June 20, 2020
Even before we were faced with the developments brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, my colleagues and I talked about how migrant journeys often take unexpected turns and yet their faith sustains them. Forced to leave their homes and their countries, they often set out on journeys with only a vague understanding of where they are headed. Refugees and asylum seekers know that even when the physical route itself is well-known, the metaphorical journey over time is much less certain.
People who accompany refugees and migrants, either in transit or in their final destinations, also embark on a journey of sorts. Whether offering short-term respite, nourishment to those passing through, or volunteering to assist someone settling in a new community, our lives intersect and the journeys become entwined.
Accompaniment is a term widely embraced by Christian communities as a way to distance from colonial or paternalistic language that portrays the volunteer as the hero or savior for coming to the aid of another human being. Accompaniment recognizes that the person providing aid is doing so in solidarity with and alongside another.
Accompaniment includes all the ways that people who are part of the settled community (citizens, residents, long stayers) welcome, assist, support and sometimes guide a newcomer in their midst. In this way we acknowledge that even when our neighbors are in vulnerable situations, they remain agents of their own destinies.
On this World Refugee Day, we invite you to learn about the unexpected and faithful journeys undertaken by refugees, asylum seekers and other forced migrants, as well as those who have committed to accompanying them along the way. Our own Presbyterian faith history is filled with unexpected journeys all the way from the Hebrew Scriptures to contemporary stories of exile. These journeys are often begun out of loss and desperation, impelled by strong convictions regarding the goodness of humanity, the possibility of a better world, and a deep and abiding faith in God to see these things manifested.
The theme for this year’s commemoration of World Refugee Day was inspired by Hebrews 11:8–10: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
When Abraham and Sarah set out on their journey, they did so out of their deep faith and trust in God’s promise to their family and future generations. These very same values are found in the hearts of today’s migrants. In fact, I hear these two values often expressed by refugees when they talk about their decision to flee. It is their faith in God that causes mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles to speak up for what is right and leave the familiar, setting out toward a strange land for the sake of their children and future generations. It is also their belief that God will protect, sustain and deliver them that gives them courage to do so.
This World Refugee Day, we lift up these unexpected faithful journeys. The asylum seekers turned away first when trying to make an asylum claim at the U.S. border, then again to wait for their immigration court hearing, and finally when COVID-19 caused the borders to be closed. A congregation in Indianapolis who welcomed a refugee family in 2018 and now find themselves helping the children get computers and situated with e-learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stories like these — and more resources — can be found on the World Refugee Day webpage and are being shared on our blog and through social media.
We invite you to pray for today’s refugees during worship as well as those who welcome and accompany them. And in the midst of all the twists and turns of our respective journeys, may we give thanks to God for a steadfast love that endures and sustains us.
Susan Krehbiel, Associate for Refugees & Asylum, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
Today’s Focus: World Refugee Day
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
O God who moved over the darkness to create the heavens and the earth, we give you thanks for the gift of movement. We ask that your Holy Spirit continue to guide us, wherever our journeys may lead. And we ask that the loving arms of your son Jesus Christ be a comfort to all those who are trying to find their way. May our paths always lead us closer to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.