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Presbyterians join other denominations for annual Ecumenical Advocacy Weekend


Nearly a thousand gather to address immigration issues

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Panelists discuss the struggle to survive in their own countries. (L to R) Tafue Lusama, Tuvalu; John Din, Philippines; James Makuei Choul, South Sudan. (Photo by Rick Jones)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It began for more than 200 Presbyterians last Friday for Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. It ended with a visit to Capitol Hill on Monday to lobby Congress for changes in the approach to immigration and refugees.

The 16th annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice was held in Washington, D.C. focusing on the theme, “A World Uprooted: Responding to Migrants, Refugees & Displaced People.” Clergy and members across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joined their counterparts in other denominations to worship, debate and hear from those who are facing displacement because of conflict, climate change and poverty.

Attendees were urged by organizers to “get out of their comfort zones” to fully understand the risks and anxieties faced by immigrant men and women.

“There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world and at least 20 to 30 million are refugees,” said the Rev. John L. McCullough, president/CEO of Church World Service, in his opening remarks. “All kinds of people are seeking a sense of peace, justice and fairness. They all want to have a safe place to call home. Never have we faced a time like this.”

The Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, the new director for EAD, told the crowd the hard work is just beginning.

“We live in a world of the uprooted and upheaval seems to be the exception of the day. Millions have been uprooted by violent conflict, corruption and the environment,” she said. “We cannot stand on the sidelines and be silent. We cannot shrug our shoulders and only send thoughts and prayers.”

The weekend activities consisted of numerous workshops around immigration, environmental racism and the impact of disasters on displaced people.

Christian denominations gathered in Washington, D.C. last weekend to discuss immigration, refugees and the displacement of people. (Photo by Rick Jones)

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, vice president and dean of Esperanza College at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, was Friday’s keynote speaker. She says Christians need to respond with solidarity.

“Imagine you don’t have your identity, roots, language, home and property. Imagine having to let go of vital connections and life lines, move away from everything that gives you your identity,” she said. “If we want to see life restored, it’s not by cutting budgets, but by embracing the stranger. We are here as a united group, not representing a particular party, but the heart of Jesus.”

Conde-Frazier says the “knowledge of compassion” is needed on Capitol Hill.

Saturday’s plenary sessions included a panel discussion with Dreamers who are impacted by unrootedness. Diana Pliego spoke of both the frustration and encouragement she gets as a Dreamer.

“Those opposed to us have tried to bury us, but they don’t know that we are seeds. They don’t realize that we can give them so much more,” she said. “However, I have never seen this many people come out in support of undocumented youth, so much of the American public on our side. You couldn’t get that many Americans to agree on a pizza topping.”

Panelist Jonatha Jayes-Green encouraged attendees to return to their communities and build authentic relationships with Dreamers.

“Work with people in your congregations or organizations who actually want to show up for us in a way that is respectful, with humanity and dignity,” he said. “Utilize whatever privileges and resources you have to help those people who need it. Faith without deeds is dead.”

Sunday’s plenary consisted of an international panel including the Rev. James Makuei Choul, executive director of the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency, the humanitarian arm of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan.

“We appeal to the U.S. government to put pressure on South Sudan’s leaders so that this conflict is resolved peacefully. The suffering of people should be brought to an end,” he said. “People are being removed from the comfort of their homes and their livelihoods are in jeopardy. They are suffering a lack of medical services and food. Whatever they receive from the United Nations is not sustaining their lives.”

Another panelist, the Rev. Tafue Lusama, is the secretary-general with the Christian Church of Tuvalu, an independent island nation in the south Pacific, which has been battered by rising tides due to climate change. He says the land is not fertile for crops and the fishing is scarce, prompting many to leave the island seeking a better life.

“We export people, a lot of young people work in merchant ships around the world and there are many who work on farms,” he said. “It is not easy for our people to get jobs. Even professionals are struggling. But we are concerned about losing the land we have and if we totally we give up now, we will be roaming this planet as a homeless people.”


Conference attendees concluded their weekend in D.C. by visiting Capitol Hill in hopes of getting an audience with their congressional representatives to address displacement.

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