Together We Welcome conference closes with poetry and priorities
July 14, 2022
Before delivering a talk to end Church World Service’s Together We Welcome Conference, the Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia A. Thompson delivered one of her many published poems to the online audience of about 300 people.
An excerpt from her poem “broken sidewalks”:
“we, the mystery of life
living as seeds fallen into the cracks
of broken sidewalks
pushing deep shattering concrete …
then as now
then as now
we swim rivers to generational healing
then as now
we dream afloat
rearranging shards of broken sidewalks
into sweeping mosaics of freedom.”
Thompson is the Associate General Minister for Wider Church Ministries and Operations in the United Church of Christ and the Co-Executive for Global Ministries in a partnership with the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Together We Welcome was a three-day virtual gathering held to strengthen support for refugees, immigrants and migrants. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provided sustaining support for the conference.
Using her poem to frame her talk, Thompson urged listeners to think of themselves as not only people walking on broken sidewalks but creating “out of the brokenness around us.”
“How do you find divine presence in the moment that’s around us? All is not well in the world. Global challenges are in epic numbers,” she said. War and political unrest, famine and drought, economics and Covid comprise “a short list of the issues affecting the global movement of peoples,” a number the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said had grown to nearly 80 million people by 2019.
Two-thirds of the world’s refugees came from five countries, according to Amnesty International: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. The most recent crisis, of course, is Ukraine, where people in neighboring countries “flung open their doors. We were heartened and encouraged to hear about this,” Thompson said. But some neighbors have denied entrance to Ukrainian refugees from certain African, Middle Eastern and Caribbean countries, Thompson said. “As the African Union noted, all people have the right to cross international borders during a conflict,” Thompson said. “All should have the same rights to safety.”
Of the list of 12 countries that take in the most refugees, Germany is the only high-income state on a list that includes no other nations in Europe nor the United States.
The Migration Policy Institute notes that over the past 42 years, the U.S. has lowered the ceiling for the number of migrants it will allow into the country to an all-time low. That number was more than 231,000 people in 1980; by 2021 it had fallen to 62,500 people, a year the nation admitted 11,400 people. The Biden administration has raised the ceiling to 125,000 for 2022.
“The United States is historically a safe haven for refugees,” said Thompson, who herself was born in Kingston, Jamaica. “What is making this difficult is our political climate. We are no longer opening doors the way we should and the way we did.”
With upwards of 80 million people looking for a home, Thompson devised a list of the ways faith communities “can impact what we are seeing.” The to-do list includes:
Strengthening our voice, especially on Capitol Hill and the White House and at the United Nations. “We say when we talk to our leaders, that’s the end of it,” Thompson said. “What does it mean to lend our voice to a global space that we can speak to what needs to happen globally as we attend to this refugee and migrant crisis? … As faith leaders in the U.S., we need to look at how we can be more active effecting change through the United Nations.”
Strengthening our commitments. “All of our faith communities start with love as a tenet,” Thompson said. “We all in some way talk about our neighbors, how we love the stranger and ways those in our faith communities take care of each other. How are we teaching this? If we aren’t talking about it, we are not strengthening the ways in which our communities can be involved.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Together We Welcome conference
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Deidre Allen, Associate, YAV Program, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Denise Anderson, Acting Director, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
God, you go with us and sustain us. Thank you for those with a strong faith who seek your will in their lives. Bless them and the stories they have to tell. Encourage, comfort and make your presence known. Amen.