Hannah Sillars, a Mere Fidelity listener, wrote in after listening to last week’s Mere Fidelity refugee episode to comment on one particular point about the ongoing refugee crisis. Hannah Sillars is an author and marketing professional who lives in Toronto, ON, with her husband, Jordan. She’s written for Christianity Today, WORLD magazine online, and blogs at www.hold-the-anchovies.com. We also have a separate post on Notes with more resources on refugees. If you want to help refugees in your area, we have information to help you do that over there.
Hi there, I’ve just started listening to Mere Orthodoxy about two episodes ago. I respect your perspectives and have since followed many of you on Twitter. I did want to comment, however, on the refugees podcast. A little background: I’m a conservative Anglican Christian. I’ve volunteered with refugees in Fort Worth, Texas, on and off since high school. This was mostly “off” until after college, when my husband and I committed to volunteering at least one night per week for a year.
I had a few thoughts that I think are worth sending you an email about, not because of any special value in my perspective, but simply because there were some (very understandable) incorrect assumptions present in your episode. These aren’t policy-related. These are related to the Church’s ability to help refugees.
At the beginning of the podcast, you mentioned people not knowing how to help, and said something about the problem being so distant. I want to respectfully assert that it is not distant. If there can be hundreds of needy refugee families in Fort Worth, Texas (and Lubbock, and Houston,) then there are likely refugee pockets in most American cities. The U.S. government has admitted more refugees annually than any other country in the world. They’re from Syria, Burma, Nepal, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, and beyond. The U.S. government actively resettles these people in American cities, offering them a small stipend for a particular period of time in which they are encouraged to learn English and required to start supporting themselves (barring disabilities that make them unable to do so).
So, if the American Church wants to help, there are likely countless needs in their own backyard. There are organizations that the government partners with in the United States which help refugees. Two are World Relief (Baptist-based, started after WWII in response to the Jewish refugee crisis) and Catholic Charities. If churches want to reach out to these organizations and find ways to help, it’s a fantastic start. (From what I understand, World Relief is very welcoming to ecumenical cooperation.)
I volunteered at a single apartment that was rented out by a Christian couple who wanted to reach out to refugees in this apartment complex. Often the U.S. government places refugees in the same apartment complex. They become little international hubs, so it’s possible to do a lot of good if you insert yourself into that place. This couple was not wealthy, but rented the apartment on their own dime to provide a place where volunteers from several area churches could teach ESL, citizenship classes, and help refugee children with homework. I run out of words when trying to describe the overwhelming nature of their stories. While I was at the apartment, I helped a Sudanese family file their testimonies about Darfur with the Department of Justice. (You’d think professionals would handle these things, but there’s not enough of them to go around.) I’ve met former child laborers. I’ve met persecuted Christians. I’ve met Muslim women who were sold into marriage, and women who survived the Taliban.
These stories have changed me so deeply. They’ve changed my husband, too. We both grew up within the post-9/11 conflicting narratives about Muslims in general, and Islamic terror. I grew up with missionary stories and publications like “Voice of the Martyrs.” But nothing clarified our views or focused us more on the gospel than going and befriending refugees ourselves. We saw the different ways that they struggle, even here in the U.S. where they are prey for con men and gang members and predatory loans. And we saw how much of an opportunity there is, in this refugee crisis, for Christ to be shared with Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists from remote places.
I’ve also been heartbroken by the fear-mongering I’ve seen on Facebook by American Christians. The number one issue among many doesn’t seem to be the fact that there are sojourners at our door, and even enemies who we are called to love, but that we might have terrorists overrun the United States. They disregard the fact that 40% of Syrians were Christian or non-Muslim before the Syrian war began, and that these people comprise many of the refugees from Syria. And when Afghan or Iraqi or Syrian Muslims enter a foreign place and are greeted, helped, and loved by the Christian people they were told to hate—they question their beliefs. They become open to the gospel, or at the very least, grow in that direction. Truly, this is such a pivotal and strategic time for Christians…and I hate to see it squandered by Christians who put nativism and fear-mongering in the way of their duty to love. Thanks for your podcast. I appreciate it a lot, and your compassion for refugees really came through.
Thank you, Hannah, for your email. For readers, I’ve put together a set of links and resources on refugees in the USA over on our Notes page.