Catch the closing door: A faithful response to God’s commandment of welcome

By Jen Smyers

Less than a year ago, 110,000 refugees were set to finally find safety and peace in the United States. By definition, refugees cannot return to their home countries because of persecution, and resettlement is the last resort for refugees who are forbidden to rebuild their lives in nearby countries. However, because of President Donald J. Trump’s executive order of Jan. 27, more than half of these U.S.-bound refugees remain in perilous situations, languishing in refugee camps or attempting to eke out an existence in urban areas, where restrictive policies prohibit them from earning a living.

For 2018, President Trump has decided to cap refugee resettlement at 45,000, bringing the number of refugees allowed into the United States to the lowest level since the establishment of the resettlement program in 1980. By comparison, since the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act, the average refugee admissions goal has been 95,000 people per year.

The U.S. government is literally shutting the door on refugees it has promised to protect. Approximately 70 percent of these refugees have close family members in the United States. They are mothers, fathers, children; Christians, Yazidis, Muslims; Burmese, Congolese, Somali, Syrians. More than 50,000 Iraqis who worked alongside U.S. troops and interests are awaiting freedom from the persecution they face as a result. Our drastically reduced commitment to refugees means that those promised resettlement recently will have to wait two or three more years to find safety. And those beginning the thorough screening process will face at least six years of uncertainty.

The question for us as Christians is: How will we respond? Will we resign ourselves to decisions made beyond our control, or will we strengthen our resolve to welcome the stranger, to love our neighbor, to loose the burdens of the oppressed and to share the table? In Deuteronomy 15:7–8, God commands: “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.”

When we help our neighbors near and far, we are building the kingdom of God on Earth. Our own future is bound with the well-being of our global neighbors, in both spiritual and practical ways.

In the past, it may have been enough to affirm the need for hospitality, to donate here or there, to help one refugee family. Today, however, being committed to welcome means we must go further and demonstrate God’s love in myriad ways. We must speak to politicians in power. We must educate our communities. We must demonstrate true solidarity through vigils, marches, protests, letters, phone calls, newspaper articles and otherwise supporting refugees as they rebuild their lives and become leaders.

There are so many ways we can make our voices heard to change these decisions and stop our government from inflicting further harm on refugees and our ability as a nation to meet the welcome call. Church World Service has created a global home base for welcome, where you can call the offices of senators and representatives, find resources to volunteer at a local refugee resettlement office, engage your congregation and community, write an opinion editorial for your local newspaper, and make a donation to help refugees in need here and abroad.

I am reminded of the example of the young boy who shared his bread and fish with Jesus to feed the masses. He teaches us that, when we offer what little we have, God will magnify it and make a bigger difference than we ever imagined. My prayer during this critical time is that we will each find ways to share our loaves, fishes, time and gifts, so that God can use these offerings to change the hearts and minds of elected officials and open the door to refugees in need.

Jen Smyers is director of policy and advocacy for the immigration and refugee program at Church World Service.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.