I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
On June 20, communities across the globe will celebrate World Refugee Day, honoring the strength, resilience, and contributions of refugees. In 2014, the world has seen the heights to which refugees can rise when given the chance to start a new life in dignity and peace. A former refugee became the first American citizen in a generation to win the Boston Marathon. At the same time the world has been challenged by the ongoing and urgent need to protect the vulnerable fleeing conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, the Congo, Myanmar, and Central Africa. This World Refugee Day, The Episcopal Church honors the proud legacy of our Church’s intentional work of welcoming refugees – a ministry that began in 1939 through the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are currently more than 15 million refugees worldwide, the majority of whom are women and children. These vulnerable individuals have fled their homes, often with little more than the clothes on their backs, and frequently leaving family members behind. Less than 1% of these 15 million refugees will ever be resettled in a third country. Many will live out their lives in uncertainty or the indignity of refugee “camps,” as essentially stateless persons. The United States has a proud tradition of resettling more refugees each year than any other receiving country, and since 1988 Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) has partnered with the U.S. government to welcome refugees into new communities.
In 2013 alone, EMM helped almost 5,000 refugees build new lives in security and peace in 30 communities across the United States. To carry out this work, EMM collaborates with local partner agencies in 26 Episcopal dioceses and 22 states to welcome those fleeing violence and persecution. This ministry links public funding with private donations and volunteers to accompany refugees through their first months in the United States. Each year, EMM welcomes an ever-diversifying refugee population – from more than 69 nations to date. The EMM affiliate network includes staff and volunteers who provide refugees with the essentials needed as they begin their new lives in the U.S., including housing, food, furnishings, and orientation to life in their new communities. That assistance includes connection to services like English classes and job training, access to health care, enrolling their children in school, and understanding the other services available in the community. Our communities and congregations are in turn enriched socially, culturally, and spiritually by the presence and contributions of refugees.
This World Refugee Day, remember in prayer all who flee persecution and suffering in search of security and peace, remember the baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace, and reaffirm our commitment to welcoming the stranger as Christ himself.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church