Advance #901779.
*Melissa Hinnen is the staff writer for UMCOR communications